The difference a dink makes

The wind was a steady 25 knots, gusting over 30, blowing straight off the shore of the small island behind which we were anchored. Both of our dogs, whom refuse to to soil our boat (at least while we’re there) hadn’t relieved themselves in more than 24 hours and looked absolutely miserable.

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I held tight to the standing rigging as I stood on the cabin top and looked over my small kayak trying to decide if I could even make any headway towards the island or if I’d be blown back past the boat and out into the middle of the bay if I attempted the trip to shore.

It wasn’t so much that I was worried about what would happen to me and two dogs in life jackets on a kayak — we’d just be carried ashore somewhere in San Leon. The problem was that if I couldn’t get back to the sailboat, Mary would be stranded there, unable to lift the anchor and leave.

That was the weekend we really began dinghy shopping.

But what type and size of a dinghy did we need and how would we power it?

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Luckily we had many boating friends also looking for dinghies, so we waited and learned from their experiences.

Our friends on the Tina Marie Too had a big double floor West Marine inflatable with a 20hp 4-stroke engine. It was comfortable. It planed up. It held a lot of people. It was way too big for our boat. We ruled out a fiberglass floor inflatable.

Our friends on Escondida had an 8′ slat floor inflatable with a 5 hp. It was small, light and could easily be lifted on and off the foredeck. It could also be rolled up and stowed in the cabin. It didn’t hold much, and it was very slow.

Our friends on Folie a Deux bought a Port-a-bote. It wasn’t too heavy, and it folded flat to tie against the lifelines. However, it was only rated for a 2.5 hp motor, and they got caught with a strong headwind in Matagorda Bay and couldn’t make any forward progress.

What we really thought we wanted was a Takacat. However, actual Takacat inflatables are quite expensive, so we started looking at the generic Saturn inflatable catamarans available. Our friends on Hippokampos got curious about them as well and bought one.

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Not tapering together at the bow makes for a very wide dinghy. In fact, we referred to it as the barge. It was sort of a strange ride because you could feel the flex in the middle when a wave raised one pontoon and then the other. They’ve been cruising with it for over a year now, and you can actually read their entire review of it here. While they had no major complaints, we realized there was no way we could put a boat that wide on our foredeck, and we weren’t sure we’d even have the space to inflate and deflate it anywhere on Gimme Shelter.

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We went back to thinking we would go with an 8′ slat floor roll-up with a 5hp Lehr propane engine. While small and slow, that seemed to be the best option for our 34′ sailboat. We also wouldn’t have to carry gasoline along with the diesel and propane we were already carrying. We started saving and kept waiting for the big sale at West Marine.

However, sometimes the right dinghy finds you.

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Our friends over at SVMimzy.com asked if we were interested in a 10′ AB rigid floor inflatable with a Mercury 9.9 hp 2-stroke. While it was about ten years old, it was in really nice shape. I just didn’t think we could lift it or that we’d have space for it on the boat. I was incredibly surprised when the boat only weighed around 100 pounds, and I could pick it up and move it around myself — and it just barely fit on our foredeck. I have to lift it up and bit to open and close the anchor locker, but it works.

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We’ve anchored out more times this year than in almost all of our past years of sailing combined thanks to being able to easily get the dogs back and forth to shore.

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Of course, it’s been useful for more than just carting dogs around. Mary and I have made runs up and down the ICW from Bolivar to Stingarees.

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We can finally explore islands and anchorages together instead of taking turns on the kayak.

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It’s also been great for carrying my photography equipment to shore. I’d never risk it on the kayak, but now I can get the camera, lenses and tripod all safely to shore to set up for great shots like this.

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While we’re getting by with raising and lowering the dinghy and motor using our halyards, the next question is to davit or not to davit.

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Primary winch replacement on an Oday 34

Gimme Shelter arrived with the original winches from 1982, shiny stainless Barlow 25s. They glimmered with the reflection of the ocean as the waves rolled by.

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Unfortunately their shininess couldn’t make up for a few shortcomings.

  • Mary does not have much upper-body strength, so trimming in the 140 Genoa in anything more than the lightest wind proved impossible for her. I knew we needed bigger winches.
  • Barlow has been out of business for decades, and as I learned with my last boat, you’re always better off going with something that is still being made (or at least with a company still in business).
  • I was going to have to remove the Barlow winches anyway, whether I replaced them or not because Oday did not use any kind of backing plate when they were mounted, and the fiberglass under the starboard winch was cracking and needed to repaired.
  • The set screws that held the Barlows together were frozen, and I was most likely going to have to drill them out to get them off.

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I did quite a bit of research regarding how I could possibly get the winches off undamaged, but after two weekends of waiting on penetrating oil and trying different things, I ended up breaking the head off one set screw. At that point I just decided to dremel grooves into the bottom of the bolts on the other winch, so that I could hold each mounting screw still with a flathead screwdriver from below while I used an end wrench to unscrew the nuts.

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I ended up with one winch that I couldn’t put back together and one winch that I couldn’t take apart — at least until I finally drill out the center set screws in both and re-thread the holes.

During my struggle with the Barlows I ran across these gorgeous Lewmar 44 self-tailing winches at the local Boater’s Resale Shop, and on an impulse decided to upgrade. I mean, combined they were less than the price of one new Lewmar 44, how could I pass that up?

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I’ll admit I should have done more research before pulling the trigger on the bargain. The six allen screws in the top mean these are “spring jaw” Lewmar 44STs, which are also no longer made and no longer have parts available. I kicked myself for replacing one obsolete part with another obsolete part. However, I kept reminding myself that good winches can last 40 or 50 years, so surely they still had plenty of life in them before I’d end up hunting for some discontinued gear or pawl.

I thought they would work just like all other Lewmar winches and come apart after I removed the allen screws in the top. I was wrong. I took out the screws and nothing budged. I was delayed again as I searched for a way to disassemble Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Winches without them ending up in the same condition as the Barlows.

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Thankfully, the kind people at Lewmar were extremely responsive and in less than 24 hours of sending my inquiry, they sent me back a PDF of the original Lewmar 44ST Spring Jaw Self Tailing winch instructions, which I am sharing here for anyone else wondering how in the world to take these apart: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B-eqti4pjMLTRGw5cE9FMHFoOU1OczFKcURaX3dIdGdfeFFn&authuser=0

The key is to use a rubber mallet to tap the tailing arm in a counter clockwise direction until the entire top of the winch knocks loose. Then remove the six allen screws. Then the interior ring just screws off. It’s very easy once you know how to do it.

While I was fighting with the winches I was also mixing up thickened epoxy and filling in the old winch holes as well as injecting epoxy into the cracks.

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By the way, the Barlow winches actually had six holes, but Oday only bothered to put in five screws. I’m at a loss when it comes to the decisions boat builders make.

I also made new backing boards out of 1″ oak planks. In the past I’ve used star board, but I already had the oak left over from another project, so I went with that. I also bought all new stainless hardware to make sure I had six bolts for each side that were long enough to fit through the backing boards.

I drilled the six new holes two bit sizes larger than required, then filled those holes with thickened epoxy. I then re-drilled through the epoxy with the correct bit size, so that if my bedding of 5200 under the winches ever leaked, I wouldn’t end up with any water penetration at the holes.

Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo with the six holes drilled, filled and re-drilled because at that point of the project I was either covered in epoxy or just trying to get it finished.

The port backing plate, which is located in the lazarette, went on with no issues, but I had to cut the starboard backing plate in half to make it fit through the small access hole in the ceiling of the aft berth.

I won’t go into the details of how we installed the new winches with Mary working the screwdriver from the cockpit while I held up the backing plates and worked a ratchet in a contorted position from the bowels of the ship, but eventually the winches were mounted, and our marriage has survived.

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We now have the largest self-tailing winches compatible with our line size. After using them sailing to Port Bolivar last weekend Mary’s review was, “This is a lot easier.”

Worth every penny — even if they are discontinued.