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Virgin Islands 27 years
 

Sailing the BVI?

Don't be a Dingy with your Dinghy!

In the British Virgin Islands , the sea and its many pleasures are never far away. Islands of all sizes dot the crystal blue waters, creating one of the world's most varied and beautiful sailing grounds. Dozens of charter boats from bareboats to luxury crewed yachts cruise the waters offering a myriad of ways for sailing the BVI.
Sailing BVI Yacht Charter

 

The many delights of visiting the islands' peaceful anchorages, beach barsand waterside restaurants are easily accessible, but unless you plan to swim ashore, you will need to use the inflatable dinghy that comes with your charter. By being smart how you use it, the dinghy can be a source of great fun while sailing the BVI.

 

Check It Out Before You Leave

 

If you have chartered a sailboat before, you know that an employee from the charter company will spend considerable time during the boat briefing going over your yacht, but perhaps make only a passing comment like, “Dis your dinghy, mon.”

 

Although in most cases, “dis dinghy” is fine, it can be extremely frustrating to be a few hundred yards from an onshore paradise only to find the outboard motor will not work or you have a leaky dinghy. Instead of ruining a perfectly wonderful vacation, it is a good idea to check your dinghy out before you leave the charter base.

 

The first thing to do is to start the outboard motor and make sure the engine is not faulty. Ask the boat briefer if the outboard has any quirks or idiosyncrasies you should know about before starting it up. Make sure there is plenty of gasoline in the tank. Although there are different kinds of dinghies in service, most charter companies in the BVI will use the inflatable type.


Make sure it is properly inflated and that you have an air pump on the boat and know where it is. Other equipment you must have for the dinghy includes a small dinghy anchor, some sort of bailing bucket, and paddles/oars. Although not necessary in the BVI, padlocks and steel cables may also be supplied if you are in an area where dinghies can disappear. Check to make sure the painter is in good shape and not overly frayed.

 

Sailing BVI Wildlife

The painter is a long rope (usually plastic so it floats) that attaches to the bow of the dinghy and is used for either towing it behind your boat or tying the dinghy to a dock. It is also important to make sure there is some sort of safety line between the dinghy hull and the outboard in addition to the outboard clamps. Finally, before you cast off, make sure the outboard motor is securely fastened to the transom of the dinghy or on the motor mount in the aft of your sailboat.

 

Towing Your Dinghy

 

Before you do anything, make sure you remove all extra gear (like snorkel equipment, towels, sandals, etc.) from the dinghy because it will never survive the passage! Whenever you are casting off, docking up to a pier, preparing to pick up or drop a mooring ball or setting or raising the anchor, make sure to shorten the painter line so it will not foul up in the boat propeller while you are maneuvering.

 

Sailing BVI Yacht

A good distance is to have the dinghy close enough that it almost touches the stern of the boat. Once you are free and clear of the dock, anchor or mooring ball, you can let the dinghy drop back approximately 10-15 feet behind the stern of your sailboat. The painter tends to be slippery because of the plastic coating. Therefore, it is very important to make sure it is properly and tightly cleated off with a cleat hitch. In addition, I usually like to take a couple wraps around the stern cleat once the hitch is complete. If you are underway, it is very important to never entirely remove the painter from the cleat.

 

The drag from the dinghy moving through the water is tremendous and can cause severe rope burn on your hands. If you release the painter without having it attached, you can lose the dinghy. Not only is this embarrassing, but it can be extremely costly since a replacement dinghy can cost several thousand dollars. As an alternative to towing the dinghy, some boats have davits that hang over the transom. If you have never used one, make sure you get a lesson before you leave the charter base.

 

The two main things to remember when using davits are: 1) make sure the dinghy is securely attached to the davits before raising it out of the water, and 2) never let the dinghy just drop into the water. It can not only flip, but it can cause extensive damage to your sailboat. Lower and raise it slowly and steadily from the davits!

 

In most areas of the Caribbean, the charter companies request that you remove the outboard engine from the dinghy while underway. The chop on the water shakes the dinghy so roughly that the outboard could simply rip apart the wood transom of the dinghy and sink. Removing the outboard motor, however, is no easy task.

Sailing BVI Charter

 

They are heavy and you can never be perfectly balanced standing in the dinghy or on the transom of a sailing boat. The key is to tie the dinghy as close as possible lengthwise across the stern of the boat. Have a safety line tied from the engine handle to your boat so that if you drop the engine in the water, you can recover it. If removing the engine from the dinghy, have a crew member stand on the transom of the sailboat and steady the dinghy. Lift the engine to the transom and have the crew member hold the engine in place (balancing it with the propeller resting on the transom) while you climb out of the dinghy and back onto your boat.


Sailing BVI Dinghy

Lift the outboard up and onto the engine mount found on the stern rail of most sailboats. Have the crew member hold it in place while you carefully tighten the outboard clamps to secure the engine in place. To move the outboard to the dinghy, do the reverse. I will not lie to you- it is a two person job! Fortunately, when sailing the BVI, the passages are so short, that the charter companies will allow you to leave the outboard on the dinghy. If that is the case, always tilt it up to the maximum position. If you do not, the outboard will act as an anchor and slow you down.

 

Finally, whether the outboard is left on or not, when towing a dinghy, always keep checking it out asyou are at the helm. Make sure it is still there, that it is riding as smoothly as possible in the chop, and that the painter is secure.

 

Dinghy Basics

 

As the designated dinghy captain, use the painter to bring the dinghy as close to the transom of your sailboat as possible. Make sure the paddles/oars are in the dinghy. When you jump into the dinghy, try to jump straight inside it. If you have an inflatable dinghy, if necessary, you can step on the side tubes to get in, but be very careful-it is easy to slip and end up in the water or fall hard into the dinghy. It is better to just jump in. Bail out any water that has accumulated from your passage or a brief tropical rain shower. Check that there is enough gas in the tank. Pump the primer and then start the engine before casting off from the boat or dinghy dock – not after. If you do not do that and your engine does not start, you are going to have to paddle and that is not easy against the current.

 

Run the engine at moderate rpms for a few minutes to warm up the engine. Ask the other crew members to jump in. Make sure all the crew weight is not on one side or in the aft part of the dinghy. Spread the load evenly and do not overload the dinghy. If anyone is not a good swimmer, they might want to don a life jacket. Have a crew member untie the painter from the stern cleat and pull it into the dinghy so it does not foul the outboard engine.

 

Sailing BVI Water

While underway, remember you push or pull the engine tiller in the opposite direction you want to travel. Do not make a sudden change in direction without advising your passengers and make sure everyone is holding on.

 

Docking a dinghy at a dinghy dock is pretty easy. Approach the dock slowly. If it is a popular dock, you can carefully nudge you way into the dock by gently pushing the tied up dinghies to either side of yours. Most dinghy docks will have either cleats or a wooden rail to tie up to the dock. Using the painter, make sure you are securely attached. The first person climbs up on the dock and then holds the dinghy steady as the rest of the crew climbs out. Again, if the dock is higher than the dinghy, it is okay to step on the bow of the dinghy, but be careful not to slip!

 

Sailing BVI Island

If you are in an area that you know is theft prone- and unfortunately they do exist- tie up your dinghy with a padlock and steel cable, including the outboard engine handle in the loop. If you are in such an area, the charter company will alert you to the situation and supply you with the necessary items. Fortunately, theft of dinghies or outboards is not a problem while sailing the BVI. Occasionally, however, local kids might go for a quick joyride. We have returned from dinner to find our dinghy securely tied up on the dinghy dock just a few spaces from where we left it. It was not that we were under the influenceof rum drinks such as “Painkillers” or “Bushwackers”, but rather kids being kids island-style.

 

When leaving the dinghy dock, it is the same as leaving your boat. The dinghy captain is first on and the engine is started before casting off. Beaching the dinghy is also relatively easy, provided there is no swell or breaking waves near the beach. Approach the beach with some speed, but not too much. Have a crew member at the bow looking out for coral heads.

 

As you get close to the beach, tilt the outboard up and kill the engine- coasting onto the beach. It may be necessary that one of the crew will have to jump into the water and pull the dinghy up onshore. When on the beach, pull the dinghy above the waterline. Tie the painter to a tree or use the dinghy anchor buried in the sand. If you use the dinghy anchor, before you take off, make sure it is secure and not dragging in the sand. Imagine what a bummer it would be to return to the beach for the trip back to your sailboat only to realize that your dinghy is adrift somewhere in the Sir Frances Drake Channel!


Sailing BVI Dusk


When returning to your boat, slow the dinghy down as you approach. Have a crew member gather up the painter, making sure it is not wrapped around anyone’s feet. Point the bow of the dinghy straight towards the transom.

 

Sailing BVI Swim

Have the crew member jump from the dinghy to the transom and tie off the painter before killing the engine. If jumping onto the transom at night, be careful not to slip because the transom is often wet with humidity. Pull the dinghy in close and assist with disembarkation.

 

The Dinghy After Dark

 

There is nothing like a dinghy ride under the star filled skies of the Caribbean. There are just a couple of things to do to make it safe and comfortable. First, if you have had dinner ashore, the dinghy will be wet with humidity when you get back to it. If having wet bottoms bothers you, make sure to bring along a towel to wipe off the side tubes before sitting down. Second, if you are using the dinghy at night, it is very important to have a working flashlight with you.

 

Have a crew member shine the light off the bow of the dinghy. This not only works like a headlight to show your presence, but it enables you to spot obstacles like mooring balls, fish pots, and anchor chains. In addition, it helps you to find your boat in the dark since many of the charter boats, especially in the BVI, look fairly similar at night.

 

Besides your actual charter boat, the dinghy is perhaps the most important piece of equipment you will use while sailing the BVI. By using some common sense, your dinghy can be a fun and reliable way to explore the beauty of the islands.

 

Contact www.visailing.com to book your island adventure.

 

Sailing BVI Captain
 

 

 

Written By Donna Wolfson
Photographs By Donna Wolfson

Copyright © Virgin Island Sailing Ltd.
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