The ultimate Dinghy/Tender, a tunnel hull inflatable

WestMarine.com




First off, besides donations and anonymous advertising, I do not get remuneration of any kind to write reviews, many bloggers do, so be careful what information you trust out there.

A good dinghy is essential

For most of us, if your cruising on a budget, much of you water time will be in a dinghy. Fetching back and forth, provisioning, visiting, snorkeling, site seeing, fishing etc. Most spend a lot of time choosing their boat and rightly so, but a good dinghy can go a long way to making anchoring a bit more pleasurable. Now I'm not going to get into the hypalon vs. U-PVC debate, cause if you're cruising for real, you'll probably wear the thing out, have it stolen, have it drift off, and all the other nasty things that happen to an inflatable, before the sun eats it up, besides you could take that extra couple of grand, that you would spend on hypalon and buy a cover, but mostly I guess it's how you use you dinghy that counts.

While I was looking for a dinghy there were a couple of things I wanted, namely;

  • Speed, after traveling for 100's of miles at an average of around 4-5 knots, in a psycho snail, I figure it'll be great to drop the anchor and zoom off to shore, other islands, diving spots etc.
  • Stability, I'm one of those who's always trying to do 10 things at once and often drop stuff into the water, sometimes myself.
  • Safety, well stability is part of safety but in addition you want to have some redundancy built in, I go far in the little thing (25 miles today) so I like the peace of mind of having an inner tube and have already made use of one.
  • Storage & tie downs, goes without saying the weather has its own plans and it gets rough out there.
  • Hard Removable Floor, ever flopped around in a soft bottom dinghy, if you fish, the smell stays in there and there always seems to be water in some crease somewhere. With a hard floor you can pull it out and give it a good old scrub. In addition, hard bottom dinghies will deliver better performance.
  • Price, you can pay almost as much for a dinghy these days as for a used sailboat. Shop around, there are some Chinese tunnel hull knockoffs that may be worth looking at. I can't endorse them though because I've only seen pictures. But then saying these are knockoffs probably isn't accurate because most of them on the market are knockoffs of the South African search and rescue design anyway. I guess they are knockoffs of knockoffs? Those made from hypalon demand an additional premium, you can decide weather the marketing hype sells you on it or a few extra grand for a slight peace of mind doesn't bother you.
  • Simplicity, I have more than enough fun fixing everything that breaks on the main boat, simple is good, rather than fixing hydraulic steering problems, remote control connections, ripped covers etc. Only pproblem so far is I had to patch her and replace some rope holders. All it took a heat gun, MEK and some glue, in an hour, mostly waiting for the glue to dry, she was good as new.

The Ultimate Tender

Advanced CAT Performance Inflatables AC-300 Light Gray Advanced CAT Performance Inflatable

Today's pic of an early morning 25 mile run out and around to Isla Todos Santos.

This little dinghy of mine is my best purchase by far; it almost makes up for all of my not so good ones. She's stable, at some point I think we've all almost fallen out of a dinghy at one time or another, inebriated or not, getting in and out can be a challenge especially when doing so from a boat. These tunnel hull designs are fantastically stable. You can jump on one pontoon without any weight in the boat and they stay pat, not to mention the stability up on plane and in tight turns it feels like it's glued to the water, they don't rock obviously.

For Speed, well, this is it, the creme de la creme of go fast inflatables, I doubt there's anything on the market that can come close. It's a little rocket, the of the aluminum transom can take an obsessively large motor up to 100hp. I put a beat up old 18 horse two smoke on mine, she holds 16-19 knots through chop and swell. I don't even want to know what 100hp will do. In fact I often have to hold her back, else she gets airborne over the swell, hence the need for good tie-downs and dry storage.

For safety they put inner tubes which pan around half the pontoons, and based on experience, not my fault someone reversed into me, they are enough to get around on.

Hard floor, the version I bought is the Dux hammerhead, I'm sure many of the brands are just as good, has space-board (hard but flexible plastic) floor panels. These are especially nice cause they are easy to clean and you can drill holes in them to attach tank tie down, seats, whatever you like. And importantly, due to the speed and spray it is self draining.

Price, well, I was lucky enough to pick one up for 1/6 of the price from a distressed seller but Dux and other premium American made tunnel hulls aren't cheap, you're looking at $6K USD for the go fast version, that's the reason I mentioned the knockoffs. Besides the retail price tag, for the US made models there is nothing I dislike about this dinghy, it is tops.

Here's a pic of a friend of mine loading the fuel from the little catamaran (dinghy) to the bigger little catamaran at a mooring. Because of her stability we are also able to change fuel tanks while sailing or motoring and towing the dinghy.

Dinghy Hull Shape and Rigidity

There are many, many different hull designs out there. I've been through three myself, this one, a hard dingy and what one I called flabby bottom for obvious reasons. Both of the others, had some serious disadvantages for cruising, flabby bottom was slow and smelly and the hard fiberglass dingy was a nightmare to stow and because it was a monohul, challenging to get in and out of.

I'm not going to go into the merits of all the hull designs out there, you can go to WestMarine for a reasonable review of them, but for the tunnel hull catamaran dinghy, its little secret is surprisingly simple. Blow the big rounded pontoon tubes are two little tubes, they call hijackers or hi-jackers cause that's what jacks you up hi on the water when you are on plan. This gives you the super duper speed, because you up on two well shaped, thin hulls at a good angle of attack. But for a little boat with this kind of speed you need to have the ability to turn hard, for this there are these two aluminum angle irons around the hijackers, one per pontoon, that form a sharp L shape on the inside of the hull, this gives you the bite on the water with stability for sharp turns. The L on the inside hull is the one that's grabbing the water round a turn, not the outside hull, if the inside hull happens to lift cause you are taking the turn way to hard it simply looses grip and slides biting in again. Kind of like, ABS brakes but for sharp dinghy turns. It has much the same planing hull shape as a high speed racing catamaran. When in displacement mode, i.e. not on plan, she's sitting squat on two fat pontoons and that's why she's super stable to get in and out of and can carry well over 1500 lb's / 680 kg which is great for provisioning. An all round, brilliant design.

There are catamaran dinghy's out there without hijackers, so make sure you get the ones with hijackers, otherwise you'll have a very stable but slow dinghy. Make sure you get enough to stay on plan, probably a abs. min of 10hp, you should get around Mph per HP, but I would check with the manufacturer. And note that at displacement speeds you are dragging the hijackers, so this hull shape will be less efficient than some dinghy's designed to do displacement speed only, but then I doubt by much.

Try this with your dingy

Here are some examples of what's available:

And what I think the American manufacturers are referring to as the knockoff, only reason I can see why is cause it's not made in America. Saturn XCAT (via boatsToGo) available soon, but it's been soon for quite some time now. There are some used of the previous model around. XCAT