Why we DIDN'T Go with the Best Lightweight Carbon Dinghy - Carbon Dinghy vs RIB
After our review of our new dinghy, we got a few questions on what options we had considered in the buying process. And, well, as an over researcher who had spent many, many hours visiting and testing new dinghies, I may have been overzealous in chewing a few folks ears off. Rather than losing any more new friends, a follow up post for those folks actually in the market for a new dinghy is a much better plan.
Getting Our Search Started
We met the lovely owners of a new HH catamaran anchored with us in North Carolina two years ago, and I fell in love with their new carbon fiber OC Tender. Watching that thing zip around with ease with no air tubes to worry about, while our almost 20 year old Caribe was looking saggy and worn definitely made an impression.
They were nice enough to show us the advantages of a fully rigid, lightweight Carbon dinghy.
Advantages of Carbon Dinghies
If you've never rowed a Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), I can equate it to the feeling of rowing with pasta noodles. The flexibility in the tubes that the oarlocks are glued to means that a lot of your rowing power gets lost in the flexing of the tube under the oarlock.
Fully rigid boats have none of that nonsense, and the rowing experience is far superior. We like to take our kayaks into land if we're close, and would definitely row the dinghy more if we had a true rigid boat.
The reduction in weight can definitely be a factor for a sailing couple or sailing short handed. Lightweight means raising and lowering easier. It's easier to leave the motor on the dinghy (total weight package). And it's especially easier to pull up on a beach with only two people.
I don't think we're talking about enough weight to actually matter in the "catamarans should always be as light as possible to sail fast" category. The difference is maybe 40 pounds to a similarly equipped aluminum bottom RIB.
Although all of the carbon fiber rigid dinghies boast much more interior space given the lack of big tubes, it didn't feel much more spacious.
Lightweight means less weight in the water, which means less HP required. This can especially be a factor on certain size boats. For us, it wasn't really much of an issue. 15 HP motors are usually actually the same design (and weight) as a 20 HP, just different price. So going from 20 to 15 doesn't give a weight advantage. For those with a bigger crew and larger tender, being able to step down from a 25 or 30 to a 20 could be significant.
The rigid design also allows for a faster hull shape (as advertised, anyway). Although we find that we are very happy at 15kts and under on a dinghy.
The makers boast that a carbon fiber dinghy will be the last dinghy you'll have to buy. You'll treat it like another permanent boat, rather than something with a 5-10 year lifespan.
And the Disadvantages?
As you'll see in the options below, the most popular carbon fiber dinghies run about 2.5-3 times the cost of an equally sized RIB. That's quite a large pill to swallow. I can buy a brand new rib every 5 years for 15 years before hitting the price of a carbon fiber dinghy. That's a lot of value that the carbon dinghy would have to bring to the table to be worth it.
Pickup / Drop Off from Vessel
Maybe some of you are impeccable drivers (or have never let anyone that's learning drive the dinghy) and have never bumped your yacht while doing a pickup or drop off. I can't say that I'm one of those. Having the inflatable tubes gives a nice soft landing to the raked back transoms of a catamaran.
We've also had the dinghy slip under the bride deck a bit while unloading. If you're not paying attention, a passing wake can pitch the dinghy's bow right up into the bridge deck. This is much more forgiving on an inflatable.
Yes, I listed weight as a pro, and it definitely is one, but it can also be a con. The lighter OC tender was noticeably touchier in choppy water and had a less forgiving ride in some instances.
What are the Options for a Carbon Fiber Dinghy Currently?
Let's take a look at the carbon fiber dinghies that we entertained. Prices and specs are pulled from the manufacturers website as of the publication date of this post.
Offshore Cruising Tenders OC330 - 105lb - $13,140USD (United States Price List) - We did a quick test drive with some new friends we met in South Carolina on an HH catamaran. We saw them only 3 months later, and the non-skid was already in rough shape. They had a dog, so this might be a factor. But compared to a hypalon dinghy, I have seem many dog owners with nails scratching up the hypalon and it still looks good.
OC Tenders are made in Australia by a skilled team. The founder is a previous cruiser and set out to make a tender that checked all of the boxes that cruisers require. I have not met him in person, but the operation seems to be very respectable. Part of the cost is to have the boat shipped to location, since they do not use a dealer model.
Offshore Cruising Tenders Sailing Full Carbon OC330 - 119lb - $24,375 (United States Price List) - What a dream it would be to have the option of sailing our dinghy to land, or just sailing around a dinghy for fun! The non full carbon brings the weight up to 150lb, so to bring it back down to the 100lb range, the full carbon option is needed.
ASTender 340 - 86lbs - $13,933USD (listed on their site in Euro excl VAT) - The ASTender only comes in a 2.8m and 3.4m versions (9.2 and 11.2ft), which gave us some trouble fitting one. This coupled with the lack of shipping options and dealers means that we didn't get to really seriously consider this option.
Aspen Carbon Cat T10 - 139 lbs - $10,200 - This is a really new interesting option that I wish we had the time to take a spin on before we made our purchase. Unfortunately I learned about them after we already purchased our current dinghy. And I was even more heartbroken to learn they were exhibiting at the Annapolis Sailboat show, where we ended up buying our new dinghy anyway.
The catamaran hull and the price make this one a serious contender for having the right value to us.
What RIBs Did We Consider?
AB Inflatables Lammina UL 10' - 95lbs - Did not get a price - A dealer mentioned to us that AB had so many problems when they introduced their aluminum version that they really lost their reputation. The problems have since been fixed, but now he was selling Highfield 10 to 1 against AB. Shame.
Ultimately we didn't like the look of the AB, and the co-captain was worried about being blinded by the unpainted hull. I had actually considered this a positive, since there was no paint to chip off and look terrible. We did not spend much time with the Lammina AL either (117lbs with a bow locker), as we our eyes went straight to our final choice.
Caribe L10 - 120lbs - Our Caribe lasted almost 20 years, so we had to at least consider getting another one. The Caribes with bow lockers (like the CX10), are just too heavy at 145 lbs. Plus, I read a number of reports of the water intrusion problem inside the hull, which is also what we experienced, but reports of problems after only a year of use. That was the nail in the coffin.
Zodiac - We went to look at a few zodiac models, but could not justify the much higher price they command, so we quickly ruled these out. The seams did look more solid. One dealer said that zodiac is a niche market at this point for dinghies and is rarely considered.
Achilles HB-210AX - 147lbs - Did not get a price - Ultimately we liked this dinghy, but it was higher on the weight side for us. And it did not have as many features as our final choice.
Highfield CL310 - 137lbs - $5,700 (boat show price) - And we finally arrive at our final choice! We found that the Highfield CL310 had the best balance of price, performance, and features for our needs. The Highfield offers a nice bow locker for the fuel tank and our gear and double floor to keep your feet dry, and a spray deflecting rub rail. Good looks are an added plus. See the full review here - Highfield CL310 Full Review - the Great, the Bad, and the Downright Ugly!
While I am a bit disappointed that we didn't buy into the wave of the future, and we're not sailing our carbon dinghy into the next dinghy dock in ultimate style, the cons of the carbon dinghies still seem to outweigh the pros for our use. I have some regrets on not spending time with the Aspen Carbon Cat, but I am doubtful if we would not have still come to the same conclusion.
If you found this useful or have a different opinion, please share in the comments!