Every cruising boat needs a good dinghy tender. The tender serves many purposes and is quite often compared to the cruisers car on the water. How else do you plan on getting to shore after dropping your hook in all of those remote anchorages? You could swim if conditions are right, however it’s not really a viable option for carrying your trash to shore, or groceries and supplies back to the boat. Plus, after spending all day exploring on shore, swimming back to the boat in the dark can provide a little anxiety if you let your mind wonder about what types of fish could be lurking about in the water at night.
When shopping for dinghy tenders many cruisers have their own ideas about why certain types of dinghies are better for cruising than others. Some would choose to go with the 100% Inflatable or the RIB (rigid inflatable boat), which are the most popular among boaters. While others would choose a Rigid Dinghy, a Folding Dinghy or a Sailing Inflatable Dinghy. We decided on a Rigid Dinghy but not just any Rigid Dinghy, we went with the Fatty Knees.
We were first introduced to the Fatty Knees (Meet The Fatty Knees) while reading “The Cost Concious Cruiser,” written by the famous cruising couple Lin and Larry Pardey . Chapter 8 talks specifically about what steps the couple took to convert their Fatty Knees sailing dinghy into their life boat while cruising. In over 403,000 combined sea miles Lin and Larry have never had to abandon ship unlike Steve Callahan author of Adrift, who spent 76 days floating in his 6 person inflatable life raft. (Callahan was also used as a consultant for the most recent movie Life of Pi.) The decision to convert your dinghy into a two for one tender/life raft or keep an additional life raft on board comes down to each individual cruiser, who has to make their own choice based on cost and space.
I won’t mention all of the pros and cons for either decision outlined by the authors mentioned above. You will have to read about that in their books. But, I will elaborate on why we decided to go with the hard bottom Fatty Knees.
- Design. It is a classic little boat by designer Lyle Hess who’s best known designs are the Bristol Channel Cutter and Falmouth Cutter. The boat is considered one of the “strongest dinghies on the water” because of its hand-laid lapstrake hull. It can be sailed or rowed and even has a spot to add an outboard mount if you wanted to.
- Stability. It’s stiffness and wide beam add to its stability. Also comes equipped with two dagger boards, one that adds additional stability for sailing and another that keeps water out while rowing.
- Mobility. Sail it or row it. A sailing dinghy provides us with multiple options for mobility in the event an outboard motor dies or we loose an oar. Since we learned to sail on dinghies, we really wanted the option to be able to sail this to shore and to easily explore harbors and anchorages.
- Cost. After some modification it will serve as our life raft in the event of an emergency. If we were adrift, a sailing dinghy and oars allow us to be some what mobile. Rather than rely on someone else to find us, we can actively participate in our own rescue.
- Reliability. We don’t have to be concerned about not knowing if this raft will inflate in an emergency, or uncertain of it’s ability. We will be using this tender frequently and will know how it handles. The hard bottom equals less possibility of punctured holes from the unexpected rock or sharp coral in shallow water.
- Quality. It sails extremely well in light air and heavy weather. The sail comes with reef points. It is easy to row. Long quality oars make it easy to maneuver.
- Weight. It is relatively light weight. It can be hoisted on deck easily with a winch and halyard and stored upside down on our bow. Since the outer rail of the dinghy is padded it won’t scratch the deck. For shorter trips it can be easily towed behind our boat.
We didn’t realize how popular the Fatty Knees Dinghy was until we tried to purchase one. New, they can be pricey but are definitely worth it. However, with our budget we decided to see if we could score a new/used one. The first one we tried to buy was an 8 footer in Washington. We saw the listing and called the broker who said we were the third offer, but that we could put a bid in anyway. We did and heard nothing. We kept looking and soon we found a 9 ft. Fatty Knees for sale by owner in Alabama. Without hesitation we made a call to put in our offer, then worked out shipping her to California!
When talking with the dinghies previous owner (coincidentally also a previous Pacific Seacraft owner!) He informed us the dinghy had been on adventures galore!
“It served us well on all our vacations to the bay in Outer Banks, NC and Destin, FL. Sailing, rowing, fishing, and watching luminescence in water. While sailing in big winds and trailing a fishing line, I had big fish hit. Before I could get it in, a bigger fish hit it, leaving only the head! It spent 9 days in the Keys and accompanied us on failed attempt to cross Gulf Stream with 9′ seas, and never shipped any water. It performed faithful duty on 2 lakes in AL., and even crossed on ferry to Beaver Island on Lake Michigan.” – Jeff Alabama
We are looking forward to adding many more adventures to our Fatty Knees resume!