Doing the Dinghy Thing
Staying in an anchorage is one of the magnificent highs of cruising. Perched high on our fiberglass thrones, we have a panoramic view of our kingdom and luxuriate in the feel of the gentle breeze, as our bow dances circles with the wind. It’s cool, private, comfortable, and bug-free. Here, we have everything we need. Everything, that is, until the dog whimpers to be walked; the kids tire of diving off the stern and beg to go shopping; and you remember you made dinner reservations. How will you get ashore?
You can, of course swim; but let’s be practical. You’ll likely seek water transportation—your boat, dinghy, or launch service. It’s fairly easy to take a small runabout boat to the dock, as long as there is room to tie up while you conduct business ashore. With this method, however, you risk losing your primo spot and may need to either find a new location or depart to a different harbor. To save your spot (and your sanity), it often makes sense to tow along the dinghy or plan to use a launch service.
Launch ServiceIf your harbor of choice offers launch service, you will enjoy the convenience. Consult the local waterway guide for information as to launch availability; or inquire by calling ahead to the marina or yacht club. Hail the launch using their channel on the VHF radio, or wave your arms or give the airhorn a couple of toots when you spy one nearby. Taking a launch into shore normally means you’ll need a ride back to the boat, so be sure to find out the operating hours. Should the launch stop running before you will be finished with dinner, you may find yourselves abandoned on the dock, late at night, looking longingly out into the anchorage.
Dinghy TransportTaking your own dinghy to shore is, by far, the most reliable way to ensure your return; although not necessarily the most comfortable. You will get wetter in a dinghy than a launch; especially if you are headed windward on a gusty day, the seas are up, or you got stuck sitting near the bow. Wearing a water-resistant, tunic-length jacket, preferably one with a hood will protect your clothing from salty splashes and afford you extra warmth later, when it is cool.
Pack UpIt’s risky to leave loose items in the dinghy while ashore; so unless your dinghy has a lockable or hidden storage area, bring along a tote bag or two in which you can stuff extra clothing, a flashlight, a towel, and other necessities for your shore trip. All boats accumulate dew, rendering them slippery and wet; so when you return later in the evening, the towel will come in handy. Unless you are surrounded by boating buddies who will protect your boat from unsolicited boarding, LOCK UP. If you use a combination lock, you will certainly need that flashlight to regain entry when it’s dark.
Another essential item that most boaters don’t think to pack for a dinghy trip to shore is a hand-bearing compass. This device will ensure you can locate your boat on moonless night, in crowded harbors, and when fog rolls in and you can’t see a dang thing. Note your magnetic course to shore, then add 180 degrees to that course and you’ll have mapped your return route.
Safety FirstWhatever you do, remember to put a life preserver aboard for each passenger; and if the dinghy has an engine, a license is required to run it. Keep the gas tank full and learn how to properly operate your dinghy. Carrying spare oars may be a nuisance, but don’t tempt fate and leave yours behind. Engines fail all the time, and it’s never convenient. An overloaded dinghy sits low in the water, which can suffocate the engine, so when you’ve got a crowd to transport, opt for making a second trip, rather than a risky one.
At the Dinghy DockOnce ashore, attend to your dinghy to avoid being left stranded. If you are a rower, secure the oars to the boat. People like to borrow them, and unless you’ve got long arms that can double as paddles, you could be in deep saltwater. Take the extra precaution to padlock your dinghy to the dock on popular weekends, when the dinghy dock is piled high, so it will be there when you return. Many dinghies look alike, especially late at night, and innocent mistakes are common.
Location, Location, Location?In a crowded anchorage, it’s important to be able to find your boat; so before you or any of the crew leave for shore, note your boat’s approximate location in the anchorage--north, south, east, west. Is there a reference number on your mooring ball? What are the names, sizes, and appearances of the boats nearby? Taking the launch? You’ll be asked where you’re headed. Many boats look alike, so the driver will laugh if you tell him or her yours is the white boat with blue trim. Be ready with specifics—make, model, special markings.
When visibility is poor, knowing where you moored the boat becomes critical. A trick many boaters use is to leave a light on inside the boat at night. A colored light, like the red lights used for night vision, will help distinguish your boat from others with lit interiors. Your trusty flashlight will assist you in finding your way back without tangling with someone’s anchor or mooring line or colliding with another’s boat. And, don’t forget that hand-bearing compass!
Finally, don’t let the prospect of a ride into shore spoil your enjoyment of being on anchor. It’s very special. As long as you are pro-active in preparing for any eventuality, you will easily manage any conditions you encounter on your way to and from shore. Well, Fido is pacing nervously and the kids are antsy, so you’d better get moving!
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Stuff I experienced in my 35+ years of cruising and how-to info worth sharing.