Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Newest Member of the Fam

My love/hate relationship with my inflatable dinghy had turned to mostly hate. I was having to inflate it every morning and even after going ashore, I’d often have to blow it up some more before going back out to Ruth Ann. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the outboard on the dinghy too long in case it lost enough air to risk sinking. Plus it was so damn heavy, it was hard to move around. I would end up leaving it in the water and after 10 or 12 days I’d have a couple hours of work to remove the barnacles. 

And then the outboard stopped wanting to cooperate. 

The ‘deflatable,’ as I had come to call it, was a 9.5’ Achilles dinghy; a great little tender. I bought her from a Canadian couple in Ft. Pierce about 7 years ago. A captain I had crewed for and myself had ended up in the same marina and he brought the Canadians to me saying “This is a great deal. You should buy this.” So I did. 

The Achilles had an aluminum slat floor so that it could be rolled up when deflated. But that floor was incredibly heavy. Also, the aluminum had already started to corrode when I bought it. Several years in storage while I worked on my last two boats probably didn’t do the floor any good. The ends of the slats get tucked under the port and starboard tubes when the tender is all blown up. This put the jagged corroded ends of the slats dangerously close to the skin. I had had the Achilles blown up in the boatyard in NC last fall, but it was January before it was unrolled and inflated for use on the water. In the process, two air leaks had developed; one each port and starboard. The proper kit to repair an air leak in a hypalon inflatable is pretty expensive and my budget has been squeaky tight for most of the beginning of this year. 

From the Spindrift Webpage

I started looking around for some options. I looked at dinghies and kayaks on Craigslist and on Facebook Marketplace. I knew I was headed up toward Jacksonville, so I was looking around here.  I also looked at buying plans to build my own. The best part about D.I.Y. building a dinghy is the option of building a nesting dinghy. Nesting dinghies come apart and store in a small bundle with the bow section inside the aft section. But nesting dinghies are unique to cruisers and there is no market. No one makes and sells a nesting dinghy. I actually bought the plans for one dinghy and then found a better version but hadn’t bought those plans yet. That better version was called a Spindrift and the plans came in four sizes. Nevertheless, a Spindrift build would take nearly $3000 in materials alone.

In the last week or so, I had found a Glen-L 8 Ball dinghy on Marketplace. Glen-L is a boat plans business that was a mainstay since the 1950s in the classified ads of Popular Mechanics, Wooden Boat Magazine, the Small Boat Journal, etc. It was not a nesting dinghy but at eight foot long it would just fit onto Ruth Ann’s bow. The seller said that it had been his childhood boat and was “mid-refinishing.” I have done enough boatwork that ‘mid-refinishing’ was not a red flag, but it made me curious. The downside would be that I’d have to find a space where I could finish the refinishing. That would mean renting some space somewhere, somehow. Ruth Ann would also have to be kept somewhere. An ideal solution would be a dock or a mooring at a boatyard where I could keep Ruth Ann while working on the 8 Ball. But now the unknowns were starting to add up to an unknown cost. The 8 Ball was only $500 and I was researching my options for space. If I built something like a Spindrift, I’d need to find some space for that as well; likely for a longer period of time. Plus, my budget was still squeaky tight. I had no near term solution for financing any of those projects, but I was going through repair kits and had already worn one air pump out. The Achilles was like an unreliable car and it frustrated me on a daily basis. If it suddenly went completely bad, I’d have no way to get ashore; no way to get groceries. 

And then Dad decided to send all us kids a check as a gift/distribution from the estate/funds that he and Mom had saved up over the years. I suddenly had some options. Thanks, Dad!

I went back to the Marketplace ad for the 8 Ball and noticed a line at the end that said “Currently located in Myrtle Beach.” What!?! I don’t know if I had missed that before or if it was new information. Facebook had served up the ad while I was looking inside a 25 mile radius around Jacksonville. I messaged the seller to ask and he said “Yes, I’ve relocated.” I still don’t know if that had just happened or what. His seller profile shows a bunch of boat stuff that had sold, that was located in Jacksonville. His About Info on Facebook still shows that he works in Chicago(!), so who knows when …

I told him that I would be passing through Myrtle in several weeks and I would check to see if the 8 Ball was still available then and went back to my search. 

There were lots of kayaks for sale around Jacksonville, but Jacksonville is a large place and I don’t have a car. I might be able to get someone to deliver their kayak, but that added another wrinkle to the process.  I went back to the Jacksonville Craiglist to check for a dinghy again. Right at the top of the search results was a boat I had seen before. The cover photo was a wide shot of the side of the boat and it looked large. It also looked like a dinghy racing boat, not a tender dinghy. There are many classes, called one design racing, where people all race the same model of a small boat. Those boats are often called dinghies as well. I had seen that same ad at the top for days while I was searching. It just didn’t look like the kind of boat I was looking for so I hadn’t really ‘looked.’ On Thursday last week, for some reason, my eyes slowed down just enough to ‘see.’  

Spindrift! Wait … what! 

The dinghy I had been ignoring was a Spindrift; my best case possibility. What!?!  

I clicked on the ad to learn that not only was this pretty little boat a Spindrift, it was a nesting version of the Spindrift and it was already built. The price on that boat was about 2/3 the cost of materials! I tried to call, but got no answer so I sent an email.  

This was the day I was leaving New Smyrna Beach. I had intended to go out the Ponce Inlet and sail up to Jacksonville. In fact, I had told the seller that I might be out of phone signal for a few days but that I was very interested. If you saw my social media post last week, as I was headed out the sketchy, narrow inlet, a dredge ship did a couple U-turns right in front of me with no warning, no hornblasts, no radio announcement or anything. As I was turning around and heading up the ICW, away from the dancing dredge, my phone, down inside Ruth Ann, was ringing. 

Well, they’re just going to have to wait, I grumbled to myself as I watched the buoys and markers ahead and piloted my way out of one channel and into the ICW. 

Then I remembered that I had left a message for the Spindrift seller! I set the autopilot and dove below to recover my phone.  

I indeed had a pleasant voicemail from Don, the builder/seller of the Spindrift. Leaving Audrey, the autopilot, in charge, I stepped forward of the dodger to get out of the engine noise in the cockpit. I sat on the starboard side of Ruth Ann’s cabin and called the seller back. I gave him a brief description of the dredge in the inlet and we talked about the Spindrift. It was still available. He had a guy coming to look at it on Wednesday, but “he’s kind of a jerk and I don’t really want to sell it to him.” 

“Do you do Paypal?” I asked, “I’ll send you the money right now if we can do the deal.”  I could hardly contain my excitement or keep from talking too fast. 

“Sure,” he said. And we made the deal. 

I returned to the cockpit where I could keep a better eye on the channel and the traffic. With the autopilot minding the wheel, I transferred some money with my credit union’s app and as soon as Don emailed me his Paypal address, I sent him the money and changed course for Fernandina. I had just bought my dream dinghy. This was going to be life-changing. 

It took me three days to get all the way here, and I could hardly stand it. I started working on the project in my head. Don’s Spindrift was the 11. I probably would have built the 9 foot version if I had built one myself. The Spindrift 11 is a lot of boat for Ruth Ann, but because it comes apart and nests together, it takes up less space on deck than the 8 Ball would have. I did have a slight panic when I started thinking about all the dinghy components that I’ll have to store. It was too late to do anything but sally forth because I had already sent the money. I had lots of time to think as I gurgled up the ICW. This was almost exactly the dinghy I had always wanted. Just get it done.


The Spindrift has a sail rig, so I can sail her in addition to rowing. I will no longer use an outboard. My experience over the last several months living on the water confirms that I can live without an outboard. There will be compromises; there always are in boats as well as in life. There might be a few days now and then when I can’t go ashore because of the weather. There might be areas where I can’t stop because it would be such a long trip ashore (but only in the most unusual wind conditions). 

I met Don this afternoon here in Fernandina Beach. He delivered the Spindrift right to the marina where I got a mooring ball earlier. We slid the boat out of the back of his pickup, he wished me well, and was off. I sent him the straight amount in Paypal and told him that I would cover the fees when I saw him. He wasn’t worried about it and might have had some family commitments on Mothers Day. The sail for the dinghy is being made up on Cape Cod and won’t be available until June. I’m headed down to Green Cove Springs to do some bureaucratic chores and some boat projects. I’ll likely just stop here on my way up north to pick up the sail. Don is supposed to email me his address so I can cover his Paypal fees, but otherwise I’ll do it when I return for the sail. 

The main feature is that the Spindrift will split into two pieces and store in a small space. Moreover, because the boat is light and easy to move the two pieces around, I'll be able to bring her on deck at night not only for security's sake but also to prevent barnacles from having time to grab on. Way less clean up! 

So far, I love the way she rows! The hull is a very efficient V-bottom shape and the oars are proper rowing oars. The sailing rig includes a daggerboard, rudder, and boom as well as a mast which comes apart into three sections for ease of storage. ‘Ease of storage’ is a thing because Ruth Ann is a small boat. However, while sailing up here I developed a plan. I’m going to lay in a supply of Starboard or similar material to make some chocks that the nested dinghy will fit into when tied down. Speaking of ‘tied down,’ I will add some padeyes near the chocks to securely and tightly tie her down. I will also fabricate some similar individual chocks to tie down the two oars, the three mast sections, and the boom. These parts will stow parallel with the boat along the cabin roof. The rudder and the daggerboard will fit into the port cockpit lazarette where the inflatable thwarts and oars were stored.

Speaking of the inflatable … err, deflatable ... I’ve already given it away. In the next few weeks, I’ll either tune up my outboard and try to sell it  …  or punt and give it away as well. 

I am so excited to have eliminated a fossil fuel powered mode of transportation. I’ll probably always have the diesel auxiliary engine inside Ruth Ann, but now it is no longer necessary to also buy and store gasoline for the dinghy outboard. 

I can’t wait to sail the Spindrift. Even in the Bahamas where it might be a couple miles from an anchorage to a settlement or a good bar, in all but the most inclement weather, I will be able to sail ashore from Ruth Ann and back out again. 

Life is so damn good. Speaking of good: I'd still rather be lucky than good. 

Tonight behind Ruth Ann

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