Just like sailors on keel boats and catamarans, there are some dinghy sailors who just don't want the competition and culture associated with racing sailing. So while there are stirrings and mumblings that 'dinghy sailing is in decline', the cruising side of dinghy sailing is thriving.
Dinghy cruising can be a sociable exercise
According to Irish Afloat, dinghy cruising 'has been defined as sailing a dinghy for any other reason than racing. That may be too sweeping a generalisation. Perhaps a better way of putting it would be that dinghy cruising is all about going somewhere in a small boat.'
Recently there have been a spate of adventures in small boats, including the astonishing feat completed last week by Matt Rutherford, who sailed solo round the Americas non-stop to raise money for a charity in a ancient 27ft boat. The voyage was almost in defiance of the culture that sees yachts getting bigger and bigger and more and more expensive every year.
In July last year Greek sailors Iordanis Paschalides and Kostas Trigonis sailed across the western Mediterranean, taking three days in a 6m Tornado catamaran to complete their voyage.
Then of course there's the revered late Frank Dye who undertook numerous voyages in his open 15ft 10in wooden Wayfarer dinghy Wanderer; these included passages from Scotland to Iceland and across the North Sea to Norway, and featured mountainous seas, gales up to Force 11 and numerous capsizes and broken masts.
But this doesn't mean that all dinghy sailors have to be adventurers, and there are thousands of sailors, young and old, taking off for a half-day sail or for a few days, be it alone, with the family or merely with a like minded soul.
While to do well in dinghy racing the newer and more-hi-tech the boat the better, successful dinghy cruising does not depend on a new boat. Indeed, as Marheramore writing for Afloat points out, one might be happier when beaching on a stony beach if the gel coat already has a scratch or two.
Boats for such sailing are a personal and often somewhat idiosyncratic choice. Who would have thought that a Finn could be converted into practical cruising yawl? Or that a Mirror dinghy could cruise from the Severn to the Black Sea, with the skipper sleeping 'comfortably' aboard. Stability is the one essential design feature, indeed some dinghy cruisers maintain that the Wayfarer, used by Frank Dye, is far too 'tippy' a boat.
So what ARE the advantages of dinghy cruising?
1. A dinghy can be transported on a road trailer behind a car which is not possible with any reasonably sized yacht. This means that a dinghy has greater flexibility to explore a variety of cruising areas. Getting a yacht to a new cruising area can mean long sea passages which take up most of a short holiday before you get a chance to relax and explore at leasure.
2 It is easier to find overnight stopping places for a dinghy than for a yacht. The small dimensions and particularly the shallow draft of a dinghy mean that it can use mooring sites which yachts cannot reach. Furthermore, dinghies are rarely asked to pay harbour dues. Either they are off the bottom end of the scale of charges, or they are tolerated because the water they occupy is too shallow to be sold to a yacht or perhaps they are just not very visible.
3. The upper reaches of estuaries, and indeed inland rivers and even canals, are interesting places to explore but are inaccessible to yachts both because of shallow water and because of fixed bridges. (on most dinghies it is fairly easy to lower the mast, the Wayfarer is particularly good in this respect)
4. Dinghies don't make you seasick. It is true, most people are liable to seasickness on a yacht but on a dinghy it is comparatively rare. This may have something to do with the super abundance of fresh air and the horizon being visible all round. Some have said that if it is rough enough to be sick on a dinghy it won't happen because you will be too scared to remember to be sick.
5. A dinghy can be rowed so an engine is not essential, although a dinghy can carry a small outboard. A yacht cannot really manage without an engine these days since, apart from anything else, manoeuvring under sail is prohibited in many harbours and marinas. This is a big advantage for a dinghy if you are a green purist and feel that your boat should only be propelled by non-polluting renewable energy sources.
Many dinghy cruising sailors never progress beyond pottering or day sailing. Unless you live in a very poor area for sailing, a lifetime will be too short to explore the nooks and crannies of your nearby coastline. When camping or self-catering beside the water, having a dinghy ready to launch greatly enriches the holiday. Yet, inevitably, there comes a day when the the skipper wants to sail out to that distant island, or around the point, too far to return the same day.
At this point the huge advantage of exploring in a dinghy rather than on foot becomes obvious. Even in the smallest dinghy room can be found for a tent, foam mattress, sleeping bag, stove, provisions and, luxury, a bottle of wine and a corkscrew! The boat does the carrying rather than your back. There are usually many places near to your home port where a tent can be pitched discreetly. The sea-kayaking fraternity have been doing this for years.
Most cruising sailors then realise that it is in fact more convenient to sleep on board. This is no less comfortable than sleeping in the kind of bivouac tents used by back-packers and cyclists. There is also one great advantage, by choosing an appropriate anchorage one can escape midges and other small biting things!
Dinghy cruising is not a structured activity. Yet the Dinghy Cruising Association in the UK, for instance, has 468 paying members.
Races are not part of their programme. Rallies can be low key – meet for lunch, or an overnight stay at specified spot (often conveniently situated within strolling distance of a welcoming pub).
In short, pottering or cruising in small open boats is an exciting adventure open to all. If you haven't thought of trying it, there might be a new world waiting for you!
To learn more about the operations of the Dinghy Cruising Association of the UK, an organisation that has been in existence since the 1950's, dinghycruising.org.uk/!click_here. Maybe if there's no such association where you are, you could start one!