Dinghy Duds and Do Overs

I’ll start with the good news.  Our dinghy (aka the family car) is fully functional.  It holds air, the motor works, and the chaps look sharp.

Friends, it’s been a saga that spans two boats and three motors to get here.  Looking back, our dinghy diffculties were 100% self inflicted and a good learning experience.  And now that we have a functioniong dinghy, amusing.  At the time it felt like the dinghy was just another hole in the water in which we threw money.

Lets start with an abbreviated account of early aquisitions:

1- Find a very old dinghy/motor combo on Craigslist.

2- Go view said combo at house far inland and view offerings laid out on a lawn.  Convince self it’s not a pile of junk and pay too much ($800) but not nearly as much as new ($4,000) so its OK!

3- Take pile back to marina and inflate.  Discover the tubes and floor have separated at the back.  This is OK for one passenger, but with two the floor is too low and a several inches of water gush in.

4- Decide it probably won’t sink and take combo out for a test drive.  Discover quickly that jeans are a bad attire choice when resting feet in a pool of salt water.

5- Enjoy 5 minutes of fast dinghy riding.  Stare at motor in utter despair when it breaks a mile downcurrent away.  Return under oar power and barely afloat after floor tear spreads precipitously.

6- Take motor to repair shop.  Spend about $200 (25% of combo purchase price) to receive motor back with electrical tape wrapped around a couple wires and the diagnosis that the part needed to make motor run is not obtainable.

7- Find said unattainable part on Craigslist.  Drive 2 hours to acquire.  Spend $50 on part that looks like a beat up piece of rusty metal and rubber.  Hope for the best.

8- Install said part.  Decide motor was not meant to be when it still doesn’t run.

9- Determine floor is not repairable.  Put leaky dinghy in dumpster during clandestine night time dumping raid.  Sell motor to a used motor dealer for $200.

10- Resolve to self that selfs’ Craigs Listing skills are not as good as imagined.  Call used dinghy experiment a good learning experience and aquire brand new motor and dinghy. 

Craigslist dinghy purchase.  With only One person and stationary it’s not so bad!

After giving up on the first dinghy/motor combo Brian stepped in and ordered a brand spanking new hypalon walker bay off the internet.  1 week shipping guaranteed.

2 months later, after many manufacuring and shipping issues from the supplier later it arrived.  Horray!

We now had a nice new dinghy, but no motor to go with it.  In typical fashion we inititated the great debate over what motor would be best to go with the new dinghy.  About a year later we finally acquired a 2.3HP Air Cooled (read, LOUD) Honda named Pep Pep.

Fast, he is not, but as long as you feed him real gasoline (not that earth friendly California juice with 10% ethanol) he will reliably pep pep pep pep pep his way across any perfectly flat sheltered body of water at a raging 5knots.

Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 1.41.46 PM
Brian buzzing across the anchorage at 5 knots.  Everyone else had bigger motors on their dinghies and were already at the bar starting their second cervasa.

So Pep Pep came with us to Mexico.  At first we were delighted to have a functioning motor and a dinghy that didn’t sink.  After a few months working our way down the coast we made friends with other cruisers and began to understand why everyone else went with a 6 or 10HP motor for their little boat.  Pep Pep was undeniably slow.  By the third or fourth time we were unable to keep up with the others and had to decline a trip to see some sea caves out of our limited range we decided it was time for a motor with more oomph.

So, after a long summer of working (well, at least Brian was working) we upgraded our propulsion to a 9.8HP Tohatsu 4 stroke beauty.  The very accomodating folks at Cumberland Water Sports shipped it to a fex-ex location in Arizona for us to pick up when we passed through town.  We tossed it in the trunk of a rental car, piled lots of random boat and personal stuff on it, and made tracks south to the border.

For the record, we had done our research and knew that it was possible we would be searched and charged an import tax on the motor no matter what paperwork we had.  So, with i’s dotted and t’s crossed in the form of receipts, a temporary import permit, proof of destination, and a tarrif form filled out (In spanish no less, thanks Joe!) we drove on through.

Arriving at the crossing we discovered that after the holidays all cars get stopped and searched.  So we pulled into the inspection station, popped the trunk and hood and waited anxiously while the guards scanned our engine and trunk compartment.  Poor Brian was driving so had the privilege of trying to communicate with the gentleman in charge.

The customs agent came up to the drivers side and started asking questions in rapid fire spanish.  Neither of our language skills have progressed much beyond asking for the check or another beer so we had no clue what he wanted.  Finally Brian blurted out “Vamanos San Carlos!” to the surprised agent who stopped talking, realizing he was asking questions to a blank wall.

Much to our relief he nodded to the people at the trunk who were half heartedly looking through the top layer of junk we had piled in the car and the lid was slammed closed.  “Adelante!”  We know that one and laid rubber out of there.

Back in Mexico we clamped on the new motor and fired it up.  SOOOOO fast and quiet!  We are smitten.  It planes at half throttle and we can talk over the lovely low hum.  Best of all, it starts on the first pull.  At least the first couple of times.  Then it didn’t.  Crap.

Much cursing about poor quality asian made motors and grumbling about our inability to get the motor back to the states for warranty work later we discovered that the issue is acutally the fuel tank.  Like all new tanks it’s ventless (though it does have a vent, which does nothing but apparently satiates motor owners who think they have a vent).

I’m not sure how this all works out for other people, but the lack of vent meant that the motor wasn’t getting enough fuel to start.  When we took off the cap a huge amount of air would rush in and the motor would fire right up.  Solution?  We cut off a rubber nipple covering up the bottom of the fake “vent” and made it a real one.  Won’t fly back in the states but in Mexico no one gives two shakes.

Up next, Dinghy chaps.  The sun in the lower latitudes is so intense that even the hightly UV resistant Hypalon material of our little inflatable ride can’t take it.  So, in La Paz we tossed the little guy into a truck en route to an upholsterer to get permanent sun covers made in a nice light gray sunbrella.  I must say it looks sharp.


After the chaps we thought we were totally, absolutely finished with buying and tuning in new equipment.  Honestly, we should know better.  In the last few months we’ve discovered the joy (sarcasm) of landing a dinghy in a surf break.

If you haven’t had this experience yet let me explain how it works:

1- Drive towards beach in very expensive dinghy with motor designed for only the bottom half to encounter sea water.

2- Float for at least 5 minutes watching the swell break and look for a pattern of smaller sets.

3- Think you’ve gotten a small one rolling in and gun it for the beach.

4- Look over shoulder and realize that “little one” is actually a monster about to crash on you.

5- Hit the beach and fly out of dinghy like people possessed.  Grab handles of boat and haul 100 pound boat with 80 pound motor and 25 pound fuel tank up the sand before massive wave crashes on your head.

6- Get boat to safety.  Fall on butt and try to catch your breath as massive adrenaline rush wears off.  Have snippy argument about timing the waves better.

7- Resolve to get folding wheels for the transom to make landings infinitely easier.

8- Go into town and forget about the scary dinghy landing because its Mexico, its awesome, its worth it.

So.  This coming summer we intend to acquire a set of wheels to bring back in our luggage.  Who knows what we fill find to need next year!

Lets sum this saga up with my favorite thing of all time, a classic spreadsheet. I give you a perfect illustration of the acronym BOAT.

Screen Shot 2017-04-23 at 2.47.41 PM


*Friends, if you like this post please share on facebook, follow, and/or leave a comment.  I love to hear from readers!

3 thoughts on “Dinghy Duds and Do Overs


    Nice post Liz. All I have to say is you are not alone in the dinghy woes! As to surf landings, you neglected to mention the surf exit from the beach with the boat full of bags of groceries. For us that’s been way more fraught with peril than getting in (probably because alcohol may or may not have been involved…)


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