When I bought my Down East 45 schooner Britannia, it didn't have a dinghy, but it did have very sturdy aluminum davits just waiting for a new “dink.” So I began to look into different specifications and costs.
There are two main types: RIB’s, (rigid inflatable boats), have solid hulls; great for stability and load carrying, but heavier than soft bottom boats of similar size. A ten-foot RIB comes in at around 130/150 Lbs., whereas a soft bottom weighs only about 80/90 Lbs. Another consideration is the material used for the tubes. There are basically two types: PVC and Hypelon. Hypelon is stronger and resists abrasion and UV light better than PVC, which is a thinner material, with less abrasive resistance.
All-in-all I favored a Hypelon RIB, but a new one was well outside my budget - in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. So I decided to post an add’ on the Cruising Forum website, asking if by any chance anyone had a small used RIB for sale for around $500.00. I can’t say I was optimistic, because even used RIBs usually go for more than that. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to receive a reply from a member who had an old ten-foot Caribe RIB in his back yard in Sarasota, Florida, which I could have for nothing if I picked it up. I drove the 120 miles the next day and shoved it into my mini-van. It was a sixteen-year-old C10X model and decidedly dilapidated, but in situations like this you have to remember the old adage, “beggars can’t be choosers.”
Upon inflation only one of the three compartments held pressure, but the fiberglass bottom was in good shape. It cleaned up well with soap and water, after I flushed out a few dead frogs and roaches.
For three days I tried to find the leaks, using an air-mattress electric pump and the soap-and-water test method. My pump could not inflate the chambers hard enough, but it did indicate that the valves were leaking. They are called Halkey Roberts valves and commonly used on other makes of dinghies.
I hadn’t a clue how to remove the valves, so I paid a visit to my local dinghy/liferaft repair shop to pick their brains. On seeing a new complete valve, it was obvious how the thing fitted together. It consists of a threaded holder inside the actual dinghy chamber, and an outer part which is the actual valve, and which screws tightly into the holder. An airtight seal is formed by trapping the dinghy material between the two halves, then tightening them together – tight! There is also a cap that locks on top of the valve to keep water and debris out. It was explained to me that I needed a special removal tool to unscrew the two halves, which would be impossible without the tool - $25, please.
I thought I better at least buy a valve even though it was much more expensive than those sold at Amazon, but I made my own removal tool in a few minutes in my garage, by cutting two slots in one end of a short length of 3/4” inch plastic tube, then drilling a hole in the other end to hold a long screwdriver. The cut-outs engage in the inside of the valve, which indeed proved to be very tightly screwed together. I needed the longest screwdriver I had to loosen the two halves. It is a normal right-handed thread, best opened when the tube is fully inflated when it is more rigid, but once the valve came loose I found it could be unscrewed by hand—but this is where it got tricky...
The part inside the dinghy is not physically attached to the tube. Therefore, before the valve is unscrewed completely it is important to grip the inside bit, through the boat material, to stop it falling inside the tube. Once the outer valve was unscrewed, I slid a screwdriver through the inner valve to stop it from disappearing into the tube—or rather, that was the plan. By the way, the inner valve holder cannot be pulled through the hole in the tube either, because the hole is much too small; therefore, the inner holder must have been installed when the dinghy was built. This made me wonder why I needed to buy the inner holder at all, but that's how they are sold.
On close inspection of the circular flange of the valve, it was pretty obvious why it leaked. It was extremely dirty, with bits of grit most of the way around the seal. The circumference of the hole in the Hypelon tube material was also dirty. It had probably never been dismantled for sixteen years. I used Xylene liquid to remove all the ingrained dirt from the valve.
The circumference of the hole in the material was more difficult to clean. The holder has to be held in place with one hand to stop it from dropping into the tube, while you clean the material with the other hand—but naturally, the inevitable happened. The holder slipped out of my fingers and vanished inside the blackness of the tube. After a lot of fiddling around, I managed to feel where it had fallen, and waggle it back up to the hole, then line it up to re-insert my new valve. It certainly would make things easier if dinghy makers could somehow attach the inner holder to the tube. However, I was told under no circumstances to be tempted to use any sealant on either of the flanges. They need to be screwed together dry.
Once I managed to get them level, screwing the two together was quite easy, and I wound the new valve right into the holder until it was finger tight. Then I fully inflated the chamber using a small but powerful battery-powered compressor. I then tightened the two halves together as tightly I could with my homemade wrench.
A soapy water test on the valve showed that I had solved the leak on the bow chamber, and apart from losing the inner valve it had all been fairly effortless. I therefore decided to dismantle the other two valves for inspection and cleaning. Indeed, they were both just as dirty, not only on the outer sealing ring but also on the two internal rubber O rings. One is on the stem forming the actual valve air seal, and the other on the cap. Both can be easily prized off with fingers and cleaned. On re-assembly I even managed not to let the inner holder fall into the tube again. Neither valve leaked and should now be as efficient as the new one.
After inflating the boat with a compressor and testing for leaks all over, I still found it had slow leaks, called bleeds, which were permeating through the actual material. I contacted Dan O’Connell, owner of Inland Marine, in Cape Coral, South Florida, who makes all sorts of stuff for repairing and restoring inflatable boats. Dan was extremely knowledgeable and helpful, even to the point of advising me of his products, which I did not need. He recommended I start with their internal sealant, which is injected into the boat's chambers through the valves to seal leaks from the inside. I bought a bottle of Inflatable Boat Sealant.
I could see where the bleeds were on the outside of the tubes, so I deflated the chambers one at a time and injected the liquid through the valve, then I half inflated the chamber and tilted it, so the liquid would run down the inside to roughly where the leaks were. The sealant “atomizes,” inside the tubes to where the air is escaping and coagulates in the leaks. The liquid then dries to a film on the inside of the chambers, preventing the porosity problems.
The instructions said to rotate the boat every 30 minutes to allow the fluid to coat the remainder of the inside. However, my wife and I found it very difficult to maneuver the cumbersome heavy boat in the upright position—until I hit on the idea of using my step-ladder to support it. We rotated it in this way 90 degrees at a time, in the hope the liquid would coat the whole of the inside of each chamber, then left it overnight
The next day I inflated it as hard as my battery pump would make it, which was not as hard as the manufacturer's pressure of 0.2 bar (2.9 psi), So I bought a more powerful hand pump if we had managed to stop the leaks. After leaving it in my garage for another night I inspected it in the early morning, while the air temperature was still cool. To my pleasant surprise, all three chambers were still hard. As days passed with no appreciable loss of pressure, I became confident the leaks were sealed.
The next stage was to improve the scruffy appearance. I lightly sanded the whole topsides with 120 grit sandpaper to remove some of the loose paint that had been applied years ago. I then emailed a couple of pictures to Dan, who suggested I should paint the boat with their special topside paint, available in seven colors. I ordered a quart of grey and a pint of blue
I began by masking all around the rubbing strake, then gave it two coats of blue paint, using a cheap throwaway brush. I also painted the “Dolphin” logo on the bow and the “Caribe” logo on each side. The next step was painting the whole of the topsides of the tubes grey. I masked off the rubbing strake, the oar-lock sockets, and all the handles. I decided to roll the paint over this large area using a 4” inch nylon roller. Two coats covered up most of the scratches and left a very presentable semi-gloss finish. The boat now looked almost new.
I then visited our local West Marine store, where I used their rigging desk to made two stainless steel wire strops with U bolts to attach to the forward part of the boat. The transom already had two U bolts. A RIB is easy to mount lifting strops to the solid hull
The transom drain plug was missing when I got the boat, so I fitted an automatic scupper drain from West Marine. The ball valve prevents water from entering when the boat is floating but drains it when angled on the davits. This saves having to remove the drain plug every time, when the dinghy is on davits.
When I got the boat, it didn't have any oar blades either, just the shafts. Caribe oars have blades that clip to the shafts with a spring-loaded button, so I contacted Caribe Nautica, Doral, near Miami, Florida, and bought two blades. However, they wouldn’t fit my shafts, because there is a lip inside the blade, preventing it from engaging the button in the shaft. I had to file a small ridge all the way around the end of the shaft, to make it slide further into the blade and engage the button. I didn't like the idea of a single spring button holding the blade anyway, so I also screwed a stainless self-tapping screw through the blade into the oar, for extra safety.
I then bought a cover to protect the dinghy from the harsh Florida sunlight, but it proved very awkward to stretch over the front and rear tubes while the boat was in the water, prior to hooking it to the lifting strops. More than once I nearly fell in leaning over to try and stretch the cover over the ends of the tubes. I finally made this much easier by stitching two zips in the cover, making a wide flap in the center, which I could work in to fit the cover, then zip it up when it was on the davits. A flap is also very useful to store things like fenders in the dingy when the cover is on.
The extra weight of a RIB did not affect my electric hoist, which easily hoisted it out of the water in 20 seconds.
I had put a lot of elbow grease and cash into this project, not knowing exactly if it would be successful. But now I have a strong very presentable RIB, which I am very confident about using. We had a grand launching at the boat ramp near our marina—but I forgot the champagne—but then, if I had smashed a bottle on the bow, it would have probably punctured the dinghy and I would have to start all over again!
The total cost of the restore was $304.00, which I thought was a good deal, considering I now had a new dinghy.