Dinghy for a Pocket Cruiser: Inflatable, Hard, or Folding?

Oystercatcher, with a hard dinghy on her foredeck and a Porta-Bote amidships
A dinghy is a must for anyone who wishes to use a sailboat for cruising. Without one, you're confined to the mothership whenever you're at anchor. Without one you cannot explore the shallows; you cannot set foot on that nearby alluring island; and you cannot visit that nearby dock for supplies or for some worthwhile attraction without, perhaps, paying to dock the mothership for the night. A dinghy can also help to get you out of a bad situation, when, for example, you run aground. How are you going to set that kedge anchor far astern without your trusty dinghy?

In my lengthy and extensive refitting of Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about a dinghy that would be appropriate for this boat, this small cruiser, this pocket cruiser. In this article, I explain the research I did that led me to purchase a folding dinghy, specifically the folding dinghy known as the Porta-Bote
I knew I wanted a dinghy that I could stow in some way aboard the boat when necessary. I considered briefly an inflatable dinghy, such as the one below used by the owners of an Ericson 23. I did not, however, want the hassle of inflating and deflating this sort of dinghy, and the only place I could imagine stowing the dinghy in its deflated state was on the foredeck. I also had some concerns about the maintenance and lifespan of an inflatable dinghy, especially amongst the oyster shells of the Charleston Lowcountry. An RIB, or rigid inflatable dinghy, with a fiberglass bottom, might have fared better, but it would have been impossible for me to stow it on the Ericson 25.
I briefly considered the Eastport Nesting Pram, a 7 foot, 9 inch kit boat from Chesapeake Light Craft.
I loved the lines of this salty looking boat, and I loved its nesting capability, in other words, the fact that its bow section could be stowed beneath its stern section. This was a boat, it seemed, that I could stow on the foredeck if necessary. I was not, however, up for a boat-building project at this time, since I had already spent so much time in my refitting of Oystercatcher.
I also considered at this time another traditional looking boat known as the Flapdoodle, designed by Bill Weller. This boat differed from the Eastport Nesting Pram, a rigid hull boat, in that it was rigid yet foldable. In other words, it fabric joints allowed it to be collapsed for storage. I loved Barquito, the Flapdoodle built by David Brinker and seen in Duckworks magazine.
Again, however, I was hesitant to start a boatbuilding project in the midst of my refitting of Oystercatcher.
At this time I also considered the Origami dinghy, a folding dinghy that seemed much less labor intensive, though admittedly less attractive to the eye, at least for someone like me who loves traditional lines and styles in ships and boatbuilding. I considered the 8 foot Origami model, the plans of which are available from Wooden Widget and Duckworks.
I considered the Origami 8 seriously enough to create a mockup out of plywood to see if I would be able to stow it amidships on Oystercatcher. It seemed it would fit.
I also wanted to see if it would be possible to set up and deploy the Origami 8 from the cockpit of Oystercatcher. It seemed that it would. Still, though, I was concerned about undertaking another project in the midst of all the other projects that still remained for Oystercatcher herself.
This led me to consider the Porta-Bote, a folding boat that would not require me to take a detour from my ongoing refitting of Oystercatcher. Though not the most attractive boat, it was a dinghy that had many fans on the Cruiser's Forum and other sailing forums.
While surfing the Cruiser's Forum I was impressed by S.E. Smith's stowage of his Porta-Bote on his Seaward 25. This looked to be the 8 foot model.
Eventually I completed my lengthy refitting of Oystercatcher, and I decided to lease a slip at a local marina to get the most out of my love and joy.
I ended up meeting quite a few different persons at this marina, some of whom had dinghies.
One of these persons owned a Dink, a fiberglass-hulled dinghy manufactured by American Sail, right here in Charleston, South Carolina. He towed this 8 foot Dink behind his Coronado 27 up and down the East Coast, sometimes offshore, sometimes in the Intracoastal Waterway. The only time he ever stowed it on deck was when he transited the Erie Canal on his way to and from the Great Lakes.
I really liked the way the way this Dink looked, and it was a dinghy that would not require me to undertake a boat-building project. He help me load his Dink onto the deck of my Ericson 25, just so I could get a sense of how a Dink might fit.
It definitely fit between the mast and the mahogany anchor roller base, and it definitely did not look terribly out of place.
There was still some room around the chain pipe and other components of the anchoring system, but things would be cramped. The hull of the Dink made access to these anchoring components difficult.

The Dink also would prevent the use of the forward hatch.
As you see in the picture below, to access the components of the anchoring system, I would have to climb over the top of the hull. There would not be enough room to walk around the hull.
The Dink, when stowed on the foredeck, also would present some challenges in terms of line-of-sight navigation.

Another fellow at this marina owned a Porta-Bote. He allowed me to borrow it at the same time the other fellow allowed me to borrow his Dink.
This was an 8 foot model, one that was gray in color.
With his help, I was able to stow it amidships. The chainplate and shrouds (circled in yellow) helped to keep it snug.
In the pictures above and below I have the Porta-bote stowed inboard of the chainplate and shrouds.
I experimented with stowing the Porta-bote outboard of the chainplate and shrouds. As you can see in the picture below, this forced me to wedge it between the shrouds and the stanchion, and it resulted in the bow of the Porta-bote projecting forth, over the toe rail.
The position inboard of the stanchions was definitely better.

I next experimented with the positioning of the Porta-bote forward and aft. Sliding it forward amidships, and then aft amidships, trying to see if this Ericson 25 could handle a 10 foot Porta-bote.
As you can see in the picture below, this 8 foot Porta-bote, when slid forward amidships, left plenty of room between its stern and the cockpit.
The Porta-bote comes in four different lengths - 14 foot, 12 foot, 10 foot, and 8. I knew that the 14 foot and 12 foot models would be too long, but I thought that perhaps the 10 foot model would work for this Ericson 25.
One of the benefits of the 8 foot model seemed to be that it would allow me to go forward from the cockpit more easily. That gap between the stern of the Porta-bote and the cockpit was just the right size for my foot.
This 8 foot model also allowed for a little room between the bow of the Porta-bote and the forward end of the cabin.
I should note that the 8 foot model is in fact 8 feet, 6 inches.

Yes, this 8 foot model fit well on the side deck of my Ericson 25, but I had to consider whether the 8 foot model would fit my needs. On Sailnet, I found a posting by Greg and Jill Delezynski on their use of their 8 foot Porta-bote in the Sea of Cortez. https://www.sailnet.com/forums/gear-maintenance/106497-porta-bote-tender-dinghy.html I also looked at their website they maintained concerning their Nor'Sea 27, Gueneverehttp://www.svguenevere.com/pg3c.html
Greg and Jill could set up their 8 foot Porta-bote in their cockpit and deploy it from there. This 8 foot model, however, seemed a bit too small to me, especially for two persons in choppy seas.
Therefore, I began to consider more closely the 10 foot model. I should note that the 10 foot model in fact measures 10 feet, 8 inches. Everyone, though, refers to this as the 10 foot model or Porta-bote 10. This Porta-bote 10, as you see in the picture below has three bench seats, one more than the Porta-bote 8.
As I looked around more for examples of the Porta-bote 10 in action I found an excellent review by a cruising couple who used their Porta-bote 10 aboard their Hunter 44DS. I found their review helpful, especially their description of how they could set up this boat on their foredeck using a halyard to keep it in a vertical position. https://roadslesstraveled.us/porta-bote-review/
They would install the amidships bench seat, lower the boat into the water, and then install the forward and aft bench seats.
I searched in earnest for a Porta-bote on Craig's List for many months. There were many 12 foot and 14 foot models, especially in the Olive Drab color. There no 10 foot or 8 foot models that I could find in any of the three colors available - Olive Drab (light green), Aluminum (silver), or Pacific Pearl (off-white). Eventually, I found someone about two hours away who was selling his Pacific Pearl 10 foot model. Although the boat was two years old, he wanted the full price that he had paid for it when he had bought it. We couldn't reach an agreement.
Finding no other options, and on the verge of a long cruise of several weeks, I eventually decided to order a brand new one from the Porta-bote company in California. It arrived by freight truck in two packages, one a cardboard box with the bench seats and oars inside, the other the boat itself wrapped in heavy-duty plastic.

This proved to be a good dinghy for my pocket cruiser. Over the past four years I have towed her many miles, closely behind the transom of my boat. The Tohatsu 3.5 motor that I eventually purchased was an invaluable addition. No longer did I have to time my rowing excursions to and from the mother ship with the tides.
This ends this posting on the research that led me to purchase this folding dingy, the Porta-bote, for my pocket cruiser, Oystercatcher, my Ericson 25.

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