Putting the DIY in dinghy

It has been hot the last couple of days, and Kevin and I have been spending a lot of time in or near the 110-acre pond that is our backyard. The breeze comes off it, up the slope to our house, and keeps us a good ten degrees cooler here than the people at, say, the Stop & Shop parking lot.

This is not lost on the people at the Stop & Shop parking lot, and the pond has more kayakers, swimmers, and boaters than it usually does. We have had several occasions, over the last couple of days, to shake our heads in disbelief as people go by on stand-up paddleboards. Are we the only ones who think this has got to be the most tedious sport invented in our lifetime? Kevin believes its longevity is owed primarily to the expense involved in acquiring one of these boards. Once you drop four figures on such a thing, you must either continue to insist that it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon or resign yourself to looking like an idiot.

We were engaged in a much more constructive pursuit: dinghy construction.

As part of 2013: Year of the Tuna, we have acquired a mooring in Provincetown Harbor. The tuna territory we have our eye on is a spot called Peaked Hill (pronounced, inexplicably, PEEK-id), on the ocean side of Cape Cod’s tip. We’ve heard, from reliable sources, that it often attracts smaller fish, and smaller fish are what we’re after. The bite at Peaked Hill is often best just at dawn, after a moonless night. When it’s dark, the fish can’t see to feed, and they’re very hungry by the time the sun comes up to illuminate their prey.

If we want to get to Peaked Hill by dawn, we have to leave Barnstable Harbor at about 3:00 AM. Then, in pitch dark, we have to navigate the channel out of the harbor. From the channel head to Provincetown is about 30 miles and, despite the fact that we have radar, sonar, and GPS, it’s a harrowing drive, what with all that pitch blackness.

Consider the alternative. Get a mooring in Provincetown, go up the day before, hang out with your P-town friends, and sleep on the boat. Set the alarm for the civilized hour of 5:00 AM, and go catch yourselves a tuna.

We chose B.

The only kink in that plan is that our boat will only get us 99% of the way to Provincetown. That last one percent, from the mooring to the shore, is a problem. The time-honored way to solve it is to keep a dinghy either on shore, on the stretch of beach where storage is permitted, or at the mooring itself.

Keeping the dinghy on the mooring is much more convenient, as it’s there when you need it. No need for Kevin to drop me at the dock to go get the dinghy and row it out to the mooring. We just pull up, hop in the dinghy, and Bob’s your uncle. There’s a problem, though, with keeping a dinghy on a mooring that you don’t visit frequently: if it rains, the thing sinks.

Which brings me to the manifest inadequacy of my nautical education. There are ways, it seems, of making a boat what is called “self-bailing.” The means to this end are things called scuppers. Look it up, and you’ll find that a scupper is defined as, “an opening in the side of a ship at deck level to allow water to run off.”

I know it’s just my ignorance showing, but this sounds an awful lot like a hole. And holes are something I thought boats weren’t supposed to have. Without some fancy valve mechanism (which, I later discovered, some boats – including our own – have), I would think that the same “opening” that lets water out would also let water in.

Which it would, of course. What turns a hole into a scupper is its position. Below the water line, it’s a hole, and water comes in. Above the water line, it’s a scupper, and water goes out.

But wait! Here’s where it gets complicated. While you’re out minding your own business, trying to catch a tuna, the rain is gradually filling your dinghy hull. As it fills with rain water, it sits lower and lower in the ocean water. The scuppers only function if the water inside the boat reaches their level before the water outside the boat does.

Larger boats solve this problem with a deck, which leaves a space between the surface you walk on and the surface in contact with the water. The deck is above the waterline, the scuppers are above the deck, and water from rain and waves drains harmlessly out the stern. But that leaves those boats with the problem of the space between the deck and the bottom, which, no matter what kinds of heroic measures boat designers take, always always always ends up getting water in it. It is generally equipped with a hole – not a scupper, but an actual hole – from which you periodically remove the plug in order to drain the hull. It also has a pump, and if you press the right button, you will see a jet of water coming out a different hole, on the side of the boat, as though it’s peeing.

I had always thought that the only purpose of a hole in a boat is to sink it, but I am slowly getting more comfortable with the idea that boats have many holes, and they serve many more constructive purposes.

Dinghies, though, are simple affairs. They don’t have decks, and they keep the holes to a minimum. Because most of them aren’t self-bailing, I have concluded that it’s not so easy to make them so. But I’m not quite clear on why. A hull that’s buoyant enough so the water in the hull flows out before the water in the ocean flows in doesn’t seem like a monumental engineering problem.

It’s just my ignorance showing, I know. I’m sure there are members of the Starving commentariat who understand this perfectly, and will explain it. I thank you in advance. Meanwhile, Kevin and I were left with the problem of acquiring a dinghy we could leave on a mooring.

And then, last weekend, at a yard sale, we spotted it. Or rather, Kevin spotted it. A tiny fiberglass sailboat hull, about 6 feet long. Manufactured by JY, known for their cut-rate Laser alternative, it was a hollow-hulled fiberglass bathtub. With scuppers.

Kevin looked at it, lifted the bow to see how heavy it was, looked at it some more. “We put a seat across it here,” he said to me, pointing, “and oarlocks there,” pointing again, “and Bob’s your uncle!” He’s picked up that Bob’s-your-uncle thing from me, and uses it whenever he’s trying to convince me that one of his hare-brained schemes is perfectly simple and destined to succeed.

I was dubious. “How do you put in a seat and oarlocks without compromising the hull?”

“With glue, of course,” Kevin said, as though any third-grader would understand the process of turning an old, cheap sailboat hull into a self-bailing dinghy.

I pictured him out there with the Elmer’s, and must have looked skeptical, because he added, “I’ll use 5200.”

I know from the last time Kevin said “Bob’s your uncle” that 5200 is a special, super-duper marine adhesive that will bond pretty much anything to pretty much anything else and keep them bonded, come Armageddon.  Since he found 5200, Kevin has discovered his inner gluer, and we have a lot of things that are permanently stuck together.

We bought the hull. Kevin ordered the oarlocks, and found a board that could work as a seat. Because we didn’t have a plug for the hole in the hull for draining the water that always always always gets in, he replaced the entire assembly with a new brass gizmo. He glued the board and the oarlocks onto the gunwales, and we put it in the pond for a shakedown cruise.

It floats! And it rows! It’s a little tricky to get it balanced with two people in it, but we managed. Best, if you pour in water, it drains out the scuppers before the weight puts the scuppers under.

Neither Kevin nor I has much experience keeping a dinghy on a mooring, and it’s certainly possible we’ve overlooked something critical. This sailboat hull could end up at the bottom of Provincetown Harbor. But, if it does, it will be a cheap lesson. All told, the cost of the hull, accoutrements, and super-dupber marine adhesive was around $200. That’s cheap for a lesson in boat design, and even cheaper for a self-bailing dinghy.

Just think, we could buy five of the things for one measly stand-up paddleboard!

7 people are having a conversation about “Putting the DIY in dinghy

  1. Well, if it sinks you could always get a couple of paddle boards.
    (or an old wind surfer sans-sail)

  2. Accidental Mick says:

    Just “to ease your troubled mind” most fibre glass sailing dinghies float even if they ARE full of water due to the buoyancy built into the sides. They have to be because they fall over so easily that, if they didn’t float, the whole sea bed would be carpeted with dinghies. In fact, there is a class of dingy that has no stern at all and relies on getting enough speed up to get the hull out of the water and “up on the plane” to drain it (i.e. skimming across the top of the water rather than through it). When the boat slows down, it fills up again. To use one of your phrases, go figure.

    You don’t have to answer this but you know how nosy I am. Is this going to be permanent or just for the tuna season? I assume there is a season for tuna.

    Did you have to create your own mooring or have the harbour authorities set up a line of moorings for rent? For some reason, in England, this is called a trot especially when you moor fore and aft, to 2 bouys.

  3. Tina my wife would be very sad to hear you converted a perfectly good sailboat into a dignhy

  4. Kingsley — Funny you should mention that. We have a couple of windsurfer boards (and a couple of bona fide surf boards) that are our back-up plan. And I should add that stand-up paddleboarding in search of waves to surf is a fine activity — it’s only going around a flat bay or pond, with no hope of catching a wave, that I don’t understand.

    Mick — I think sailing dinghies may be a different animal. Most of the little rowboats I’m talking about (the kind you use to get to your bigger boat, out on its mooring) will most definitely sink if filled with water.

    The mooring is created by the powers that be in Provincetown, and they are transferrable. We bought ours from its previous owner, and then registered our boat to it with the town. Although its primary purpose is tuna (which are around from June into October, or even later), we’ll use it for other things as well — visiting our P-town friends, for example. We pay a servicer to put a mooring ball out in the spring, and take it in again in the fall, and an annual fee to the town for the privelege.

    Virginia — I wish you joy of your paddleboard. I do. And if everyone thought exactly the same leisure activities were wonderful, the world would be a dull, dull place.

    Henry — Please don’t tell her! I want to be on Tina’s good side!

  5. I love it. Wish we had 110 acres of pond where we are, closest we have is our goldfish bowl!
    Seriously though, looks like a great dinghy conversion, love the phrase ‘inner gluer’ too!

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