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Author cautions against PVC dinghy use in tropics

Jan 1, 2003

To the editor: For two years I cruised the Caribbean, using both hard-hull and inflatable dinghies. The biggest reason I prefer an inflatable dinghy is not mentioned in the article "Tender choices" by Earl Hinz (Issue 103, January/February 2000): ease of getting in and out of the water when snorkeling and scuba diving. My early experiences of climbing out of the water and into a hard-hulled dinghy were nothing short of comical!

Inflatable dinghies are a delight for getting in and out of the water. However, I took strong exception to inflatable dinghies constructed with PVC material. It was my experience that a sticky, gummy surface developed on the inflatable tubes when the PVC was left exposed to sunlight. By default, the dinghy sat out in the direct tropical sun except when it was stowed for passages. It took about six months for my new dinghy to succumb to sticky side tubes. At first it was just a disconcerting nuisance, but later it left an ignominious residue (like old chewing gum) on the gluteus maximus of passengers. I coped with the problem by making a canvas cover that conformed to the contour of the tubes, like a seat cover. Eventually, I purchased an inflatable dinghy constructed with Hypalon and never experienced any problem with sticky tubes.

Another tidbit of experience with inflatable dinghies is the problem of lateral chaffing in stern davits. Sailboats inherently rock from side to side, both under way and at anchor, causing a dinghy in the davits to shift from side to side in the davits. Since any chaffing on an inflatable will soon result in a hole, I was unable to use the davits for the inflatable even though I arranged spring lines and used ample chaffing protection. Instead, at anchor, the inflated dinghy hung abeam by the spinnaker halyard where chaffing was traded for bumping (easily taken by an inflatable, and minimized with a cinch line). On passages, it was deflated and stowed, leaving the fore deck gloriously free for sail handling.