The Dinghy of Doubt

This is me in the dinghy.


The dinghy provides safe, dry (ish) transport to the shore from a mooring or anchorage, at any time of the day or night, as well as a handy albeit never even remotely graceful entry point into the boat after a swim.


My relationship with this dinghy has been fraught with anger, fear and frustration. The reason for this, I discovered after an in-depth psychological self-examination, is that this nondescript, inert, floating rubber structure had become a kind of mirror to all of my deepest fears and doubts.

Those fears and doubts are discussed here in an article of a cathartic nature, through which I will lay my dinghy doubts to rest once and for all, leaving the dinghy and I free to enjoy future happy times together.

I can hear you wondering out loud whether this might not be a case of the Ashton overdramatising things again. I can thoroughly assure you that it is.

It all started when the dinghy was blown up and used for the first time, in the idyllic turquoise waters of Carriacou, in the blazing midday heat. The dinghy takes a while to blow up with a manual foot pump and is heavy and cumbersome to heave over the side of the boat. Now bear in mind that this only needs to be done once and you’ve got months and months of peaceful anchorage existence ahead of you. But I think that all of this stuff happening a day after a 28-day voyage made something pop inside my brain, and I immediately started viewing the dinghy as a fun destroyer.

Doubts and fears mirrored by dinghy:
Living on a boat is much more trouble than it’s worth and you hate it.
The heavy cumbersome dinghy is going to land on one of your limbs and break it at some point. Like everything else on this boat.
Why have those people on that boat got an electric pump? Should I be hanging out with richer people?
How come their dinghy simply gets hydraulically winched from a handy locker embedded in the sprawling deck of their fifty foot catamaran? Should I be hanging out with richer people?

My first experience of an anchorage, also in Carriacou, was, I am sad to admit, marred by dinghy doubt. At this point there were several issues becoming apparent.
1. The boat received the first scratches in its brand new amazing shiny red paint job when the dinghy motor accidentally banged against the side when one of us (not me) was climbing in or out. Meaning that an already precarious entry/exit procedure which included one-legged balancing acts akin to something a flamingo might do, various types of hoisting and a complex bag-passing system, was made even more complicated by trying not to let the dinghy nudge the side of the boat, EVER.
2. The motor, it turns out, is temperamental (no past tense here). Sometimes, it doesn’t start. Sometimes, it does, and then it stops.
3. Every time we got in the dinghy, one of us had to get out again because we’d forgotten something. Sometimes twice.
4. The dinghy docks always have spiky bits on which could puncture the dinghy.

Doubts and fears mirrored by dinghy:
You totally scratched Phil’s boat and he now hates you.
You’ll probably scratch it again because you are a clumsy sod.
One day getting in or out of the dinghy you are going to end up doing the splits with one leg on the dinghy and one leg on the boat and the dinghy will shoot away causing your body to be ripped entirely in half.
You are definitely going to drop the bag with all the money in it in the water.
Or fall in the water, which most likely has sharks in it, remember that guy on his honeymoon who got eaten by sharks?
You can never, ever use the dinghy alone in case the motor (you know absolutely nothing about motors) fails and you are left to drift out into the open ocean, where you will starve slowly to death, or get eaten by sharks. This means you have no independence and will never get to spend time alone, and also means you are a massive loser.

Thus a few minor hitches for a frazzled post-Atlantic neurotic quickly spiralled into a deep hatred for this rubbery spawn of Satan. It was starting to look like there was no hope.

You’ve read about the problems so far; they repeated themselves day after day, nourishing each of the dinghy doubts further, creating a black hole of negativity where the dinghy used to be. Then, I gave rowing a try. What a disaster. By this point, the self-perpetuating dinghy doubts were so out of control that I was left, rowing around in circles, stubbornly refusing to row any harder as the dinghy got pushed out to sea by strong winds. By this point, I would rather have been mowed down by a speedboat than let that dinghy win. I couldn’t give it and its stupid spazzy oars any more of my time or energy. The dinghy made me cry, that rubbery arsehole.

Doubts and fears mirrored by dinghy:
I am going to get chucked off this boat for moaning so much about the dinghy.

Lots of niggling annoyances which weren’t that bad fade into daily routine; things are rarely forgotten, bags are not dropped, entry and exit of the dinghy has become graceful and sylph like, the motor is much more reliable, regular snorkelling reveals harmless, sharkless waters, and further scratches have been prevented. Only one issue remained. I still hadn’t summoned the courage to take the dinghy to shore alone.

It was time to take action. The scene: Kralendijk on the stunning island of Bonaire, an hour before sunset.
The action: I stare dinghy doubt in the face and fearlessly embark on my maiden solo dinghy voyage. It went like this.

Don swimsuit, get yoga mat, get in dinghy.
Hang desperately on to side of boat for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, begging skipper not to untie dinghy in case motor doesn’t start. I’m not exaggerating. This is the level of dinghy doubt I’d reached.
Persuade skipper to hold motor a little away from boat while I try to start it.
Motor starts and dinghy sets off, straight into offshore wind, causing dinghy’s pathetic rubbery nose to fly up in air threatening to cast me out or capsize. I have to sprawl myself, terrified, over entire length of dinghy while still trying to steer (have I mentioned that if you fall out of a dinghy when the motor is on, it buzzes around you in circles while the propellor rips your body into tiny shreds until nothing remains of you except a few ribbons of swimsuit and your fillings?).
Make it to shore, tie dinghy to dock, experience brief moment of elation.
Do about two minutes of snorkelling and about five minutes of yoga, glancing at dinghy every ten seconds in case it has drifted off, worrying incessantly about the journey back.
Sack off yoga, get back in dinghy, try to start motor, motor doesn’t start, all of my dinghy doubts coming flooding back. Fishermen laugh at me as I frantically tug the starting cord and paddle my hands manically, trying to avoid ropes on which the propellor can snag.
Sack off motor, row back, whimpering. Arrive safely at boat, successfully avoiding castaway scenario or circular rowing embarrassment. Breathe shaky sigh of relief.

Can I come in now?
Can I come in now?

After that, I just got over it. After all, it’s only a dinghy, and I think it got blown up out of all proportion.

4 thoughts on “The Dinghy of Doubt

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