Avon Dinghy, Take Two

John pushes a growler away from S/V Morgan's Cloud using the dinghy

Avon Dinghy #1 in work mode. No wonder the bottom had to be patched so often!

We loved our old Avon dinghy, so much so that we kept it in active service for 20 years, even though it sprang a slow air leak about year 17. (Unless you’ve ever tried jumping 4 feet into the air—it’s about that distance from the dinghy tube to Morgan’s Cloud’s side-deck—off a squishy inner tube, you won’t understand the depth of our loyalty to this dinghy!)

Phyllis moves the Avon dinghy on S/V Morgan's Cloud's foredeck

Avon Dinghy #1 was light enough that it was easy to move around

Why were we so loyal to our old Avon?

  • The two of us could, quite easily, lift it out of the water and onto the foredeck without using a halyard.
  • The two of us could, very easily, carry it up a rocky shore with the outboard off and, with difficulty, carry it up a rocky shore with the outboard on (why we now have a 4hp outboard, as our old 8hp was too heavy).
  • It rolled up and stored nicely in our forward bunk for offshore passages (why we didn’t go for a rigid bottom).
  • It had a wooden rather than air floor, much more stable to stand on and we didn’t worry about puncturing it.

But finally the leaking got too bad and we grudgingly accepted that the pitiful piebald old thing (the bottom was a mess of patches) needed to be replaced. Avon claimed that we could get the exact same 4-person dinghy—even the wooden floor boards, though they had to be shipped from France at vast expense. However, when it arrived we realized that Avon #2 is not the same as Avon #1—it’s been supersized!

Supersizing drawbacks:

  • Hauling it up on the foredeck now takes the two of us, counts to 3 followed by loud grunting (reminiscent of a gym), and, on days we are feeling weak, a halyard.
  • Carrying it up a rocky shore with the outboard on is definitely out and carrying it up a rocky shore with the outboard off requires numerous cussing breaks (John) and panting breaks (me). (John insists that it’s me that does the cussing but he’s obviously mistaken.)
  • Rolling it up and storing it in the forward cabin is now a tussle.
  • Harder to see over when stored on the foredeck.
S/V Morgan's Cloud's Avon dinghy hauled up a beach in the Bahamas

The two of us can just manage to carry Avon Dinghy #2 up a smooth beach

Supersizing benefits:

  • The bigger tubes mean we don’t get a salt water shower every time we go to windward.
  • The new dinghy holds a ton more stuff when doing moving van imitations. In fact, we figure it probably halves the number of trips we have to make for a given amount of stuff.

But Avon really blew it on the small stuff: They went so cheap on the pump hose that it splits if you look at it sideways. After a few such accidents, resulting in an ever shorter pump to nozzle span, we replaced it with plastic reinforced sanitary hose (using a heat gun on the ends to attach it securely); prompting the following curmudgeonly rant, which is often uttered by John when faced with this sort of thing:

Why do companies so often “spoil the ship for a ha’penny worth of tar”? When will they learn that going cheap on the small stuff enrages their customers, who have given them large sums of hard-earned money?

Bottom line on Avon #2? We can put up with the supersizing drawbacks, we appreciate the supersizing benefits, and the new dinghy looks like it will be as robust as the old one, though only time will tell. Now if only John would quit cussing every time we have to pick the thing up!

What is your tender of choice, and what are its advantages and disadvantages? Please leave a comment.

{ 32 comments… add one }

  • Paul Mills November 13, 2010, 9:14 am

    Hi

    We used to have an Avon, and loved it. However, for our new boat, after much deliberation we chose an aluminium RIB from Ribeye, which we stow upside down on the coachroof. Two strongish men can lift it onboard unaided, or my eight year old can winch it with a halliard. It takes five at a pinch and is proving robust. With the addition of wheels on the transom it is easily moved up the shore. It comes with lots of handles and davit points and very meaty towing point. The only thing we needed to change was to replace the short plasticy oars with longer plastimo wooden ones that make rowing a pleasure.

    If you are happy with a dinghy on deck or in davits I would strongly recommend that you give these strong, low maintenance dinghies a look. The dealer tells me that demand is outstripping supply – so be prepared for a few months wait. Which in this day and age says a lot…

    Reply
  • Tom Hildebrandt November 13, 2010, 10:51 am

    I had an Avon Redcrest (wood floors) that came with Juno 8 years ago. The dinghy gave great service and had all the plusses that you mentioned!

    But for the same reasons, too many patches and too much pumping, I bought the Portland Pudgy. I love rowing the new Juno Jr, she carries a great deal of cargo, is very stable and can take a licking! The sailing rig is fun for one or two persons if they are good friends, and when rigged with the exposure canopy, it would make for an acceptable life boat in anything but heavy winds and seas (but what liferaft would truly be better in such conditions?). The down side is the weight, there is no way I can haul Juno Jr up the modest sand beach alone, much easier to anchor off and swim ashore (an acceptable practice here in the tropics but may not be appropriate for Morgan’s Cloud’s cruising grounds!).

    I am still trying to find an acceptable long shaft engine for Juno Jr, but it will be small, a 2.5 or 3.5, I will not need any additional weight hanging on the stern of Juno!

    Reply
  • David Nutt November 13, 2010, 10:53 am

    We use an 11′ Aquapro with an aluminum bottom that we purchased 11 years ago in NZ on the first leg of our circumnavigation. Even with a 15hp 4 stroke Yamaha we were able to get it on the beaches. That is a bit harder on the rocks of Maine and Greenland and the shores in between. We also carry a 13′ fiberglass whitehall dinghy which is easy to drag ashore. I tell it that this is its lot in life for being a fiberglass dinghy. We carry both of these on deck which is always a bit of a concern but we try our best to avoid the kind of weather that will wash them away. The dinghies are so important as much of cruising life is spent at anchor with passages consuming a minimal amount of time. The pleasure of rowing the whitehall or going 3 miles down the coast in the Aquapro are well worth the space taken on deck on passage. This works for Danza.

    Reply
  • Colin Speedie November 13, 2010, 2:43 pm

    We have an Avon 3.10 and it’s a great dinghy – ours did seven years hard work as the workhorse of our research yacht before we took it over for our new journey. It has been bashed on rocks, dragged up beaches and generally maltreated all of its life, but although covered in patches it has never let us down – hypalon is a magic fabric in my view, and the best there is for a dinghy.
    But – it’s very heavy, doesn’t row well, and with such an inadequate pump it’s hard to get the floor hard enough for the dinghy to plane well. We’re now actively considering a replacement, but haven’t seen the perfect answer yet. The alloy RIBs like Paul’s look great, but we don’t want anything that has to stow on deck, which is a pity. And with our windvane davits are out.
    There has to be a solution, but we haven’t found it yet – and the old Avon is a hard act to follow……

    Reply
  • Nick Kats November 15, 2010, 8:22 pm

    Phyllis
    Have you tried dinghy wheels?
    I haven’t, but seems to be a good solution. Large diameter, wide, easily removed for foldup & storage?
    Nick

    Reply
    • Nick Kats November 17, 2010, 8:17 am

      Last year I researched into dinghy wheels but did not get a pair.

      What I found on the Internet were 12″ diameter wheels, 4 or 6″ wide, soft tires for sand, supposed to be easily raised & lowered & removed.

      Has anyone used these sort of wheels? How did that go?

      Nick

      Reply
      • John November 19, 2010, 5:06 pm

        Hi Nick,

        I will be interested to hear how they work out, if you install these wheels. I think we will continue to lift in that the bulk of the wheels is going to make it difficult to stow our dinghy on deck or below, at least the way we are set up.

        Reply
        • Nick Kats November 20, 2010, 7:10 am

          Hi John
          The wheels come off easily, should not interfere with dinghy stowage.
          I researched this & found about 3 companies offering this product. Wheels easily removed or put back on, 12″ dia wheels, thick tires.
          The 12″ dia should make handling over rough terrain a lot easier. Can lift the dinghy over the roughest parts.
          So, has anyone here used this product?
          Cheers,
          Nick

          Reply
  • Phyllis November 16, 2010, 12:04 pm

    As Colin writes above, finding a good solution is not easy if you aren’t willing to stow a dinghy on deck while offshore, and so, like most everything else on a boat, our Avon wooden floored dinghy is a compromise.
    Tom, we have written about the Portland Pudgy and think it is a very interesting option, though, as you say, swimming ashore is not really an option for us!
    Neither are dinghy wheels, unfortunately, as we are so seldom in places that have nice shelving beaches. Most of our dinghy landings involve large seaweed covered rocks!

    Reply
  • Victor Raymond November 17, 2010, 5:23 am

    I have struggled with this problem also. I think the solution is to have several inflatables that can take you ashore. I have a 3.4 RIB that is very heavy and cumbersome until it hits the water. Then it planes nicely and is extremely stable. This works well when we plan to spend more than one night at an anchorage or mooring. For the short stays we have a two person inflatable kayak that is very light weight, easily inflated and stored. We are considering adding an extremely light inflatable (under 10 lbs) for times when neither of the above solutions is ideal.

    Reply
  • pete & sally November 19, 2010, 12:44 pm

    http://www.lodestarinflatables.com/Ultra-light.html
    Have a look at these we have a load star and its’ the best very strong very light and the inflatable floor is as ridged as any wooden one. I can carry it on my own up a beach and have even carried it up 60 steps (knackered at the top) goes like hell with the oars or our 2.3 Honda. Not the cheapest but all the bits are strong and work. Regards Pete
    PS: sorry forgot the address on the first

    Reply
    • john November 19, 2010, 5:39 pm

      Hi Pete and Sally,

      Looks very interesting.

      I guess we still like a wood floor, even if the inflatable floor is rigid. I just think of all the sharp and rough items I have dropped and dragged over the floor over the years, particularly when putting in shore-fasts. But then that light weight is very appealing…

      Reply
  • pete & sally November 19, 2010, 5:48 pm

    Ok Ok Ok I kept the secret for you to beg for. Just joking. Get a piece of 4mm polyprop and lay it on the floor to protect the blow up. cost about $50

    Reply
  • Vera Quinlan January 5, 2011, 12:27 pm

    Hi Phyllis and John,
    I read with interest your comments on inflatables. We have just bought our first cruising yacht (steel, Bruce Roberts Mauritius ketch) and plan to visit northern latitudes. We will have two small children onboard. Not keen on current ply dinghy, would like inflatable. We have davits in place. I am thinking to modify davits and get a hard bottom Avon (or similar) and keep it on davits upside down. Am I mad crossing oceans / going north with this in situ?
    Look forward to your comments.

    Reply
  • Fuss January 6, 2011, 10:39 am

    Well with the limited info given….I wouldn’t want to go in the high latitudes in a new to me boat unless i was at the level where i did not need to ask the question about the sort of dinghy and attachment method. and then i probably still wouldn’t want to go until i knew the boat. and then i still would be nervous

    Reply
    • John January 6, 2011, 11:55 am

      Hi Fuss,
      Even though Vera feels you misunderstood her, I think you make a good point that it is important to work up slowly to high latitude sailing. We say this a lot and it is nice to have it confirmed by another person.

      And I’m always nervous when sailing in the high latitudes! But then I’m a legendary wimp.

      Reply
  • Vera Quinlan January 6, 2011, 11:27 am

    Fuss,
    A most unhelpful answer. I mentioned ‘northern’ latitutes, ‘high’ latitudes will come later! :)
    Does anyone else have experience of lashing a rigid bottom inflatable upside down on davits and passage in this fashion?
    V

    Reply
    • John January 6, 2011, 11:51 am

      Hi Vera,
      We really don’t like to see dinghies on davits at sea. In fact we go a step further and don’t like to have a dinghy on deck at all while at sea, particularly in the high latitudes. The ability of repeated boarding waves to loosen even the strongest lashings must be seen to be believed. And trying to secure a dinghy, or anything else for that matter, that has come loose on deck in heavy weather can be a truly dangerous activity.

      This is the primary reason we don’t have a RIB.

      Reply
      • Nick Kats January 7, 2011, 8:20 am

        Vera
        Agree with John totally. Anything on davits astern will twist or tear out the davits, leaving you with the problem of cutting and sawing away the wreckage at great risk. If the davits, ropes & RIB hold, waves slamming into the inverted RIB way back there will exert enormous forces on your yacht, throwing her off course & greatly increasing the risk of broaching.
        Nick

        Reply
  • Vera Quinlan January 6, 2011, 12:17 pm

    Thanks John, makes sense. Trying to make correct purchase options at this stage is not an easy task, with experience i am sure this will get easier, I don’t expect we will get it all right from the start… but doing our best to minimise ‘cost’ damage!
    V

    Reply
    • John January 6, 2011, 1:40 pm

      After 30 years of doing this, I’m still trying to “minimize cost damage” too!

      Reply
  • Victor Raymond January 6, 2011, 1:15 pm

    Vera,
    I have found a RIB to be a most stable platform and well worth the effort to ship on board and flip upside down. Having said that I would also suggest one or two light weight inflatable kayaks when you are just anchored for a short time and don’t want or need the RIB and outboard motor. Kids (depending on age) love contributing to movement of the kayak and can quickly learn to maneuver by themselves. They make very sturdy two person kayaks that are light enough for one to lift and launch. Especially handy if you have a swim step.

    My two cents

    Victor

    Reply
    • John January 6, 2011, 1:41 pm

      Hi Victor,
      I think the inflatable kayaks are a great idea, one we are looking at on MC.

      Reply
  • Colin Speedie January 7, 2011, 3:36 pm

    Hi Victor

    We carry a Stearns back country inflatable 2 man canoe as a back up for our Avon dinghy. It’s robust and reasonably light weight, but really only suitable for use in sheltered waters – it’s inclined to blow around rather alarmingly if the wind is above F4, although we’re more confident with it since we bought some better paddles. We met some fellow Ovni owners this summer who were carrying two of the Stearns inflatable kayaks, which looked (in some ways) to be a better bet if you possess the necessary skills to use them.
    Our canoe hasn’t had as much use as we expected (it’s too easy to simply reach for the Avon and outboard), but we plan to use it more for river exploration and the like, when the silent propulsion around wildlife should prove worthwhile.
    Best wishes
    Colin

    Reply
    • Victor Raymond January 7, 2011, 4:17 pm

      Hello Colin,

      We have been using the West Marine (Advanced Elements) “AdvancedFrame Double Touring Kayak” for about two years now. We have been on the ocean as well as white water rivers and are impressed with its capabilities. They certainly bend but don’t double over although in the right conditions (read: sinkhole) they could.

      The first time I saw one of these boats a rather large man got in a half inflated kayak and paddled out to his boat. I thought to myself that if it could hold him without sinking perhaps this was a decent model to own.

      If we were to buy again I would look seriously at the NRS inflatable line as well as the SeaEagle line of inflatables as they may be more durable and carry heavier loads.

      Wind does affect these kayaks but I think less than a canoe which we have owned for almost 20 years. The weight of the canoe finally convinced us to move to a kayak.

      Also we find sitting in the kayak for long periods more comfortable since you can sorta snuggle up to and into a kayak but the canoe is pretty hard and requires a strong straight back.

      Best wishes to you and Louise too.

      Victor

      Reply
  • Richard April 22, 2011, 6:46 pm

    The inflatable kayaks from Innova http://www.innovakayak.com/ look as though they could well and truly fit the bill as a backup up for an Avon.
    As an aside, and I am not suggesting a Klepper folding kayak as a tender, but I have used my Aerius I on occasion. I have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get into and out of from my yacht (but then I do have low topsides) and how it sat astern totally untroubled when a 20 + knot front passed over us at anchor.
    Richard

    Reply
    • Richard Elder September 7, 2011, 11:13 pm

      Hi other Richard!
      I have a Innova Helios II that has given good service. I throw a 30# rock in the bow to settle it down when paddling alone in wind. Understand one was used to circumnavigate Vancouver Island. ps mine was 1/2 price because it is green and purple. At least no one will steal it!

      Reply
  • Steven Schapera April 5, 2013, 9:30 pm

    Check out http://www.nestawayboats.com/page39.htm
    I dont have one, but am seriously considering investing in the 9ft. They are beautifully made, and row and sail VERY well! The nesting design makes a lot of sense.

    Reply
    • John April 6, 2013, 8:19 am

      Hi Steven,

      The boats do indeed look very cool. Thanks for the link. I just spent a happy 15 minutes looking at them online.

      Reply
  • Jennie October 10, 2013, 3:49 pm

    Tenders are such a good subject that I had to put in my two bits. We swear by porta boats. They stow flat like a surfboard, durable resin bottom that you can drag across the sharpest rocks, light enough to lift easily, and shaped to both row and motor well. http://www.porta-bote.com/However I echo John’s comment about not liking even their low profile lashed to the deck. Our beloved “Jandal”, tender to Gumboot washed off the deck crossing the Cook Strait between islands in New Zealand. I remember the lesson each time I put books on the shelves we made from the teak seats that were stored below!

    Reply
    • John October 12, 2013, 8:20 am

      Hi Jennie,

      Thanks for the great link and indorsement. I really like the idea of folding boats, although I have no first hand experience. And I was particularly impressed by the Practical Sailor review.

      Have you ever tried to sail it using the new rig option? I have always thought it would be great fun to have a tender we could sail, but have never found one that we could stow properly that would do that.

      Good point about stowage issues. Although Cook Strait might be one of the ultimate deck stowage tests: only place I know of where the local racing fleet regularly set storm trysails!

      Reply
  • Louise July 20, 2014, 12:19 pm

    My Avon, Rover celebrated her 20th birthday twirling in air astern offshore in an unexpected storm/gale. Still looking great after 20 years. She’s missing a few parts now after that, but…… I’d for sure get another Avon. She’s been towed basically to Venezuela and back and Bahamas numerous times. Great boat

    Reply

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