I get a great many calls here at IBC from people looking for a good tender, or asking my opinion on what tender I would use. I’m not an expert sailor, and really didn’t learn how to sail until I moved to Hawaii in 1989. In Hawaii I was faced with the dilemma many face which is there’s no fuel between the mainland and Hawaii so your range with a powerboat is severely limited, hence the sailboat.
As a sailor you are pretty much limited by your abilities, your vessel and fresh water/stores aboard for the adventure. Most of my friends would call me “old school” as I learned how to read a chart, use parallel rulers, dividers, sextant, compass and watch to figure where I’m going and where I’ve been. Being an “old school” sailor I definitely formed opinions on which tender I prefer for any given body of water. As I said above I learned how to sail in Hawaii, and tenders were notoriously hard to come by back then on the islands, you used what was on hand and available. In those days it was all about the slat floor Zodiac and Avon donut boats and dinghies. They got the job done and were easy to unroll and inflate on deck. Other boats would radio me to come over and transport them and their dinghy to the beach so they could put their much too large tenders together. They were like many beginning sailors today, they wanted to have the biggest their money would buy even though it was the wrong boat for them. I always wondered why so many people would get a dinghy that was too big for their boat, and after all of these years it seems this is still a trend.
For me, being a blue water guy, I’m not in the habit of doing a crossing with a boat on deck or languishing in davits. This simply wasn’t done in my days of learning with the Hawaiian masters for the obvious reasons of damage or loss to one or both of the vessels. You probably didn’t learn sailing in the Alenuihaha Channel, or picking your way thru the reef on any given day with my salty mentors looking over your shoulder like me so you escaped the Hawaiian trial by fire. Here on the mainland in the age of auto helm and gps, there is a great propensity for getting a giant RIB dinghy and putting it on davits to die a slow death. I take a page out of the “old school” book and keep it rolled and stowed just like high latitude sailor Skip Novak does on his adventures. Skip knows the lay of the land and has sailed a lot of the same latitudes I have, he is a true master. This being said there are two dinghies I feel are perfect for any mission over the horizon.
My first pick of the bunch is the everlasting Zodiac MK1 Classic HD. There isn’t a better boat for the yachtsman who wants a heavy duty aluminum floor and high performance quality roll up dinghy. The Zodiac MK1 Classic manages all aspects of being a dinghy with stellar performance and supreme confidence in it’s ability to accomplish mundane tasks like fetching water or doing laundry ashore to extended dive or fishing missions. It’s just plain fun to pilot and big enough to get you and your gear where you want to be. If an HD floor system seems too daunting to put together you could always opt for the air floor version, it’s as easy as unroll, inflate, and go! The Zodiac MK1 Classic is built in France and is the patented thermo-bonded construction that has become legend since it’s inception in 1977 on the “ZED” or Zodiac Espace Diffusion. (a note to those of you who don’t know, Zodiac has always been an aerospace company ever since 1896) I still see those original models here at IBC going strong after all those years of uncompromising service. The product was considered “hyper technical” in 1977 and even more so by today’s standard when compared to cheap Chinese imitations.
My second pick is anything in the Zodiac Fastroller model range. Those of you who want a quality French thermo-bonded boat like the Zodiac MK1 Classic but in a smaller and lighter platform should be looking at these. In my early days I would have swam though shark infested waters (again) just to lay my dirty calloused hands on one of these beauties. Making the most out of material science, and advanced process engineering Zodiac has made it possible to fit the interior space of a 14′ inflatable into a model that measures only 11’10” overall, I.E. the Zodiac Cadet 360 Fastroller. Sure there are smaller versions such as the Zodiac 325 Fastroller and the Zodiac 285 Fastroller and I would certainly consider either of those depending on how much stuff I want to jam into the boat in one trip. The Zodiac 285 Fastroller is a perfect choice of an airfloor tender but I like them small and easy to stow/deploy especially on smaller yachts, boats, and RVs. Questions? Comments? Give us a call here at the shop (503)235-2628 during business hours on the West Coast and we’ll do our best to get you the right dinghy for your boat, It might even be a big RIB!