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.

Update, July 24, 2016: Unfortunately, Avon dinghies are no longer available—another good company bites the dust after being bought out by a conglomerate whose strategy seems to have been to save money, rather than to build a great product.

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Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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