Dingy Dilema

Recently, on a quick trip with some of my favorite girlfriends, I found myself super excited to be added as a driver for our rental car. Yes, cruising has had some strange effects on what excites me. My friends were looking forward to sitting by the pool, while I was thrilled to be washing clothes with a full size washer/dryer and loading dirty dishes into a dishwasher. They chuckled at me a bit when I begged to go to Target and Trader Joe’s, just to wander wide-eyed down the aisles. And at one point, when something fell into the pool, I suggested they might find a ‘boat hook’ in the garage with which to fish it out! My, my how I have morphed unknowingly.

The most exciting commodity of being on land again, though, was having a car to drive. I turned up the radio and turned on the air conditioning, just because I could. I drove around town aimlessly, amazed at how many miles I could cover! When Mark tells me that our next anchorage is 15 miles away, that means about 2.5 hours of sailing, but in a car it only means about 20-30 minutes, and it doesn’t matter which way the wind is blowing!! Amazing, right?

Kids love to row our dinghy
I know, all of you are giving me that same ‘what planet are you from?’ look that my girlfriends gave me every time I’d reveal a new level of my alien cruising self. Not very different from the look I give my kids when one of them starts speaking “boat-ese”, showing that they’re absorbing more than I ever thought possible! Michael will be riding in the dinghy with us and suddenly say, “Dad, watch out! We don’t want to wake that boat. It’s a monohull, and it heels very easily.” Or Elizabeth will be walking along the dock saying, “Mom, I think we might need a stern anchor here, so our dinghy doesn’t get stuck under the dock when the tide comes in.” Seriously? Who are you people??

Dinghy parking lot
Yes, we are becoming cruisers, whether we like it or not. But one aspect of cruising that still proves a challenge to me (among lots of other things, mind you) is the dinghy. When you live aboard, your dinghy is like your car – an invaluable way to get around, a means by which to carry groceries and clean laundry back to your boat, a way to visit neighbors, and a way to escape from the confines of the boat when you need a break. It offers freedom and independence. It is vital.

Kids securing dingy on beach
I have formed a love-hate relationship with our dear dinghy. It has a powerful 25 horsepower 2-stroke engine with 2 bench seats. This allows for a very dry and speedy ride. I have ridden in other dinghies that do not have seats to sit on or motors with enough gusto to ride over waves. Inevitably, I’ve found myself holding on for dear life, bracing my feet for stability and getting soaked in the spray. Only when I had experienced the possible hardships of a slower, seat-less dinghy, did I grow to love the dinghy that we have.

But, then comes the hate part. Mark was recently out of town attending a memorial service for a few days. Before he left, he gave a quick briefing about battery charging and the anchor watch and had me try to start the dinghy when it wasn’t warmed up.

On the motor, there is a pull cord (much like that of an older lawn mower), a throttle and rudder combo, a choke, a kill switch, and a gear switch (reverse, neutral, forward). There is also an emergency kill key (like on a jet ski) and a lever/lock to lift the propellers up. Along the fuel line, we have a bulb that helps us prime the engine. The fact that I can tell you all of that makes me realize that I have absorbed a little “boat-ese” along the way, too!

But, what good is a powerful motor that can’t be started? Herein lies my problem. I prime the fuel, I put the throttle in the start position, I pull out the choke, I make sure it is in neutral, I grab the cord, lean forward, and YANK back with all my weight. Nothing. I try again. Nada. I push in the choke a bit so that I don’t flood the thing. I yank again. Zilch. I take a deep breath, curse under my breath, and plop down on the bench, defeated. Elizabeth pipes in, “You’re doing great, Mom. Keep trying.” With that, I stand again, brace my feet, and yank even harder. It sputters, but refuses to start. I become suddenly aware of others watching my struggle. Then, a neighboring boater shouts, “I’ll be there in a minute, hold on!” He comes to my rescue, starts the engine (with some difficulty - a welcomed confirmation that it’s not easy) and I am free… discouraged and wondering how I’ll get it started at the docks to come back to the boat, but for the moment, free.

Other cruising women have told me, “Learn to drive the dinghy. You’ll need the ability to get away.” So, I have learned to drive it. The kids will tell you I drive a lot slower than Daddy, but I can drive it, regardless. I just can’t start the darn thing!! A few times I have re-entered my Blanche DuBois role and relied on the “kindness of strangers” to get it started when I’ve been at a dock or along the beach. Just yesterday, Elizabeth and I pulled it up on shore and tied it up, only to need help dragging it back into the water when the tide went out and left it beached. This dinghy creates quite the dilemma.
Mark pulling kids on ULI paddle board 

I find myself daydreaming about starting a car with the push of a button. I dream of parking without having to tie a bowline knot or having to pull up the heavy motor to keep the props out of the sand. I dream of driving in the rain without having to wear a raincoat!

Life aboard sounds luxurious, and I do feel very blessed, but that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Maybe next time you hop in your car and zip on over to Target, you’ll squeeze your steering wheel a little bit tighter and gaze lovingly at your windshield wipers! And maybe when I untie our dinghy today and glide over the waves to the beach, I’ll be thankful for a dry bench and a speedy ride.

Mark has composed a video of a beautiful place to which our dinghy carried us - a tiny mangrove creek on Shroud Cay with long stretches of white sand and an interesting driftwood camp that a lone sailor created. Our dinghy brought us somewhere a car could never go – another reason to love my dear dinghy.

P.S. - We have found a possible way to add an electric start to the engine, but will not be able to get the parts until we reach Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, I will be eating spinach and batting my eyelashes!!


  1. That's such a great post Sarah - I love it! And the video is amazing, so cute...

  2. Just came across your blog from the Antares site. Sarah, you have a very good sense of humor. There's sometimes a reason for reverting to my 7th fleet language of yesteryear and it all to often has to do with outboards (batting my eyes would cause a whole different set of problems!). I hope to follow your adventure and look forward to your entries. Mark, a really nice video. I'm happy to hear you're enjoying the galley. I'm retired and, being empty nesters, have really started to enjoy cooking up dinner with different recipes for my wife and I when she gets off work. Of course, the kids have mentioned that it would've been a good trait to have when I was raising them. Take care and safe travels...


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