Everything you need to know about tenders by Dick Durham
Most cruising sailors agonise over the boat of their dreams without giving the same consideration to the dinghy. In part, this has evolved due to growth of the ubiquitous marina. Today, in some yachtsman’s minds, there is no need to have a tender because you will simply moor up to a pontoon and walk ashore.
For serious ocean sailors, anchorages are the best way of experiencing this blue water planet, and in an anchorage, you are going to need the means to
Types Of Tenders
There are many types of rigid tender, made of all kinds of material. Solid wood is heavy and requires continual maintenance, plywood and GRP are lighter but not strong enough to withstand rough handling on rocky shorelines. Aluminium, again, is heavy and expensive.
The one common advantage these all share is they can be either rowed or sculled and therefore no outboard engine is necessary. However, no one is likely to want to row more than half a mile or so, and with sailing tenders there is the bother of mast, boom, rig, rudder and sails to stow away, which leaves us with the fold-away dinghy or the inflatable.
Just as we rely on the wind to propel the mothership, so we rely on air to bring the inflatable dinghy to life. The straightforward, simple and cheap tubular fabric hulls with PVC bottoms were the first to arrive and, while easy to stow, were a poor tool: too floppy to handle a decent outboard and, when towed, they act as a suction pad. I remember my 30ft Alan Buchanan Yeoman Junior, Powder Monkey, being overtaken in Holland’s Ijsselmeer by a much smaller yacht until I hauled my Avon aboard and our positions were reversed.
Later, these basic inflatables were improved with rigid transoms to take the outboard and slatted floors and inflatable keels, but in doing so became heavier and hard to ‘pack away’.
All manner of folding dinghies have been invented over the decades, and gone the way of the Dodo… the canvas folding dinghy, the PVC folding dinghy, the nesting dinghy… to name but a few of the Heath Robinson methods of getting to that inviting taverna ashore.
The evolutionary process has continued with the tender and the RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) is the result: a dinghy that incorporates the best rigid and inflatable characteristics and therefore has become standard for most ocean-going cruising yachts. Proper hull-shaped V bottoms for strength, directional stability and stiffness, combined with inflatable topsides to give form stability, buoyancy, and reduce weight. However, they do wear, both from abrasion and UV rays and even with a boat made from the superior Hypalon fabric you can expect to replace them after 10 or 12 years.
A step up in durability is an aluminium tender which also has the added benefit of low maintenance. Found more frequently in Australia and New Zealand, these tenders are a great option for world cruisers who want a low maintenance option. A little heavier than its Hypalon counterpart and a touch more expensive too but certainly a great option for the right boat.
The new kid on the block but inevitable with the reducing costs and increased use of composites these days. A best of both worlds tender with the rigidity and strength of an aluminium tender but a very low weight. As with aluminium, these tenders require very little maintenance. The square hulls offer a stable platform to step on when getting in and out. The only real drawback is the price which is obviously high. For the cruiser where money is not an issue, there is certainly no better option on the market.
To Tow or Stow?
In a sheltered anchorage, when moving short distances, towing your RIB is an acceptable practice. And there are times when on a coastal hop that towing the dinghy is still an option. It is best in the latter case if the outboard engine is removed beforehand because if conditions suddenly deteriorate, the last thing you want is an inflatable that capsizes wrecking the engine.
With the engine removed and in open water, two painters should be made fast low down onto the stainless steel eye in the RIB’s stem. Then each painter is led to both quarters of the mothership at equal lengths. Keep the painters short when manoeuvring in close waters to avoid the bights dropping below the hull and wrapping around the prop.
Once you are underway, stream them aft for at least the length of the RIB itself, keeping the RIB clear of the mothership’s wake and giving it a chance to find its own directional stability.
That is, however, practically the only time you will not haul it clear of the water and stow it aboard. Towing in a heavy sea is dangerous as tenders can be swamped, or can rear up on the following sea and impact the mothership. If you find yourself in this situation – and assuming you are able to – put something heavyweight in the stern of the RIB as this will help ‘drogue’ it clear of your stern.
I once helped deliver a 31ft classic gaffer, Nightfall, from the Isle of Wight to the Thames and overruled an older more experienced member of the crew about whether or not to tow a 12ft clinker skiff.
Unfortunately, the owner didn’t listen to me, and off Selsey Bill in heavy seas, the tender caught us up and smashed a hole in one bow on Nightfall’s quarter, then repeated the act of self-destruction on the other. With water leaping in and out of her as the painters snagged, we cast it adrift. It was never found.
On smaller boats getting the tender onboard is problematic. I have had inflatables, half-deflated and lashed on the foredeck, I have had rigids cocked up half on and half off the coach-roof. The greatest option by far was the side-fitted davits we used aboard Cambria, the 92ft Thames sailing barge on which I served as mate for 14 months. In those davits we carried a 14ft clinker skiff, even lowering the aft end to catch extra breeze when sailing downwind!
Davits have been around a long time even for yachts, but only for use on large yachts. The doyen of early 20th century cruising yachtsmen, Claud Worth, wrote in his classic tome Yacht Cruising, first published in 1910 and re-issued up until the 1930s: ‘Only quite a large yacht can safely carry her boat in davits at sea.’
And such thinking has not changed. US yachting expert and writer for Sail magazine, Charlie Doane, penned in his classic The Modern Cruising Sailboat, first published in 2010: ‘The most convenient method is to carry the tender in stern davits.’
There is a danger that Davits that carry the dingy horizontally can hold down the stern if they are filled by a wave, but the Kraken designed davits carry the dingy at 30 deg angle which both protects it from filling and allows water to drain out without filling the RIB.
The other option is to stow the tender in a ‘garage’, but to compromise a yacht’s hull with transom ‘doors’ can result in being at an even greater risk to damage from pooping seas, not to mention the loss of internal accommodation such construction entails. Stowing a dingy into a dingy garage in an anchorage with any wave motion can be a real challenge too.
One final point on davits vs garage is that in the catastrophic event of the mothership sinking I would rather take to a RIB than a life-raft any day, or even a RIB with life-raft attached. But with your RIB stowed away in the garage, there remains only the life-raft option.