Dinghy Cruising

Margaret Dye

Adlard Coles Nautical

224pp, B & W illus. Paperback

Reviewed by Dan MacNaughton

A Note About Our Reviews / Publishing Page

We have been determined to add to our long-established focus on voyaging and living aboard, considerable attention to coastal and inshore cruising in small boats.

When asked what size boat one should have, our general answer is, “The smallest one that will do the job.” The advantages to keeping boats small and simple are so great that we are always interested in the baseline, in other words, what really is the minimum boat and gear with which a person can cruise? To this baseline standard can be compared all subsequent increases in size, complexity, and cost, and the benefits of those increases can then be better weighed.

Whenever we encounter backpack campers or motorcycle campers who want to try cruising, we are always confident of their success, because they already understand that in a minimalist approach, obtaining the highest degree of comfort is a process of miniaturization and simplification. It would appear that any boat, even a canoe, offers vastly more space for the storage of useful items than does a backpack or a motorcycle pannier.

A double paddle canoe or kayak is probably the absolute minimum boat for cruising, and without a doubt provides the largest amount of enjoyment for the dollar spent, with the lowest amount of maintenance and logistical support time compared to the hours of use, than any other boat.

In a sailboat, the baseline must be either a sailing canoe or a dinghy such as Margaret Dye is writing about in Dinghy Cruising. Those looking for this baseline should consider their cruising ground. A sailing canoe is highly advantageous when the boat must be frequently carried overland, but once this necessity is out of the picture, the advantages are all to the dinghy, which has a great deal more volume, stability, freeboard, and ability to carries stores and equipment, and is easier to find on the market and probably cheaper to purchase used.

In the US the term “dinghy” is usually synonymous with the word “tender”, but the author uses the term in the British sense, where it means a small, open or half-decked, very shallow draft sailboat such as the Wayfarer dinghy in which much of the cruising referred to in this book was done.

Margaret Dye and her husband Frank, together and separately, have undoubtedly cruised more miles in their various dinghies than anyone alive, with cruises that have included extensive travels in the British Isles and cruises in Scandinavia, the US and Canada, The United Arab Emirates, Greece, and Iceland, spanning several decades. From the first they have been fascinated, as most cruising people are fascinated, by the process of refining their boat’s details. They have cruised under the broadest possible ranges of climate and weather conditions, and have thoroughly enjoyed it most of the time. Thus, anyone interested in dinghy cruising, or simply the cruising baseline, will have the benefit of this wealth of experience when they read this book, which contains most or all of the information a person with basic sailing skills would need to become a dinghy cruiser at extremely modest cost.

Here is a clear example of what the baseline can deliver. With patience, a willingness to accept a used boat and gear, and with this book as a guide to your choices, one could probably quickly find a usable dinghy with cruising potential and equip her for less than $1,000. Often a dinghy will eventually turn up for free, and the gear to cruise in her might very well do the same. Even if you buy everything new it would be impossible to spend very much.  So in terms of cost the baseline cannot get any lower than dinghy cruising. Given Margaret Dye’s very convincing evocative descriptions, it is obvious that there are unique rewards when cruising at the baseline.

As the book makes clear, advantages to dinghy cruising include: low initial cost, low maintenance costs, low equipment costs, the ability to inexpensively ship the boat to far off locations for cruising there, the option of having more than one dinghy, storing them in a number of favorite cruising grounds, the ability to find shelter in tiny creeks and coves, the ability to find comfort anywhere the boat may be pulled up on a beach (which might be nowhere near an actual harbor), the intimate contact with the natural world, and the flexibility to either cover long distances working along a coast or to get a lot of cruising out of a very small piece of water.

Margaret Dye and her husband Frank have made rather long passages over open water in their dinghies, including a voyage to Iceland, which I personally would not want to attempt or to recommend.  In my view, small capsizable boats are limited in their range to areas where shelter can be found fairly quickly if conditions change. When wave crests become large enough to simply engulf and repeatedly capsize one’s open dinghy, survival is much in doubt. All this says is that I would place the farthest limits of dinghy sailing a bit closer to the coast than the Dyes, but other than that I am a strong supporter of the ideas in this book.

Readers of Dinghy Cruising will come to realize that at the time of the book’s writing the Dyes had been at it for many decades and were still dinghy cruising at a fairly advanced age.  The author makes clear that with suitable boats there is so much less cost and work in sailing the cruising dinghy and in taking care of her, that dinghy cruising is actually well suited to those who are getting on a bit, while at the same time, obviously, younger people will appreciate the low cost and the physical challenges dinghy sailing can present.

Dinghy Cruising is a very practical and down to earth book full of detailed advice about boats, equipment, small boat seamanship, cruise planning, etc, and is the best reference on the subject of which we are aware. Cruising anecdotes are interspersed through the text to good effect and often serve to illustrate vital points.

There are a few things in the book with which we would differ. My brother Tom has enumerated these in a previous draft of a review for this book and I offer his words here:

On page 10 Mrs. Dye gives her criteria for a good cruising dinghy.  Most are self-evidently true and require little explanation or expansion.  I would point out though that in her 9th criteria she says, “Ample beam to afford relative stability”.  I would add a caution to this.  Just as an example a 16’ O’Day Daysailer would make a marvelous dinghy cruiser except for the fact that their beam and normal flotation gear make them essentially impossible to self rescue in the event of capsize.  That is a very serious limitation.  You don’t want to have so much beam or an arrangement of flotation such that it is anything other than very easy to right the vessel from the completely inverted position.  This may mean a progressively narrower vessel proportional to length as the vessel gets longer.  Note that the author talks about rowing the boat, which implies a fairly narrow vessel in any case.

In the chapter on “Clothes for Cruising” Mrs. Dye is quite right that neoprene foam “wet” suits have both advantages and disadvantages.  However she is not correct in describing how they work.  They are called “wet” suits because they do not make any attempt to keep the wearer dry if submerged.  Rather they make sure that only a very thin film of water gets against the skin.  The neoprene foam is an insulator which prevents the body heat from escaping the suit and thus warms the thin film of water until the wearer is comfortable.  Water itself actually conducts heat very quickly and unless confined and minimized by the insulating suit would soon chill the body.

I particularly like the chapter “Weatherwatch”, which contains good basic material on understanding weather.  I would add to the little section on fog that, if a fog bank is hovering offshore on an outgoing tide, it is very likely to come in very rapidly the minute the tide turns and starts in.

In chapter 10 on pages 100 and 101 I would have a couple of cautions.  The jib sheet cleats that she mentions “wearing” have to be the “cam” type and it may well be that on some the teeth of the cams could be filed as Mrs. Dye suggests.  However she also suggests the unit can be reversed.  Of course you cannot actually do this because instead of keeping the line held in, reversing it would prevent you from pulling it in.  This has got to be some sort of typo or editing error preventing us from understanding what Mrs. Dye intended to say.

Also the advice to carry a “car glass fibre repair kit” for emergencies in not a good idea.  These kits are not of the quality needed to repair a boat.  You would be much better off carrying kits of WEST System™ epoxy with small cans of resin and hardener with mixing pumps attached.  Then you can really do permanent, strong, repairs.  See some of the books we offer from Gougeon Brothers on working with fiberglass.

On page 101 the idea of mixing gelcoat into the laminating resin and reinforcing material is not a good one.  Gelcoat is just an outer cosmetic layer, which would diminish the quality of structural repairs.  I would comment that holes should not, in fact, be “squared off”.  Corners in a laminate repair are definitely not a good idea.  Smooth, curved, scarphed edges to the holes are best, and easier than trying to make a corner.

Lest anyone get confused, on page 129 Mrs. Dye refers to the “lowest astrological tide”.  I presume that this is a misprint.  Actually the proper term is “lowest astronomical tide.”  “Astrology” is a whole different thing than astronomy!

Mrs. Dye has a chapter on Alternative Propulsion and adds some notes in the back on yulohs, a recently purchased small outboard, and electric propulsion.  I would only add that the bigger and heavier a dinghy the more likely I would be to fit a yuloh.  They really are very efficient low speed propulsion.  I would suggest that in a dinghy large enough to row standing up and facing forward, this will be the most efficient way to row because one can use one’s weight instead of one’s back to propel the boat. Of course the yuloh is the champion for using the minimum of muscle and the maximum of weight in propelling boats and to this day you will see 80 year old women yulohing heavy boats around Hong Kong.

Mrs. Dye says that she found an electric outboard to be inefficient when having to go against the wind in a crowded anchorage.  It sounds like the problem was probably a very small diameter propeller on a “trolling” motor.  This could prejudice many against electric outboards but has nothing to do in principle with the fact that they are electric. Given that you will mostly be sailing and only need the electric outboard occasionally in crowded anchorages or narrow waterways where the wind is against you for a bit, a single battery and one good sized solar panel should do the job on providing enough electricity.  You shouldn’t need to take batteries ashore to charge or anything cumbersome like that, although that might also work for some users.

So here is the message: if you think you can’t afford to go cruising, probably you actually can, and you may get more out of cruising at the baseline than you ever thought possible. This book will give you a great head start toward this modest but rewarding goal.  $24.95

Dan MacNaughton

Aboard Spar Hawk

Rockport Harbor, Maine

A Note about our Reviews