We use our dinghy a lot. It is more than just the “family car” that carries us to and from shore. It is our “off-road”exploration vehicle, our means for mobile entertainment, our backup plan and more recently our escape pod.
When we bought Kate she came with a Zodiac Zoom, how long it had been baking in the California sun fully inflated on the dock we don’t know. It was a little worse for wear but held air, and after I made a set of chaps to cover the worn pontoons it didn’t look that bad.
The zodiac was a soft dinghy, the kind that has interlocking floor boards that when removed allow the boat to be deflated and rolled up. This also meant it had very little keel and as a result was a little squirrely to drive. It was dependable, it had character and was slightly unpredictable. We named it Timmy (yes, we were watching a lot of South Park at the time).
We drove Timmy up rivers in Mexico and plunged him into surf breaks in Costa Rica. In Panama we used him to explore caves and circumnavigate distant small islands. We spent the sunny afternoons in Huahine “burfing” with Timmy, and in Tahiti packed him into a car and headed to one of the worlds most renown surf breaks, Teahupo’o. Our little dingy took us on countless fishing trips and snorkeling adventures. He served as our pack mule on regular water and beer runs. Timmy even helped pull a boat off a reef and was our sole means of propulsion for a couple weeks when we had major engine troubles.
But after years of use and countless times being rolled up Timmy developed a leak where the hard transom joined the soft floor. It wasn’t that he was leaking air but rather slowly letting in water so keeping gear/food/us dry and salt free became impossible. Despite several attempts we could not patch him properly, no amount of glue or 5200 would withstand the constant folding. We loved our Timmy but eventually grew tired of driving around a wading pool. When we reached Fiji we decided was time to treat ourselves to a new dinghy.
Since we prefer not to have anything on deck while on passage we were confined to buying another soft floor/roll up dinghy. Fiji may have a lot on offer but an inflatable boat store is not one of them. We would have to get something shipped in. We researched designs and weighed our options, finally deciding on a Takacat. (They are actually a catamaran style with the over-sized pontoons supporting a raised above water inflatable floor. Less drag means that our Takacat Sport 3.4M planes with two people and a 6HP outboard. Pretty impressive for a blow up boat.)
We were elated, when a quick seven days after we ordered it online, our new toy arrived. In the midst of a seemingly endless refit it was just the boost we needed; even if Kate was still stuck on the hard at least we could get out on the water.
Between the refit and the next cyclone season we only had time to sail to and explore the Kingdom of Tonga for six months. The new Takacat dinghy was a delight; bigger, faster and lighter than Zodiac. It was a sad day when we packed it away for storage over a year ago.
When our plans changed in December and it looked like we’d been spending the holidays in Fiji, living onboard while Kate is in a cyclone pit, we decided to retrieve the dinghy from storage. With a perfect little beach just in front of the boat and the wheels newly installed we could easily launch at high tide and store it beside the big boat, safe and free from marine growth.
So, one hot and sunny Sunday we packed up the fishing gear, the picnic basket and ourselves. Just as Steve was about finish pumping up the dinghy (never leave anything fully inflated in the hot sun) and wheel it down to the beach there was a sudden “hisssssss”. A definitive air-being-released sound, albeit not one under a lot pressure. The dinghy suddenly had a great sag to the starboard side, and as we watched the tubes buckled and folded.
Without much inspection Steve found the inboard starboard seam had parted in two place. The holes were almost big enough to put his hand through, and where there should have been glue residue was almost completely smooth. There was no way we were escaping the marina that morning. And worse yet our less-than-two-year-old-used-for-one-season dinghy now lay in a crumpled heap on the lawn.
I am not sure who was more deflated; us or the dinghy. All we could say was that it was fortunate that it hadn’t happened at sea when it most certainly would have meant swamping not only the boat but the outboard too. It was definitely a time for those beers I had packed for lunch.
We sent an email to Takacat. We’d had such a good experience with them during and after the sale that we were confident that they’d take care of us. And I have to give it to them they did. After a couple prompt emails back and forth they considered the defect covered under warranty and informed us that a new set of tubes would be shipped to us on the next available flight out of New Zealand. Since it was smack bang in the middle of the Christmas/New Years holiday crush we understood that it took a couple weeks to get it on the plane. But there is was one day, wrapped in a big brown box and delivered to our door. Free of charge.
That’s not only GREAT customer service but standing by your product, not something too many companies do these days. Our “dinghy malfunction” was a little scary, but we are still happy to be Takacat owners.
Lets hope our new Takacat has nine lives…now all we need is a name.
P.S. Don’t worry, Timmy went to a good home. We gave it to some friends of our who were struggling to keep their 14 year old dinghy alive. We heard he lives in Australia now.