On test

‘We hadn’t appreciated just how much more fun messing about in boats can be when you don’t have to worry about collisions’

incredible Inflatables
Bored of your run-of-the-mill, inflatable dinghy? Jake Frith looks at some more exciting ways of getting to and from the shore

D
Coming in such a variety of shapes and sizes, the latest crop of inflatable craft tick a lot of boxes, but could any of them work as a tender?
photos: Joe Mccarthy

uring a long cruise, especially with young family aboard, it can be a challenge keeping everyone occupied in an anchorage once the excitement of the day’s passage has drawn to a close. A standard inflatable is only so much fun for exploring upstream under oars and it’s frankly sociopathic to blast up and down under outboard, or worse, let children do so once the sun has approached the yardarm. So with fingers crossed for an Indian summer, we decided to take a closer look at some inflatable vessels that you could hide down the quarter berth of the average family cruiser. To what extent are these tenders though? Well, looking at the diverse collection of boats and boards we assembled on the beach at Netley, it’s clear that comparing their use purely as tenders would be a distinctly one-sided battle. That’s because the DinghyGo is the only one specifically designed as a tender, with oars, and outboard friendly transom.

I’ve often wondered though, whether inflatable tenders as we know them are the right choice for everyone. Inflatable kayaks have been around for years now and some are pretty efficient and fun to paddle. They are finding increasing use as yacht tenders nearly everywhere except the UK. I’ve also idly pondered whether an inflatable stand-up paddleboard could be pressed into occasional one-man tender duties, albeit on flat water and with limited carrying capacity, using a drybag for cargo. We kept in the back of our minds those with larger boats who might have space for a traditional tender for more workaday functions, plus one of these fun craft. That’s our excuse for testing the planing Tiwal, and we’re sticking to it! The real test here is not which of these craft makes the best tender, but which of them would hold our interest for the longest. Which could offer the most fun, but also deliver on it for a reasonable period of time? Read on for the results...
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On test

REVIEWS
DinghyGo 275
Sailing dinghies based on inflatable tenders are nothing new. Many will remember the Tinker Tramp of the 1970s and 80s. It offered a single boat that could be used as a tender, fun sailing dinghy, and stretching credibility a bit far in my view, a liferaft too. I had a Campari inflatable (it’s still in my parents’ workshop) that used leeboards and a small sail to claw its way almost to windward on a good day. Perhaps surprisingly, as it hails from Holland, the DinghyGo, eschews leeboards. But with its stiff multi chambered V-floor and centreboard, it drags sailable inflatable tenders firmly into this century. Putting the boat together was relatively straightforward if one observed the cardinal rules of thumb for constructing any ‘inflatable with extras’. That is: pump up until vaguely the right shape but flaccid; affix solid bits; then pump up hard. With this key sequence observed the only tricky part (fitting the mast heel support board) was relatively straightforward. Rigging controls are minimal, with a single Optimistsized (4sqm), battened, sleeved sail with kicker, downhaul, outhaul and 2:1 mainsheet setup. First impressions on sailing the DinghyGo were good, although it has a small sail which is clearly underpowered for adult sailors in light winds. That, however, is a good thing if you want to send kids off unsupervised; it’s a pretty safe craft. In the light winds we had, we were unable to capsize it unless we literally hung off the wrong side. The stiff inflatable floor has a slot in it for the daggerboard with a flexible gasket round it to act as a case. This gasket rolls up and straps down to the floor like a roll-top drybag when the boat is being rowed or motored – preventing water splashing in. When first inserting the painted plywood daggerboard, it pays to be careful not to pinch the gasket. Once it’s in, the board slides up and down, although it would be a tough operation for small children as the flexible gasket clings to it. The only real annoyance is the omission of a kick-up

Tiwal 3.2 £2,150
rudderstock and blade. This makes the boat a pain to use off a beach, as getting pintles and gudgeons lined up even in very slight wavelets is a faff. A kick-up rudder would prevent damage to other components in an accidental grounding. It was a real oversight in our view, as adding a plywood stock, hinge bolt and lifting lines could only have added a few Euros to the price of the boat. This boat though is the clear choice for those with young children. Subsequent to the testing day, I had two- and five-year-old nephews to keep occupied on a trip to the beach, and the DinghyGo proved an absolute hit with its small sail, high sides and stability. Amid a cacophony of cries of ‘faster, faster Uncle Jake!’ I eventually tore out one of the rowing pins from its moulding and ended the day’s excitement, but these are a standard part and easily replaced. We couldn’t really blame the manufacturers under such abusive treatment. French company Tiwal, which, like DinghyGo, is currently seeking UK dealers, has employed dropstitch inflatable technology to create this impressively rigid 3.2m planing dinghy. There are two choices of size for the custom-made North sail; a 5.4m2 for strong winds or lighter crew and a 7m2 for heavier crew or lighter winds. We rigged it with the bigger sail, which was straightforward, but due to the complexity of the boat, it took the longest to rig. An optional rechargeable electric pump (£270 extra) made short work of the inflation stage, but we found the manual pump option wasn’t too much of a bind. We felt that not many people would be keen enough to rig and derig it daily on passage, but if you were to be moored up somewhere breezy for a few days, the Tiwal would come into its own left rigged or partially rigged. The boat is technologically impressive, getting its rigidity from an elegant aluminium framework forming the mast support, hiking wings, and providing rigid mounting points for rudder and daggerboard. It struck me that Tiwal could exploit this framework for a broader range of products in the future - perhaps high performance hulls, or even a sandyacht or ice yacht. In terms of excitement generated on the day, the Tiwal led the field, with all testers universal in their desire to take the helm. And it didn’t disappoint: the Tiwal was a stiff, fun little craft to sail, with
Top for performance

£4,990

Above: Packed in its two compact bags Below: The small rig is manageable rather than thrilling Bottom: DinghyGo is a spacious rowing tender too

Above: There were claims the Tiwal planed, but it wasn’t caught on camera

verdict: HHH HH Our testers’ views of this boat differed considerably. Those who could get used to its sedate pace, and enjoy dangling a foot over the side, cruising along, whistling a tune, perhaps with a cooler of beer for company loved it. Those seeking an adrenaline fix tired quickly of it. Although not as close winded or quick as the Tiwal, this boat was reasonable value for everything it offers, able to make decent headway to windward (not always the case with sailing inflatables), and was the only true all-rounder. It rowed well, sailed reasonably and even motored well with a small electric outboard.
 www.dinghygo.com

pinpoint reactions. Lighter sailors made it up onto the plane for brief periods in the slightest gusts and in a touch more wind it would have been a complete hoot. Some testers found that the format of the Tiwal as a board that the sailor sits on made for the minor annoyance of lines, principally the end of the mainsheet, slipping off the deck. We were all fans of its soft deck though, which made moving around very comfortable. It’s also a great boat for righting after a capsize, its smooth, low stern making slithering back on a doddle. We found the boom-less sail gathered a little at the clew sheeting point due to a slightly ill conceived and over-complex mainsheet system, but the overall shape was acceptable. The sail would also have benefitted from a couple of camber inducers on this light day, as

Below: Assembly was complex and rightability excellent

getting much draft into it was a struggle. In common with the DinghyGo it suffered slightly from a sticky daggerboard slot.

verdict: HHH HH The Tiwal is startlingly stiff and exciting for an inflatable. Our testers were unanimous on how much fun it was. Not just fun to jump on and have a go, but maintaining long term interest as we honed our techniques. While it would keep a teenage boy (or a grown up who should know better) occupied for a whole summer, it’s less of a familyfriendly all-rounder than some others here. And at up to £5,000, it is not a cheap option, either.
 www.tiwal.com

What is dropstitch?
First gaining favour for floors of conventional inflatables, dropstitch is a construction technique where an upper and lower layer of an inflated chamber are held together at a set distance by strong fibres all at slightly different angles. This means that a board-type shape can be created and pumped up to a high pressure. As the pressure increases the fibres stop the board from growing into a cylinder; instead it just gets stiffer and stiffer. In this test, only the Sevylor kayak and Dinghygo did not employ dropstitch technology.

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On test

On test

Sevylor Colorado CLASSIC
Chatting to a major UK distributor of the Sevylor inflatables range, it’s clear that they have been trying to persuade cruising sailors out of their inflatable dinghies and into inflatable kayaks for some years now. Without getting too bogged down with prismatic coefficients and power-toweight ratios, it’s clear that a longer, but narrower canoe with two paddlers will get along much more nicely than a tender under oars with one person rowing and the other getting in the way. Although the Colorado is not new to the range, it’s popular for yacht tender usage, as it packs up small, is stable to get in and out of, and offers good storage space. The Sevylor was a bit more low-tech than the competition here, with a Double I-Beam (think two lilos on top of each other) floor rather than dropstitch, but we found that with online discount they can be had around the £300 mark. The kayak sits on dry land with reverse rocker, which once the paddlers get aboard translates into flat or slight rocker as it bends in the middle! The boat’s flexible plastic chambers are semi-permanently covered and protected from UV and chafe by a zip-on nylon and chafe resistant fabric jacket. The valves for seats and floor are the clear, rubbery plastic sort often found on inflatable beach toys, but they do the job. Our first impression on paddling with two aboard was that this kayak really slides along quite well. Initial concerns that its lack of a dropstitch floor would make it floppy and horrible to paddle were unfounded, and even without the optional directional skeg, it tracked along straight and true. Within about half a minute of paddling though, both paddlers were soaked through. It’s not the boat, which has decent freeboard and is perfectly dry, but the two-piece paddles which were supplied with it.
Top for Value

£350

Above: Quite a turn of speed but oh boy, was it wet Below: The seats were adjustable and attached to the floor with Velcro

verdict: HHH HH It was the smallest of all our craft to stow, one of the easiest to rig up and the most accessible for beginners to get the hang of. This would definitely be more use and fun for exploring upriver than a traditional tender. At £350 we’d buy one of these, but we’d invest in better paddles.  www.seamarknunn.com

Red Paddle Co 12ft 6in Explorer
Those not yet familiar with SUPs, or stand-up paddleboards, might wonder what it’s doing here. For a while, SUP enthusiasts have realised that these surfing-derived boards are also great for cruising up rivers and canals, as they are fairly long and efficient and a great form of exercise. The view, as you’re standing up, is also superior to that from a kayak or rowing. As soon as inflatable boards started appearing, we at the ST office began wondering whether it would be possible to get away with one as an occasional yacht tender. Our first stop was Drew Wood at ActionVan (www.actionvan.biz) the River Hamble’s resident SUP expert. He’s been selling them for years and hires them out for those who want to give it a try on the upper Hamble’s tranquil waters. It soon turned out that he’s also a great believer that

£879
every cruising yacht should have an inflatable SUP aboard. This was the easiest and quickest of our craft to set up and very straightforward to roll up and put away. When something only takes five minutes to set up, it’s going to see plenty of use. In the light wind conditions, the board could actually be propelled quicker than some of the sailing craft, if the paddler didn’t mind the exertion.

Left to right: Easiest and quickest of all the craft to construct, the paddleboard was easy to balance on and rapid

verdict: HHH HH If you had access to a surf break, it would also be possible to catch a few waves, which would lead it to score very much more highly on fun. It grew on us over the time we had it, and those of us who are fortunate enough to work from the Swanwick office spent many a happy lunch hour exploring the river on this interesting craft.  www.tushingham.com

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On test

On test

Starboard 10ft Wind Paddleboard
A few decades ago, when windsurfing hit its boom years, many cruising yachts would sport a Dufour Wing or a Bic 250 stowed along the rail. The Starboard is a shorter, fatter version of the paddleboard, with holes through it for inserting its fin, centreboard and mastbase. This is a beginner windsurfer of the latest wide style, and thanks to this sort of new kit, learning to windsurf is now a complete doddle. In our test, we had one complete beginner (albeit a good dinghy sailor), up and sailing it in about two minutes. Assembling the craft takes longer than the paddleboard on account of rigging the sail, but it’s all clever stuff. The appendages are moulded into shaped bungs that fit through the board when limp, then are held tightly in place when the board is pumped up. With all its components, it fits neatly into one bag. The board comes with no rig, but Tushingham, the board’s importers, obliged with a 5.5m2 rig. Even with this relatively small sail, in the right hands, and with enough pumping, the board could keep pace with the 7m2-sailed Tiwal. Also, for the more experienced windsurfers it was quite a fun, stable board to perform some simple light wind tricks on, such as nose spin and helicopter tacks although we eventually managed to pop the rig out of the board, rewarded by a tricky upwind sail back to the beach with board and rig separated. Its upwind performance was an area that divided opinion; some could just not get it to point very well at all, while others could get it upwind acceptably, if not sparklingly. It did have a relatively small fin and quite bendy centreboard but windsurfers are not at their best clawing to windward in light winds so we can’t be too harsh on this aspect of its performance.

£1,129

Above: Surprisingly stiff board but with a short, bendy centreboard Below: So wide it needs a handle in the middle

verdict: HHH HH If you were one of those early pioneers, cruising with a windsurfer lashed to the stanchions, then this new take on the technology could deliver much more fun and with less of a storage issue. Intermediate and upwards windsurfers need not apply.  www.tushingham.com

How they match up
The scoring
First, we put them all together against the stopwatch with nothing more than the manufacturers’ instructions. We then hit the water and ranked them on ‘Fun Factor’, to cover initial excitement and also ‘Long Term Fun’, in order to weed out those that we felt we might tire quickly of. We also scored them on ‘Tender Performance’ in case there’s only space for one inflatable aboard. Finally, in our view these sort of craft should be accessible and enjoyable by all aboard; indicated by ‘Family Appeal’.
Thanks to Beau and Mathew at www.solentcharters. com for the photo boat, Drew at www. actionvan.biz for the advice on SUPs and Netley Sailing Club for the fantastic venue

Manufacturer Model STORED WEIGHT (KG) STORED DIMENSIONS (cm) CONSTRUCTION TIME (mins) FUN factor LONG TERM FUN TENDER PERFORMANCE Family APPEAL TOTAL PRICE Contact

DinghyGo
275 65kg 110x80x40 + 130x50x30 19mins

Tiwal
3.2 75kg 130x45x45 + 150x40x40 38mins

Sevylor
Colorado Classic 23kg (ex paddles) 70x30x40 12mins

Red Paddle Co.
12’6” Explorer 17kg (ex paddle) 86x30x40 5mins

Starboard
10’ Wind SUP 23kg (ex rig) 110x40x30 9mins

HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH
14 £2,150 www.dinghygo.com

HHH HH HHH HH H HH HH HHH HH
14 £4,990 www.tiwal.com

HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH
12 £350 www.seamarknunn.com

HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH
11 £879 www.tushingham.com

HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH HHH HH
10 £1,129 www.tushingham.com

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