cruising life

What Kind of Dinghy Should I Get?

Our dinghy was the first boat we had together, or at least we had all the  parts of the dinghy as our first boat.

When we graduated from college and drove across the country to Texas from Virginia, we had hours to discuss our plans. We’d already decided we were going cruising, and the moving truck we’d rented had all of our college furniture inside it. That we had found some of that furniture on the curb where someone else was throwing it out didn’t matter one bit – we were just going to deal with it for another couple of years. Why buy new?

Part of the conversation was about the dinghy.

When you’re cruising, your dinghy is kind of like your car. Scratch the “kind of” – it IS your car, unless you’re planning on marina hopping all over. You anchor the boat somewhere, then get in the dink to get you to shore, or to a neighbor’s boat for sundowners, or to find the cool river to explore. It’s what takes you and snorkel gear to nearby reefs, and helps you maneuver in tight spots. We’ve used it to scout anchorage entrances, armed with a boat pole to check depths. (Side note – some people use awesome handheld depth sounders*. This sounds like an excellent birthday or Christmas present.)

This might be on my wish list.

This might be on my wish list.

But the question about what kind of dinghy is about as fraught with “IT DEPENDS” as the big boat question. And, like much of the cruising lifestyle, there is not one right answer.

We moved to Houston and in with Jeremy’s parents until we could find our own apartment. Jeremy’s job had wanted him to start even before graduation, which wasn’t happening, so our available time to housing-hunt was non-existent. We arrived on a Saturday, unloaded the van into the garage on Sunday, and Jeremy was off to the office on Monday. It took weeks of driving around (this was before the Internet) and calling to finally find the perfect spot, which had a spare room.

The dinghy room.

Jeremy had his heart set on building a dinghy. He’d ordered plans from WoodenBoat Magazine for a 7.5’ long dinghy and talked about the craftsmanship he’d employ. He loves working with his hands and building things, and this felt like a way to really focus the boat-owning experience if it took a long time to find the boat we wanted. 

Heck with finding the boat, which was ours within 9 months. It took a long time to finish the dinghy. So long, in fact, that he put the finishing touches on it (permanently installing the bench) in Naples, Florida, about 3 months after we’d shoved off the dock from Kemah. Putting the last planks in was a matter of rushing to complete it before our apartment lease ended; it needed to be stable enough to move to another storage spot.

Dinghy #1: A wooden dinghy. These are fabulous and tough, beautiful to look at gorgeous to row. You can fit a sailing rig to it, and even a small outboard motor. They’re traditional, relatively stable, and simple. If you’re going to use it for snorkeling a lot, you will want to figure out a ladder system so you can actually get yourself out of the water, but this is a challenge even on an inflatable. 

See both dinghies?

See both dinghies?

When we got to Grenada, we were a little tired of the wet, slow ride our gorgeous dinghy afforded us with its appropriately-sized 2 horse engine. We’d pulled out the sailing rig exactly twice. We hate rowing. These are good things to learn about us and how we work. Time to investigate the idea of an inflatable.

Inflatable awesomeness.

Inflatable awesomeness.

Inflatables come in a number of flavors, most of which have to do with the floor you choose. You could choose just a flexible floor (think a pool toy raft kind of floor), but I don’t recommend this option for active cruising. You’ll be carrying trash to shore, water and groceries and laundry  to the boat, and schlepping people around. Choose a floor. You’ll be happier.

There are rollup floors, with slats of different materials. There are inflatable floors, or air floors. There are solid floors, called Rigid Inflatable Boats, or RIBs – which basically pair a solid floor and keel with buoyant tubes. You’re looking at a compromise of price, weight, convenience, and size.

We’d heard that Trinidad had great prices on engines, and that the place to buy a dinghy was Venezuela. Since we were loosely planning to go to both of those countries, operation buy-a-dink was set into high motion.

You’d think, with a 28’ boat, that we’d be looking at small, light, and stowable for our inflatable. A small Zodiac, maybe, or an Avon roll-up. 

No. We chose the biggest dinghy, with the biggest engine, we could conceive of. I don’t know if back then there were dinghies with consoles, but in any case that felt insane even to us. We decided on a RIB, either 9 or 10 feet long, that we’d buy in Venezuela, where Caribe and AB both had dealers or manufacturers – the details are a bit fuzzy. And for either of those dinks, a 15 horse motor is absolutely the right size.

Why a RIB? Jeremy had horror stories about Avons that didn’t hold air, and a Zodiac that was a nightmare to pump up every time they wanted to use it. We wanted a dinghy that was ready to go always, no pumping required. And the wet rides in Soca, the wooden boat, made us long for a planning hull. A RIB it was.

We bought the motor in Trinidad a good 6 weeks before we headed across to Venezuela, building a custom bracket for it to sit when we were on passage. 

There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

There's our 15 HP motor, on its bracket. How I love this engine.

The engine for the boat? A 10 horse, single-cylinder, hand-crank Sabb. The dinghy, weighing just about 100 pounds, would have more power than our 14,000 pound boat. Ah the irony.

And when we got to Venezuela, sniffing out chandleries in Isla Margarita where other cruisers had told us they’d bought their dinks, it didn’t take long or much justification to go with an AB (we liked the interior volume and the bow locker) that maxed out our size range. We’d have kids eventually, we reasoned. Go big or go home. What’s an extra foot? The cost difference was negligible, the weight difference also tiny. Toby, the beagle, would love the space.

We looked very funny for the next year or so as we towed around 2 dinghies. Coming up the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay, a trip that’s marked with more motoring than sailing, we got in the habit of hauling the dinghies out on either side, looking for all the world like a weird trimaran. We got used to the cracks about the dinghy being larger than the boat.

We were a 2-dink family

We were a 2-dink family

There were issues. Stowing the big dinghy, which we call Chutney, is a pain. It fits on the foredeck barely, rendering the windlass and the staysail unusable, so last minute lashing happens after the anchor is up, and coming into an anchorage means dealing with the dink until we can get it all done. And not having the staysail, for a boat designed to sail her best with the use of one, is just not sustainable.

So now, 25 years after we first bought the boat, 22 years after we brought our first dinghy on board, we are back in the conversation about what dinghy to have. Our plans include crossing oceans. We need to access the windlass. The staysail is an important part of our sailing world. As much as we LOVE Chutney, the bigger-than-life RIB we bought in Venezuela, a country that currently sits on our personal “off limits” list? It’s too big. 

So we’re measuring. Thinking. Asking lots of questions at boat shows. 

Here's the thing with dinghies, and it's like a lot of other boat conversations. 1) There's not one perfect answer for anyone. We started out wanting a wooden one, to show off skills and have it fit with the look of the boat. We shifted to wanting as large a dink, with as big a motor, as we could figure out how to use. And now we're onto the idea that the dinghy needs to stow well in a certain area (under the boom), be light enough to deal with effectively, and doesn't need to be huge.

As our lives have changed, so have our requirements for a dinghy. Don't think you're stuck forever with whatever you decide to get now. Flexibility is important for so many things in this wonderful boating world of ours.

Meanwhile, we’ve got 2 dinghies for sale. A wooden gorgeous one, and a 10.5’ RIB. Anyone want one?

Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

Cruising Venezuela, with 2 dinghies

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How to Talk Like a Cruiser

When I was in high school, long before I started sailing for real, a friend of mine asked me to proofread an essay she wrote. She’s a sailor; the essay was a lovely, personal memoir-type essay about her family and their boat. I made a few corrections and handed it back to her with the comment, “You may want to change the language to make it accessible to anyone.”

Sundowners.

Sundowners.

She disagreed. “It’s an essay about sailing; the intended audience is someone who sails. They’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.”

It may well have been my first real lesson in the power of audience and writing for your audience, though I’d been practicing it for years. It also brought to mind, quickly, the nuances of vocabulary.

Any lifestyle, like any geographic location,  has its own special vocabulary, and it goes a long way to helping you fit in when you can speak the lingo.

There’s insider speak on the internet. LOL. (laugh out loud) TLDR (too long; don’t read). ISO (I seek other) and IKR (I know, right?) and BRB (be right back). On Women Who Sail, the constant questions around “So what IS DH anyway?” (dear hubby, deck hand, dick head – multiple meanings depending on the context) are a reminder that it’s helpful to have a guide to the language.

Boating is, of course, no exception to the “let’s create our own language” phenomenon. There are standard boat terms, all of which help with communication from a safety standpoint. When you understand that bow and stern and port and starboard are ALWAYS in relation to the boat, not where you happen to be standing,  yelling out “hazard to port” saves confusion and time. Boat parts and their names are often one of the first things taught in a sailing school for good reason.

But what about the rest of the words? What about going cruising and wanting to fit in? What about when you’ve bought a boat and are on your own, bringing her into a marina for the first time? What special vocabulary might you want to know so you understand? You already know port and starboard, and hopefully you’re at least partially acquainted with the engine and how it works. Here are a few more.

For cruising:

Sundowner: a special drink (alcoholic or not) at sundown. When you’re invited for sundowners, it means you’ve been invited to hang in the cockpit chatting while the sun goes down, an event everyone watches. Take your own drinks and a nibble to share.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Sometimes sundowners involve a beach fire.

Provisioning: stocking up on whatever you need for food, drink, and various other items on the boat. It’s like grocery shopping  for the boat.

Dinghy dock: special spot to leave your dinghy when you go ashore.

Reading the mail: listening to other conversations on the VHF. Everyone does it. Don’t think any conversation on the VHF is private, even if you’ve got your “secret” channel.

Weather window: a period of time when the weather appears to be favorable for a passage you want to make. You can help yourself find one by using FastSeas, a weather routing site designed by my husband, Jeremy. And in any case, this book* is great to have on hand to learn about tactics to use when a window slams shut unexpectedly. 

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

If you need this book, you probably didn't pick a good window.

Cruiser’s Midnight: 9 pm. 

The Net: local vhf radio call-in at a set time, usually in the morning. Organization varies depending on location, but generally includes some weather, general announcements, and a time for new boats to introduce themselves. If there is one, it’s a great source of information especially if you are new to the area.

And, to honor my friend and her high school essay, I wanted to include a couple of marina scenarios. If you don’t know the lingo, these questions/statements could totally throw you for a loop.

Marina: What do you draw?

Answer: “Draw” means “how much water do you need to float.” This matters not only for where they put you, but also because sometimes the way in to a marina has restricted depths. It’s a good idea to ask about the APPROACH depths too.

Marina: What's your beam?

Answer: This is how wide the boat is. It matters because they’ll put you (hopefully) into a slip that you fit without the need of grease or a shoehorn.

Marina: Okay! You have slip B-12. Starboard tie.

Translation: Slip? The dock space you’ve been assigned to. “Starboard tie” means you’ll be tying up on the starboard side – IF you are going bow in.  If you prefer going stern in, then you’ll be tying on the port side. Get your lines ready and fenders out. 

Calypso in her slip.

Calypso in her slip.

Obviously, these aren’t the only special words you need to learn. But it’s a good start.

(and the word I wanted my friend to explain? Slip. If she had explained it, it would totally have ruined a wonderful essay. Vocabulary and audience – they both matter!)

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The Magic of Boat Names

Boat names are magic. With a few choice words, you can convey much about you, your desires, your background. Your profession. Your dreams and hopes and favorite people in the world.

When you buy a boat, it may already be named. You can stick with the name, of course (and there are many reasons to do this; in countries outside of the United States it might not even be legal to change the official name of the boat, for starters.) There is a whole other blog post to be done all about boat superstitions and rituals, though I’m not getting into it here.

It really and truly is NOT this easy.

It really and truly is NOT this easy.

You may, however, choose to rename the boat. I’ve got a few tips for you.

1.    If you are planning to cruise, know that when you choose your boat name you are, in essence, choosing your own name. You will forever be known as your boat name. Nobody out there knows last names – we are Nica and Jeremy Calypso, or the Calypsos, and have been for over 25 years. Think about that before you name your boat something like “My Darling’s Diamond.”

2.    You will have to say your name on the radio countless times. Coming up to a bridge you need opened? You call the bridge, then repeat your boat name. If it’s something hard to pronounce, you’ll be spelling it phonetically. Imagine trying a name like Architeuthis  (a giant squid, since you’re a marine biologist and love the squids and think they are horribly misunderstood).

3.    Being clever and cute with a boat name (puns, bragging on drinking prowess, drug slang) can sometimes be attractive (not in a good way) to customs officials or even local marine police. Spliff, Drinks All Around, The Biggest Doobie – these might get you more attention than you want.

4.    Remember that radio conversation? If your boat name is a classic response to a standard question, you might be inadvertently playing Who’s on First? without even realizing it. This actually happened to our friends Carolyn and Dave on Que Tal, which they bought in Mexico and cruised the Sea of Cortez for years. Ooh, a boat named “What’s up?”? Sounds good! Think for a minute. You hail a marina. “Marina, marina, Que Tal!” “This is the marina. What is your boat name?” “Marina, Que Tal!”

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When we first bought our boat, she had been renamed Newsboy, though Mike had not gotten around to putting the name on the transom. The original name, Zurimum (the original owner was from Missouri and wanted a name that reflected that) was long gone on all but photographs. Mike had always, always wanted a boat named “Newsboy”, so he named her that on the Coast Guard documentation, and that’s what she was when she became ours in 1992.

The thing is, we didn’t have any attachment to the name Newsboy. We didn’t have any attachment to the name Zurimum either, if we want to be really clear. But what on earth could we name this boat?

I’m an English teacher. Jeremy’s an engineer. He’s French; I’m American. We both like music (his audio equipment collection in college, courtesy of Crutchfield and their tent sales, had to be seen to be believed.) There must be some combination that works, right?

This is in the early 1990s, before the internet is on the scene in any way at all (other than academic research institutions), so Google is not any help. The school library (since I am, after all, a teacher) is where I go every lunch break.

Muse of engineering! (hah. In case you were wondering? There isn’t one.)

Jolie Brise! (no. Wind puns? Just, no.)

Zephyr! (ugh. Overdone.)

 

The research continued. The ideas were brought home, rejected, sent back. At this point I can’t even think of any names that came “close”, other than Pate Brisee which for some weird reason made an “almost” list.

And then one day, a random, almost desperate, jaunt through the dictionary stopped me short. There it was.

Calypso. Noun. Classical mythology: a sea nymph who detained Odysseus for 7 years.

Also: A West Indian musical genre, influenced by jazz.

 

Seriously? How perfect is this name for us. A nymph who lured someone away from home for years AND a kind of music from the part of the world we want to visit?

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Calypso she became, luring us from home for years and singing her lyrics in our heads for years more.

And we were content, smug in our assumption that this was the most unique, most US name out there. 

About 6 months into our cruise, 3 years after we’d purchased her, as we were sailing across the Bahama banks, someone hailed us on the radio, calling for "the pirate-looking boat on the Banks."

We responded, using our boat name, of course. "Boat hailing, this is Calypso!"

Calypso! So, how long have you been fans of Jacques Cousteau?”

In the days of Google, you might, maybe, want to make sure you’re being as unique as you think you are.

 

Looking Back to Look Ahead

There are times when it's fun to read old blogs, to see what the me-of-then was thinking. This one struck a chord with me - recognize any themes? This is a post from our SVCalypso blog, from the 2009-2010 cruise we took with the kids. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Shiny winch.

Shiny winch.

August 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days, and the concept gelled this morning as I shed some tears over my friend Lee's blog (last cruising entry for a while).  Her final lines are “We recommend to everyone that they take time now to fulfill that dream or vision.  There is no other time, only the present.”  Lee and her husband, Chris, took off a year ago and went to the Exumas and back, up to Martha’s Vineyard and back to Deltaville.  Reading their blog is a lesson in being PRESENT – a lesson I know I would do well to heed.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

Kids, 3rd and 5th grades, first day of school.

And that’s where I am struggling right now.  I have the hardest time being present to all that is happening.  Part of is the feeling that I have feet in a couple of different worlds, part of it is wanting time to hurry up and go by.  Part of it is, quite probably, a mourning for the stability and comfort of the routine we have shed already – with more to come in the next week, even, as I put in my final day at work on Monday.  And with that mourning is a frustration with myself – I am choosing this (we are choosing this) – why be sad about the choice?

Our transition began in the summer, really, when we moved out of our newly-renovated, much beloved house so the renters could come in with their boxes and different chaos.  We are now living in a one-bedroom apartment, all four of us, which I joke (semi-seriously) about being bigger than the boat. (It is, square footage-wise.)  The kids had to pack up their toys and books, and all they could bring with them (other than clothes) had to fit in a small plastic box*.  They are being remarkably resilient and accepting, except that Julian cannot kick a cold and Maddie is now grinding her teeth at night.  Hard, hard, hard to share with them (convince them? help them understand?) WHY it is so imperative that we do this cruising thing NOW.

School started for the kids yesterday.  They are in new classrooms, with new teachers and new friends.  But they know (as do their teachers and classmates) that they will only be there for 5 weeks.  Strange situation.  Possibly for them the hardest part (or the hardest part they can verbalize) is not riding the school bus.

I am frantically finishing up things at work (I have been the Admissions Director at a local private school for the past 5 years, and my job culminates on Monday with the orientation of the new kids the day before school starts), feeling like a bit of a ghost.  My colleagues are wonderful and supportive, but they (obviously) are caught up in the excitement of a new year while I am not involved at all with those details.

Jeremy’s replacement starts on Monday, for close to a month of overlap.  He is working hard as ever at work, trying to leave procedures and lists in place for his team – and then coming home to work on boat projects or research boat parts.

And through it all I am wondering how the reentry will be.  Lee’s blog has reminded me of my one real regret from last time – that I was too busy looking at what was coming next to appreciate where we were. (In reading the old journal from that trip, I can read 4 separate, distinct times when I wrote, “Now the cruising can really begin.”  What cruising did I miss while waiting for it to “start?”)

Stop, Nica.  Concentrate on the NOW.  Even as chaotic as it seems, it is what is going on.  If I look too far in the future I may well miss the present.

Pizza on the boat grill.

Pizza on the boat grill.

So bring it back to the present.  Yesterday was the first day of school for the kids, and they looked great (and all too tall) as I scrambled them into the car for the drive to school.  Today we made pizza on the grill for dinner – not all that exciting (for us) except that we did it on the boat grill and it WORKED!!! (We had been worried that it would burn before cooking properly)  Kids are in bed now, reading, and Jeremy and I are playing dueling computers working on different boat projects.  (This blog must count as a boat project, yes?)

There you go.  Rantings and philosophical wanderings and perhaps some self-centered whining from me.  Ah well.  At least I ate well tonight.

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Cruising Hacks, Totem-inspired

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This post is all about a few small items that can help with space, organization, or just simple tricks that make life easier. All of these pictures were taken on board Totem, during our unbelievable 10 days aboard in Panama. If you don’t follow Behan and Jamie and their kids, who at this writing are closing in on their circumnavigation after 10 years out, you’re missing out. www.sailingtotem.com

Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

Random shot of sailing on Totem, off of Panama's coast.

 

1.     A pair of silpat baking mats* that you can roll out tortillas in between. I’d not thought about this trick, which will save flour, oil, plastic wrap – anything you might use to stop thin dough from sticking to whatever surface you’re working on. Of course, you can use the mats (one at a time, anyway) for their intended purpose and just bake cookies or pastries on them. 

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2.     A small white board pinned to the bulkhead near the galley, where you list items to be used up, items you need to purchase, and even (if you’ve got a large crew) who’s in charge of dishes for the next dish event. I particularly like the “things to use up” category, as even in a tiny boat fridge it’s easy to lose track of what you’ve got tucked in there. This list means you won’t waste food, an always-helpful aspect of life on a budget. 

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3.     Double magnet bars as a knife holder, pinned to the underside of the overhead or on a bulkhead or inside a cabinet. This trick takes advantage of otherwise unusable space. I’ve often seen a single magnet bar used in this way, which makes me nervous. The double magnet bar means the knives are attached on 2 strong points. Behan tells me the only time a knife has come loose in their travels is when someone has knocked it. The passage we did with them, a 44 mile slog in large seas that Jamie casually tossed out as easily one of the top 10 worst passages they’d seen, had those knives staying exactly where they were placed. 

Note the TWO bars.

Note the TWO bars.

4.     Bins for organization in the fridge. Boat fridges are often top-loading, which can make organization and finding things a true pain. Add to that the constant concern about not leaving the fridge open too long (that cold is electricity which you have to generate, remember – I’d rather be keeping the beer and butter cold than pouring the cold into the air) . . . separating like items in bins makes it far easier to find them. Added bonus – you can store things under the bin, effectively creating layers that can be easily accessed. 

Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

Essentially small laundry baskets (way small) within the fridge!

5.     A refillable pump container for sunscreen that fits perfectly into a cup holder in a prominent place in the cockpit. Buying sunscreen in bulk is a good way to save money, but hauling out a humongous container every day (multiple times a day) will get old way faster than you can imagine. Keeping the sunscreen accessible and easily dispensed is a fabulous way to make it more used, and making sure the crew stays protected from the sun is important to long-term health. Sure, wearing long-sleeved shirts and staying in the shade is number one – but you’ll still need sunscreen!

Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

Fits neatly into the cup holder on the binnacle.

All of these save space, sanity, or some kind of resource. Sounds like the perfect cruising hack to me!

See you out there.

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Sailing Sunsets

A photo post. Taken in various places, over the years. 

Because sunsets are magic.

And so is cruising.

See you out there.