How do you carry a decent dinghy when cruising? The solutions are even more varied than the characters you will meet out there. The dinghy solution might even say more about the owner than the type of boat they sail.
Dinghies range from a beat up old knockabout that the owner doesn't care about to the latest high-tech rigid inflatable design. The number of dinghies tells you a little something too. For a couple who will stay put to work for a while, two dinghies are required. I once built a 7 ft. dory out of one sheet of 1/4" plywood because the two of us had different schedules while working in Miami. It was tender but sure did row easily. I sold it to another cruiser when it was time to leave.
How do cruisers protect a dinghy from theft? You need to give this some thought. Most dinghy thefts are actually to get the outboard since they are easy to transport and sell. Many a dinghy has been found adrift the next morning with the motor gone. Stainless steel lifeline cable with a corrosion resistant lock is often used to protect the dinghy since the typical nylon line is easily cut. Some cruisers make sure the dinghy is hoisted out of the water or hauled on deck at night (this helps to keep it from banging against the hull during those annoying tide vs. wind tussles). Dinghies are sometimes “borrowed” by other less honorable sailors to get back to their boat and then set adrift.
How do you keep all the Coast Guard required safety items on a dinghy without losing them? Most dinghies have no secure storage. My expedition dinghy will have plenty of built in storage and flotation.
How a dinghy will be used can vary widely also. It is a mode of transportation similar to how we use cars on land. Just as with cars, it can be much more than simple transportation. Besides basic transportation, a dinghy can be a go-fast toy, a sailboat, a source of exercise, a status symbol, and a lifestyle symbol.
My personal dinghy solution is a plywood nesting dinghy. For me, this provides the best of all combination of compromises. The design I chose will plane at moderate speeds with a small outboard, will row easily, will sail well and is seaworthy while still capable of being stowed on deck for open water passages. Only a nesting hard dinghy can do all these things well. An inflatable can hardly be rowed or sailed. A one-piece hard dinghy is necessarily limited in its size and therefore seaworthiness by the available deck space.
An 8 foot nesting dinghy can be carried by almost any size capable cruising sailboat. With my 36 foot boat, I have chosen to go a little larger (11 ft.) to maximize every attribute. Since it is a nesting design, each half is still a manageble size. A nesting dinghy is actually easier to assemble in the water rather than on deck. I once launched one in a thunderstorm with 30 knot winds to row out an anchor.
With this dinghy, I will be able to explore up strange creeks and go out to the reef for some snorkeling. I love sailing a dinghy even more than a cruising boat, I just can’t live very well on a dinghy. With many people, the dinghy is one of the last items on the list of preparations. I learned from my previous cruising experiences that it can add a lot to the experience of cruising and should be given careful consideration.