Archive for the 'dinghy' Category

1.3-Year Porta-Bote and Kayak Review

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

When we set out from Coyote Point, we had not one, but two dinghies aboard. (Mighty elaborate for a little 5000-pound boat.) We still have the two of them but neither is performing up to spec exactly and we are starting to think about how they might be more appropriately replaced, er, repaired. Or something.

clear blue hawaii inflatable kayak on the beach. Ensenada Muertos, Panama

[Patches discussed below are visible in this photo; there is another smaller patch on the other side in addition to a patched patch under the large panel patch.]

Dinghy #1 is the kayak, the inflatable two-person yellow kayak whose initial yellowness was so extreme that I was forced to squint my eyes and view the thing through the haze of my own eyelashes lest I damage the very cones of my retina and see nothing but purple the rest of my life. Joshua named it “Tigralita” after some tasty shrimp-like critters we used to eat in Barcelona, but we usually just call it The Kayak (or The Yellow). These days the kayak is not so yellow, rather, a pale misty cream dusted with sand and dotted with mud and cut with large swaths of silver-blue Cordura, which we use when we have to patch the thing. We’ve patched it now three times, the last patch basically replaced 50% of one entire side and it ripped out again the other day and needs yet another patch. Currently it is lying deflated and growing mildew in our port ama.

All this patching is getting to be a fat hassle. Basically, the protective sheathing around the inflatable tube is made from Cordura, a material that is not UV-resistant. Breaks down. Turns to crapola. So, every stress point on the top of the kayak (where the handles are attached, where the cargo D-rings are attached, etc.) is in danger of failing at any moment—that is, those that have not already. Irritatingly, the only light colored material we have lying about the boat for repairs is more Cordura so we get to gripe as we replace sections one by one with more UV-weak material. In addition to breaking down rapidly in UV, the color fades just as fast (as I mentioned above). This is hardly a problem for me since as far as I’m concerned, the less yellow and ratty looking, the better—provided that functionality is not compromised. Also, there’s a tiny hole in my inflatable seat lifter that leaves me sitting low after an hour or so. I remedy this by using an additional cushion so no biggie really.

I guess the good thing is that for an inflatable kayak, it is still kicking, somewhat. Once we patch it yet again, that is. Clearly the manufacturer of this kayak expected it to be used once or twice per year at most. A more appropriate material for repairs might be a light-color Sunbrella (dark colors are too hot and cause the innertubes to swell dangerously) and we will probably pick some up someplace to make additional repairs, thereby introducing yet a third weird pastel into the works. Other than the Cordura, the kayak is holding up fairly well, particularly the bottom, which is made of PVC. The clear PVC panels are still transparent but I have to say they never really worked very well because they warp the image on the bottom. I appreciate the gesture, but oh well. We might look into buying a rotomolded two-person kayak, which wouldn’t deflate and put away, but it would be a hell of a lot more tough.

Dinghy #2 is the Porta-bote, or ‘Bote’ as we generally call it. When we took off we had Joshua’s dad aboard for the initial run and we it was clear that a two-person inflatable “dinghy” was not exactly going to cut it. The bote is the 10-foot model and I bought the demo model from the Mountain View warehouse. We have used both dinghies about equal time on this trip; the bote is used when we have guests or when we are in ports where we need to tie up at some scrungy dock. So, this porta-bote has gotten its fair share of abuse I should say.

How it’s held up: Not too great but it still works, technically. We mentioned earlier in the blog how we busted the transom, and in addition, the middle and aft seats have split. Honestly I don’t know how we did that, these just split over time after usual wear and tear. Now, with the transom cracked almost in half (it sits in its place at a strange angle but still sort of helps reinforce the aft area) and the two after seats cracked in the middle, the boat is somewhat less stable than it used to be and there is no way a motor could be used anymore (we’ve used a motor on the dinghy only the time we were in Bahia del Sol to combat the 6-knot tides so it’s not like we’re devastated but just the thought that we couldn’t motor if we wanted is irritating).

Since we haven’t been motoring, what we have been doing is rowing. There’s a whole bucket of wormy gripes: the bote, although it rows admirably, has a built-in rowing setup with oars that is in general kind of crappy. The oars are cheap aluminum with a flat plastic spade on the end; conversely, they are lightweight and come apart in the middle. However, the place where they come apart makes the oars sort of wiggle in the middle. (Layer upon layer of trade-offs!) So, to lock the oars into the rowing position, an aluminum box is riveted to the sides of the hull and the oars have a pin that fits down into the box. This works okay if you row in placid water but if you have to really pull against a stiff wind, the oarlocks seem suddenly very flimsy. We popped a rivet only the third time we used the bote when we had to row against a wind in Bahia San Quentin on the outer Baja. Eventually the holes in the oar boxes wore wider and wider with the oar-peg action until the oar pegs pretty much swam around in the oar boxes (this had the gross side effect of oozing black sludgy oxidation all down the insides of the bote). Finally the oar-pegs just failed where they attached to the oars and we replaced them with standard ring-style oarlocks. Yesterday when we were rowing back to the boat, one of the oars just broke in half (not at the joint either, but halfway between the joint and the end—just ripped apart). Jeff ought to be happy to hear this as he was always highly skeptical of those funky oars. We’re currently faced with the quandary of whether to replace the oars altogether or try to fix the one; it’s probably only a matter of time before the second oar rips in half.

Another gripe about the bote is the flotation foam around the inside of the boat. Porta-bote boasts the virtual unsinkability of this bote due to flotation provided by a strip of raw black styrofoamy closed-cell foam that runs around the inside perimeter of the boat and the sealed bulky seats and transom. Well, now that the transom and the two larger of the seats are busted, they hold water better than they repel it so that leaves only the foam. Which is not UV-resistant. How much of a leap is it to realize that a boat might actually be out in the sun and plan construction materials accordingly? All Porta-bote has to do is coat them in some UV-resistant vinyl or something and they would be fine (I know this stuff exists and works because it is what covers our closed-cell foam cockpit cushions and they have been out in the sun for two years now and they still look brand new—disclaimer on the link: we would say this even if we weren’t related to the owners). So, basically, the foam is breaking down all over the place and there are little bits of crumbly black stuff all over the inside of the boat or you if you happen to brush up against the foam. We should just rip it out I guess and hope we don’t sink again. OH, and the flotation aspect? We did swamp our bote once (when we broke the transom) and while I wouldn’t say that it floated, I want to stress the “virtual” part of virtually unsinkable; we were able to get back to shore by getting out and guiding it (underwater) to shore.

The gunwale of the bote has a black plastic protective covering. In older models, it has a tendency to pop off but in our model, it has actually been riveted in place. Unfortunately, the rivets used are large and aluminum and scratch the hell out of anything they come up against (like the side of the mothership when tied alongside). We bought a length of clear plastic hose, sliced it lengthwise and wrapped it around the black plastic. This helps but we have to babysit it to keep it from popping off.

One last thing: the seats and transom are made of black plastic and they COOK when in the sun for even just a few minutes. They are frequently excruciatingly painful to sit upon and I never seem to remember to bring a towel or something to cover them with. Most people we have met who have Porta-botes have replaced the seats and transom entirely with lower profile ones made of wood and painted white. I highly recommend doing this and I wish we had done ours as well back in Bahia del Sol. One boat we met also covered his foam with a cheerful stripey Sunbrella and this kept the crumbling at bay somewhat.

Someone commented recently that we should contact Porta-bote to see if perhaps the transom (or seats) was covered by warranty since a lot of people have reported transom failure and so we emailed them a couple weeks ago. I sort of waited on posting this dinghy-review post because we wanted to be able to include information about whether Porta-bote indeed covered damages to the transom or not but they still haven’t gotten back to us and I’m not optimistic that they ever will. I know the email address is viable too because we used it when we had a motor question (like, we were interested in buying a motor) and we had a cheerful response in less than a day. Sooo… that’s sort of irritating, especially since all she has to do is just say “No, we don’t cover the transom under warranty,” and that would be that. As it is, I feel like they are deliberately ignoring us. Another sort of weird thing is when we talked to other Porta-bote owners in Bahia del Sol (there were five botes there at one time), every one of them had had the same issues and they had been reporting back to Porta-bote with some impression that their feedback was appreciated and the issues were being worked on or fixed. However, our bote was new and none of the common complaints had been addressed.

disassemble the porta-bote. Bahia Santa Maria, Costa Rica

[The putting away of the bote. See how flat? The bulky seats are another story but we just stuff them down in the ama.]

Anyway, that all said, maybe the bote model after ours has all the problems fixed and somehow our recent email got lost in the ether. I don’t know. I’m a little irritated with all this but then there are some really great things about the bote that have been perfect for us. It folds up. When we put it away, we just strap it down underneath the catwalk and it all but disappears! Amazing. It takes maybe ten minutes to take apart and stow entirely. And the plastic material that the hull is made of is very strong; we drag it over sand and rocks and tie it up at rusting charred docks where it bangs around and the outer hull is holding up just fine (it shows all the scratches, but that’s fine). The bote is not something desirable to thieves either. That’s because it’s so ugly! Most of the locals view the bote with extreme amusement and incredulity that it is even vaguely seaworthy. (Don’t even get me started at the reactions we get when they see me rowing it—and Joshua relaxing on the stern.)

One other thing I should mention: “used porta-bote” is the single most common search request that leads people to this blog, so these boats are definitely sought after. Used ones in particular since new ones are very pricey.

To sum up: Kayak—we are seriously considering upgrading to a hard kayak (two person kayaks are so damned big though). I do like having it deflate and go away. Bote—so many problems that could so easily be remedied by Porta-bote, such as installing a UV-resistant foam if they actually intend this to be used for safety purposes. That the botes are so very expensive makes me think that it’s within the budget but what do I know. I still like the bote, but it just needs work. We need to replace the seats and transom entirely with something more durable (wood) and light in color and the foam needs to be removed or replaced. CCushions said that Porta-bote contacted them about making a closed-cell vinyl-coated foam for them but it was too expensive, yet we might end up replacing it with C-Cushion on our own anyway. Also, the rowing situation…yeesh; I’ll just stop now.


Porta-bote did eventually replace the seats and transom for free. Here is a quick round up of follow up posts.

Playa El Coco, Part II

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

We ended up bringing the boat back to the dreaded El Coco anchorage anyway the next day. Because Jeff needed to get his stamp still from the Immigration lady and we needed groceries and gasoline for the boat, we figured we may as well deposit Jeff and his baggage at the El Coco bus station and get all our business done in one trip. Jeff double and triple bagged all of his belongings inside his duffel bag and I sat in the front of the dinghy with them held high during the landing. We had good timing, plus it was early in the morning when the swells are not as rough, and we only got a little water in the boat.

We arrived at the Immigration office around 9am or so and the lady seemed truly surprised to see us. I told her hello and that we brought the father this time. She smiled and was actually extremely friendly. She stamped Jeff’s passport with yesterday’s date and sent us on our way saying, “I’m pleased to serve you!” We kept telling Jeff, “She wasn’t like this yesterday, really. She was SURLY!”

We ate some breakfast, saw Jeff off on the bus to Liberia, did a lot of walking back and forth trying to figure out our plan of action (groceries, gas, ice, both? Laundry?), and finally headed off to the grocery store. The El Coco grocery store is really well stocked and has a lot of imported products, probably due to the large expat community (or gringo time-share owners). The prices are a bit on the high side—we were told by a local boat guy that groceries in Liberia are cheaper—but we didn’t want to deal with a bus ride to buy only a few things and then we proceeded to fill a cart with almost more than we could carry. The wine and booze selection is particularly elaborate although by this point we were trying to limit our load and there is a French bakery right in the store—a good one too, in my starved-for-baked-goods opinion. The first day we visited I agonized over the quiche loraine or the raisin bun (those flat spirally things with the raisins and custard) and went with the raisin. This day the choice was between the quiche and a ham and cheese croissant, so we got both. The croissant didn’t survive more than ten feet out the door of the store; it was so good—buttery and the cheese was Gruyere or something (i.e., fancy cheese). Since it contained easily seven thousand calories, we wrapped the quiche up in the now oil-soaked paper baggy for later.

We lugged all our stuff back to the dinghy on the beach and regarded the surf conditions: bad. Ugly and bad. And noisy. The tide was maybe two hours before low tide and there were about thirty surfers a hundred meters down the way by the reef bobbing in the waves. We had prudently brought a plastic bin to put stuff we didn’t want splashed in and we set about filling it with all the imprudent things we thought we were going to dinghy-surf back to the boat, like paper towels and toilet paper. We put the lid on and placed the bin squarely in the center of the Porta-bote. The remaining bags of groceries we tied up to one of the seats to keep them more or less upright if we did any bouncing around. We decided that ice and beer would have to wait for the second trip (we had to come back for the laundry anyway) and pushed the bote down to the water.

I removed my shorts and put them on the seat to keep them from getting totally salted and we sat and sat waiting for a break in the waves. Finally Joshua decided we had one and started in with “go go go!” while I whimpered “no! wait!” but pushed the boat out anyway because I always say that. Joshua jumped in to start rowing and while I continued pushing the stern out until I was thigh-deep or so. Joshua started shouting “get in! get in!” and rowed madly into the swell; then the swell broke and water poured into the bow. This swell pushed us back toward shore a bit too and I could see a large set of swells coming in. Joshua kept rowing out and we took a second and a third into the boat; me bailing as fast as possible. Now Joshua was trying to turn us around to go back to shore but another swell broke right on us as we were turned broadside, nearly flipping the bote and swamping it completely. We were in the water by now and pulled it as far as we could back onto the beach, which really wasn’t very far because it now weighed a ton with all the water. We were both sandy and drenched and I was still kneeling at the stern bailing like madman as each wave crashed into us, filling the boat again.

This is when we noticed that the transom was cracked, right in half. Either it cracked when we nearly flipped or it cracked as a result of the waves that were coming in bashed into it. Then we noticed that all our bags of groceries were bobbing all over the place and the plastic “splash-resistant” bin was floating on its side in the middle of the bote. We carried all these up the beach a bit and then went back to remove the cracked transom. We didn’t know how we were going to get the bote it up the beach at this point; we couldn’t budge it at all with all the water inside and we couldn’t empty it because every other wave or so that came in filled it with water. One of the surfers came over and asked if he could help. Between the three of us, we were able to lift the bow a little so that water poured out of the floppy part of the stern, then drag it a little further up the beach. Joshua bailed the remainder of the water out while I scooped the sand out with my hands.

We pulled the dinghy up to dry sand and tried to figure out what to do. The groceries were totally drenched and the plastic bin was full of water. Our earlier plan to make two trips—one to ferry groceries to the boat and the other to fetch beer, ice, and laundry—was dismissed as crazy talk and Joshua took off to get our laundry. I set out to dump the water and reorganize the grocery situation and then I realized I still was in my underwear, so I rinsed the sand out of my shorts in the surf and put them back on.

I put the broken bote back together as Joshua returned with a large garbage bag containing our laundry; now we could get our clean laundry drenched too. Excellent. After assessing the grocery damage, we discovered one soaked roll of paper towels and other than a squashed avocado, only a little bit of one roll of toilet paper got wet. Everything else we bought was pretty much impervious to salt water. We moved the remaining paper products to the laundry bag, repacked our poor abused bin, and Joshua started tying up everything with all sorts of fancy sailor knots.

By this time, one of the local guys who seemed to hang out on the beach came over to see what was up and help. He was an older guy with a beard and we distractedly chatted with him about the surf exit. We turned the boat around, pointed it back at the waves and pushed it down a little to watch for a lull. And we watched for a lull for a long time. So long that the guy finally abandoned us and wandered off. We turned the boat around and pulled it back up the beach again. I had to go find someplace to pee or else I’d die and we just weren’t ready to face the waves yet. I went to find a bathroom and get a couple of beers (the last we’d have for a while since our ice and beer plan was totally shot) and left Joshua standing, staring at the ocean.

When I returned, Joshua had waded out into the breakers to see how deep it actually was and declared that they mostly break only at about waist level—so, if we could just push the bote beyond this point, and very very quickly, it should be fine. Two of us in the water could probably do this quickly enough but then getting back into the pitching bote might be too hard to do in a hurry so it was decided that one of us had to jump in earlier and paddle while the other continued to push it out. Once the rower was beyond the breakers, the pusher would swim out and climb up into the boat as well. I was to be the rower and Joshua the pusher/swimmer.

After we finished the beers, we turned the bote around and pulled it down to the water. I really didn’t think that the surf had mellowed out and was not feeling very optimistic. I actually could feel my chest pounding at times, I was so nervous. Since we were only in toe-deep water, we had to pull the bote in farther. Then waited some more, watching as the pangas anchored out beyond the breakers bobbed up and disappeared down in the swell. We pulled the bote farther again—as far as we could before just having to go for it. I kept saying, “No, not now, look at how huge that one coming is!” And Joshua kept saying, “We have to go sometime, we just have to go.”

Finally after two gnarly waves brought in a lot of water and floated the boat high, Joshua started pulling the boat out. We were going now and I started in with the “Oh shit, oh crap, oh shit, oh crap” and began yanking on the bote; at about thigh-high water I vaulted in. Grabbing a paddle (I didn’t have time to set up the oarlocks) I frantically paddled on one side then the other, Joshua pushing from behind. The swells were beginning to get bigger again and I started to swear loudly. “They won’t break—just keep going, and keep it straight.” Joshua was shouting from behind because he couldn’t push me anymore. The boat bobbed up steeply over a swell, which didn’t break or else I would have totally freaked out, and then did it again with another steep one. I popped the oars in the oarlocks and inexpertly rowed like a crazy person out out out until Joshua started shouting at me again, “STOP! Wait for me! You’re OK!” It seems I had totally left him behind and he was swimming, trying to catch up with me in the water. Honestly, I had a hard time stopping and the swell felt insane even though it wasn’t breaking. We didn’t get a drop of water in the bote at all, aside from what dripped off Joshua when he climbed in. I was shaking terribly and needed the row out to the boat to calm myself down.

Once back at the Time Machine, we rinsed the sand off of ourselves, then unpacked, rinsed, and dried all our groceries. At the bottom of the bin, we found the quiche loraine. We had forgotten about it completely and there it was, un-squashed and still wrapped in the oil-soaked bag. The crust was perhaps not exactly flaky anymore but no worse really than any several-hour old quiche that hadn’t been dunked in the ocean. We discovered we were starved and ate it for dinner.

Broken porta-bote transom

Playa El Coco, Costa Rica

[Assessing the damage.]

Dinghy, Revisited

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

Well, after agonizing over no less than four different reasons why we may need a more typical hard dinghy, we nearly leapt out of our skins when we saw a USED (Never. Happens.) Porta-bote up in Santa Rosa, which is maybe 6000 miles away as the 900-dollar Volvo flies. But dedicated we were and we got up at the crack of dawn (like, 9:30) to get an early start, coffee in our porta-mugs.

To make a winded explanation short, the used Porta-bote was “Eh” to “Hrmmm.” It was maybe 15 years old and weathered to the point that the polypropylene was breaking down where it had been stored in the sun for the past decade and the “safety” flotation foam was an icky UV-trashed mess. We left somewhat dejected and drove to Napa where we planned on getting drunker’n Cootie Brown at my friend’s birthday party.

Miraculously, we still remembered the incident of the used Porta-bote after the debauchery of Michelle’s 32nd and the next day, I called the actual Porta-bote office (which, um, is just down the street, Bay Area speaking) in order to inquire about the oxidation of polypropylene and the specs and oh, just stuff. Her response was somewhere in the league of, “everything breaks down in the sun if you leave it sitting for a decade.” That’s science for you. I had a brochure in hand and the prices were listed at $1700ish for the 10 footer (way way too much, I mean come ON! My Volvo cost $900); however, she said that the factory prices they could quote (since I’m in the area and special) were $1200 or something like that. I was taking careful notes. Or, she said casually, we do have this one boat – you wouldn’t probably be interested or anything – that we could sell for $850 because it was the demo and so has a few scratches, and I don’t even know why I’m mentioning it haha…

Again, to cut down on the windage, a mere 23 hours later, I was driving home with the Bote tied to the top of my car. They threw in a lot of extra rivets, like 2 extra sets of cotter pins and bolts/wingnuts, some oars, oarlocks, some rope, etc. Plus the hull still has the 10-year warranty. Score!

Good. I like it. In fact, I think it’s great. It actually is easy to put together (not just a marketer’s prank). Assembling the bote on the deck of “the big boat” was also no big whoop. It fits nicely on the trampoline under the catwalk and isn’t that heavy. In the water it is very stable – due to the semi-rigid quality (it wobbles with the water rather than bouncing atop it). It rows easily (especially when Joshua rows) and, although we haven’t gone through the hassle of taking our 6hp off Time Machine, it should take our motor with no problem.

porta-bote launch

porta-bote afloat

Minor design flaws: The seats are not as ingeniously designed as they could be and, although they look great on the boat, they are somewhat awkward to stow (they should fold too, I think). They are black and I imagine a damp towel will be in order in the hotter climes. And, I guess my only other complaint is that the drink holder was clearly designed by the marketing department and not an engineer.

“I’m thinking of implementing a drink holder; have Randy work up a spec on that.”

So unfortunately, it is too big for a beer can/bottle and too small for a beer can/bottle wrapped in a canwrap. Drat.

Porta-bote detail


Wednesday, October 5th, 2005

Yes, we have a dinghy of sorts (see lovely stock photo below). It’s an 11-foot yellow inflatable kayak. We currently can view our wood floor or murky bay scuzz through the window. Clearly we need to get gone to more scenic parts.

clear blue hawaii inflatable kayak

Reasons we got this instead of a more conventional dinghy-style dinghy:
* We are radical, cutting-edge rockstars who will not be cowed by the color yellow, or practicality.
* It is maneuverable and easy to paddle/row (we’re not just about to plop a spare—ha ha—motor on the back of anything and go speeding off).
* It seats two persons (there are two of us; coincidence?) but can be converted to a one-person in the event that one of us is eaten by a shark.
* It folds down (being inflatable) and takes about five minutes to pump up.
* It has a very simple design (INGENIOUS!!): two removable pontoons inside of a seemingly sturdy Cordura sleeve; the bottom/edge is made from very tough nylon (840 denier nylon). It has a clear viewing panel in the bottom for fisk viewing made of 40 gg pvc.
* It has many places to lash/tie/strap/hook/rope things.

clear blue hawaii inflatable kayak

* It weighs 32 pounds.
* Our boat is 32 feet long.
* It’s a kayak and can be used for exploring!
* We may have already come up with a name for it. Besides “Yellowy.”
* It was relatively inexpensive and used dinghys on Craigslist were not forthcoming unless they were owned by freaks who did not answer your emails with actual information. We tried to look into buying a zodiac-type thing but the ad did not list dimensions or weight or anything useful and the guy would not tell us no matter how many times we rephrased the questions. Another that I really wanted was the cutest little orange jobber but the guy never answered me at all. Yellow = er…um; orange = good, pumpkin-like, tomato-like, CANDY-like.

Reasons I’m a little apprehensive:
* It’s freakin’ YELLOW. Newfangled looking.
* I worry about the proverbial kid with a bad attitude and a pocketknife.
* It will be a tight squeeze when provisioning for water or groceries
* We will have to make multiple trips if we have visitors.
* The Cordura part—the hull—is vivid yellow and screams out yellowness. There are irritating product names on it too (we’ll cover that).
* We’ll have to take care to protect the clear panels on the bottom; cover them when toting stuff around, etc.

So, we’ll see how it goes. Worst-case scenario is that it is not practical and we need to get a hard dinghy as well (but we’ll still have a kayak to play with and this isn’t a bad thing). Which puts us back at the which-dinghy-to-buy dilemma. The Porta-bote is cool and folds up small and is lightweight (heavier than this kayak) and a very real alternative; however, the max capacity is 445 pounds (the kayak is 500). It also seems expensive. We could instead buy a second kayak if we had visitors, or we could upgrade to the Soar, which has a freaking 1000 pound capacity and WINS. It is pricey (explains why we don’t have a Soar taking up the entire living room floor right this moment) and I wouldn’t be able to stop worrying about it getting stolen, slashed, eaten by a shark, getting scurvy…

In other, non-dinghy news, yesterday was spent provisioning non-perishables. I got looks from the other shoppers when I tossed 18 tins of dolmas onto my cart; I told them that I had spent the last 16 months in a secret assassin training facility and hadn’t shopped in a while. When I went to bed last night, I dreamed about Lara Bars.

É Arrivé the Dinghy

Friday, September 30th, 2005

Hot damn! I’m heading out now to go pick it up.

Cheyenne Weil, Joshua Coxwell