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Knowing when to fold 'em

Practical or flat-water toy?

About two and a half years ago, I wrote on the subject of recent developments in folding boats, a seemingly fertile ground for the inventive sailor or otherwise aquatically inclined traveller.

Fertile ground is usually seeded with money, and the website Kickstarter allows crowd-sourced funding of little inventions. One which recently caught my eye was an 11-kilo vessel touted as a revolutionary folding kayak. It's been successful in getting press, and plenty of attention from the alternative outdoorsy types.

Batteries not required, but can it stand battery in general?

But at eight hundred bucks per, it had better work. Compactness is the main draw of folding boats, but durability is very much an issue. If you lived in an apartment next to a canal system or a big pond, I can very much see this as an attractive means of kayaking for the space-challenged. The downside for the cruiser, of course, is that there's very little space for cargo. Cruisers' tenders need to haul things back and forth, although this would be ideal for exploring a mangrove swamp or a calm lagoon if you only packed a lunch

And there are few more space-challenged than aboard a sub-50 foot cruising sailboat.

Here's a video of the kayak being folded up:

Interestingly, there are several less-polished versions of the same basic "coroplast kayak/boat" concept:

and this one, which is made of wood for the traditionalists among you:

I like the idea of foam or inflatable tubes lashed to the gunwhales of a tender. It's one used by the Walker Bay tender manufacturers and it's an idea I intend to adapt for our own Portabote and nesting dinghy

Still, it seems that there are many ways to construct folding boats, and the field seems full of interesting ideas and unusual materials. Whether they would suit cruisers as real-life tenders in sometimes choppy conditions will become clear with use and anecdote.


John Nyc said...

I'm planning to get a dinghy for my North Channel cruise next summer, so your review is very relevant to me.

You're showing an interesting selection although I would not go on most of them on anything other than on a small warm pond wearing a thick Solas lifejacket -)

If the fragile looking hulls are torn open, by a rock, a log, a toothy fish, whatever, the craft will sink in an instant, unlike an inflatable.

The Corogami, notably, seems very delicate and ready to fold back to its original accordion shape in a jiffy. Plus its hydrodynamics appear terrible.

That said, it's beautifully presented, making the entire video well worth watching, so thank you for that.

What about inflatable dinghies? It seems the vast majority of sailors use these instead of the folding type.

There must be a good reason behind this. I've not done the kind of research you've done, but I've never seen a folding dinghy on any sailboat to this day.

So please advise, Rhys.

Rhys said...

Everything, as we both know only too well, on a boat is a compromise.

I've owned a Zodiac RIB. The "rigid" part is next to my boat, awaiting a lottery win to retube its fibreglass hull in Hypalon. The PVC, despite being covered, eventually rotted, and the tubes' glue failed at the transom.

Upside of a RIB: Easy to beach, tough, decent carrying capacity, tracks well on a tow, can go on the plane with a big enough engine, can conceivably tow or propel the main boat. Also, it is a better choice for divers.

50/50: Can be rowed better than can be a pure inflatable (air keel).

Downsides: limited "compressibility", lots of windage, weight, needs a big engine (over 5 HP) to do any sort of speed, needs davits or other mechanical aid to stow, should be on deck and not davits in any kind of bad weather. An obvious downside is the possibility of valve failure and/or leakage and punctures. They also aren't cheap and are attractive to thieves.

My folding Portabote is the same age, if second-hand, and is still going strong. It carries only half the weight (550 lbs.) that my Zodiac could, but it weighs 55 lbs. and its engine is 28 lbs. My wife or soon, even my son, can handle it solo. Getting the Zodiac winched over the side (we had a davit failure!) was a group effort, particularly in the wind.

The Portabote rows well, with some reinforcement to the tholes. It is stable after intial tippiness (compared to an inflatable) and can be made more so with inflatable or foam collars. It's hard to damage, and gets more stable as it is loaded. It is less wet than a Zodiac in chop, in my experience due to somewhat higher freeboard. It packs down to surfboard side and can be stowed flat on a cabin top. No one wants to steal them!

Disadvantages include assembly time (perhaps 15 minutes), the necessity to cover the black seats in the sunshine (ouch!) and the lower carrying capacity.

I agree that some of those folders are too fragile for my and perhaps our sort of usage, but they are mainly there to spark debate.

The cruiser's default setting is today inflatables, usually RIBs, sometimes all fabric which can be rolled up (if an inflatable requires inflation to be used, such as on a smaller boat, the "assembly" objection vanishes). I am suggesting alternatives. Also, I like rowing and think it's OK to take a bit of exercise. Before the advent of lighter outboards, that was the default, that and "hard dinks" (sounds rude) of alarming shortness (seven to nine feet).

I discuss the acquisition of the Portabote here:

and the acquisition of the second tender, a nesting dinghy capable of rowing, motoring and sailing, here:

My thoughts haven't really changed on the topic, primarily because two tenders are better than one for us if you are willing to give up the space.

If in practice we are incorrect, acquiring a rolling-up inflatable with an aluminum floor is a trivial matter, but I think our logic here is sound.

Right now, the Portabote is in Valiente's forepeak, having been used as last summer's tender in the Thousand Islands. The Honda 2 engine stayed at home.

But next year after we launch, you will be able to see both a nesting and a folding dinghy aboard Alchemy. I invite you to try them out.

That said, I don't really care if other people select inflatables. I just didn't see they were right for us at this point.

John Nyc said...

Thank you for your most useful and thorough reply.

I'll take a closer look at the crafts you mention and I would be delighted to try one out.

I'm off to sail the wonderful Caribbean until the TO boat show.

All the best.

SabreKai said...

I have to say I have my doubts about folding plastic boats. Especially the ones that literally fold like paper like the corogami boat. Plastics like any material tend to break down when bent in the same spot. Eventually they will break apart along the fold. I'd like to see the warranty given with them.

Not that it matters anymore to me, I picked up an inflatable at the last boat show. One less thing to spend money on this time round. :)

Rhys said...

I agree, Peter, and if my Zodiac hadn't started to come apart, I probably would've backed that option. I certainly had fun in that RIB, even if I found davits implausible in a seaway and the prospect of bringing a 120 pound, 11-foot piece of pure windage aboard in gusty conditions daunting.

And we haven't even mentioned getting the 105 pound Honda 9.9 longshaft over the steel pipe rails. "Non-trivial effort" is in the ballpark.

The ability to have two "compressible" tenders in (far) less than the "footprint" of the RIB on the foredeck (about 75% even on the 19 foot mast to bow of Alchemy)proved to be the deciding factor for us. Giving our soon to be teenaged son a 10 foot sailing dinghy to boot around in, while we shuttle back and forth in the Portabote, lugging bananas, rum and diesel, seemed a more practical and flexible arrangement than a RIB or an inflatable.

I can understand your hesitation, being myself a man of substance. But the Portabote does not sink under my weight and indeed rides briskly and with a semblance of stability in two-to-three feet of Lake Ontario chop, even with the admittedly unmanly Honda 2 at full blast.

So far, I would perhaps consider going to a 40-pound 3.5 HP if Honda makes an air-cooled version of same. I like air-cooled due to mechanical simplicity, the lack of salt water and impellers and suchlike, and the fact it's basically a model airplane engine with a goiter. It's simple. Simple is good. It's a Seagull for the 21st century.

Rhys said...

John, I look forward to the opportunity to introduce you to folding and/or nesting tenders. I'm not evangelical on the point: should I find I've made some sort of mistake, I'll acquire an inflatable of some description, perhaps in a Caribbean card game.

Until then, we have two non-pumpable tenders, if "pumpable" can be considered a verb.

John said...

Thank you, Rhys, I look forward to seeing your foldable dinghy next year. The rubber dinghy I was planning to get has been put on hold.

Merriam-Webster agrees with you: Pumpable - capable of being pumped.

Meantime, I'm packing and looking forward to sailing in warmer climes until January.

Happy holidays!

Rhys said...

Fair winds, John. Enjoy the sailing, rum beverages and underdressed crew.

You could experience the hot winds of the AGM if you hung around, but I think you've got the better plan. If you can find the one eccentric old sea coot in the anchorage who doesn't have an inflatable, see if he'll tell you why not, and if it matches my blatantly partisan opinions.

Happy holidays to you, too.