A tale of 2 dinghies

Paul helps the couple’s dog into the newer of their dinghies, an inflatable named Quellefois. Photo by Marilyn Pond Brigham

July 2022

By Marilyn Pond Brigham

Two tiny vessels – the workhorse and the dreamer – have both been essential to the boating lives of my husband Paul and me, and each cockleshell quietly and efficiently serves a specific function.

The workhorse: She is an old, eight-foot, fiberglass Carolina Skimmer. My husband bought her used at least 40 years ago; even then, when she was 10, she showed her age. She has, by and large, been taken for granted ever since. She goes to no exotic ports and has no excursions.

Mostly, she has been tethered to the dinghy dock at Quissett Yacht Club (QYC) in Falmouth, Mass. Yet, she has dutifully ferried us, our guests, dogs, and all our gear from Quissett’s inner harbor to our boat on her mooring at the entrance to the harbor – a 10-minute ride in good weather. The dinghy has outlasted five sailing vessels, serving them – and us – all well.

She has survived years of an annual April push over the stone pier and into the harbor, and the subsequent autumn yank, up and over the same rough surface. She leaves blue bottom paint on the pier in the spring and barnacle bits in the fall. The sun beats down relentlessly on her. The blue of her fiberglass dulls a bit more every year. Sometimes, she’s filled with rain and saltwater.

Only for one summer did we have to pay the local “bailer boys” to empty her while we were away. Usually, by the end of a week with rain, she’s low in the water until we return to empty her with an old Clorox bottle tied to her with a weary cord. Aside from necessary bailing, the only attention we religiously give her is a good coat of bottom paint at the beginning of each season.

For some time, we had no sailboat, so she wasn’t launched at all. She sat forlornly and forgotten at the top of the driveway, bottoms-up on bricks. When we checked up on her, we’d often find a critter had taken up residence underneath. Splashdown or not, almost every winter, she’s been left outside to withstand the cold, New England winter.

One particularly wet summer, we noticed the hull was separating from her coaming, and she was heavy with water that had accumulated between the inner and outer hulls. We turned her upside down to drain, ensured she was good and dry, and then applied a good caulking to seal her up. As an added touch, we installed some rubrail protectors to cover over our work. We also added a few small fenders to throw over the side to protect her from the crush of other dinghies at the dock.

Only once, as far as we know, did she go on a great adventure, and she went on that escapade alone. Somehow, her painter became untied from the club dinghy dock, and when we arrived for a sail, she was nowhere to be seen. We inquired if the harbormaster or other club members had seen her. Nope. We were in despair over our loss but mostly frustrated that we had no way to get to our mooring. Just as we were about to give up, we spied her on the other side of the harbor, enjoying her freedom, splashing at the water’s edge.

Unlike many dinghies at the QYC dock, she has no name on her transom and no markings as to whom she belongs. Her only identification is in the form of the many worn QYC dinghy-dock sticker permits. Now, she also sports a bright-orange U.S. Coast Guard sticker listing our phone number, should she break free again and go astray.

Only recently have we taken to referring to her with a name. We fondly call her Still Afloat, as she can proudly proclaim after all these years – despite her age and minimal care. However, no pretty letters grace her stern with her deserved name. She has done her job well with grit, perseverance, and without complaint throughout the years.


The dreamer: She also is old: 20 years old, to be exact. She is an Avon inflatable, and, whether it’s lucky or not, she’s had two names – three, if you count the many years we just called her “the Avon.” Purchased new from a marina on Squam Lake in New Hampshire, she was, for several years, a tender in search of a vessel. That was during the period when we had no sailboat.

We had a place to ski in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and found we also enjoyed summer there. . . hiking and exploring, particularly in the area around Squam Lake. We had a spot to keep it at the marina and a powerful Honda 15-horsepower outboard to spin us around the lake. We loved exploring its many islands and inlets. Our favorites included Walter’s Rock, made famous by the movie “On Golden Pond;” Church Island, where we could go to Sunday outdoor services; and, in Holderness, tying up to the dock at Walter’s Basin, the local restaurant, to have an early dinner and watch a cavalcade of small boats parade by while we dined.

We often visited my family in North Chatham, on Cape Cod, taking the Avon with us, uninflated and stuffed in the back of our Ford Explorer. With the Avon, the outboard motor, and the cart to ferry the motor to the boat (plus our large Labrador retriever, Toby), there was hardly any room for us. We had a big, plastic carrier strapped to the top of the Explorer so we could also fit our personal gear.

We had fun exploring Chatham’s Pleasant Bay: Crows Pond, Ryder Cove, Little Pleasant Bay, and up the Namequoit River in Orleans. Sometimes we launched it in Stage Harbor to explore the harbor, its beaches and go up the Oyster River. We always took our lunch and often found a town landing or a beach for our picnic. Sometimes, we’d throw down the little blue mushroom anchor and bob around while we ate and enjoyed the view. Toby never enjoyed the roar of the engine; he’d sit by my lap quivering until it stopped. But he always enjoyed lunch and the jump overboard for a swim.

One year, we had a week’s vacation in Edgartown Harbor, and we took the Avon with all the trappings, minus the dog. We spent most of the vacation tooling about and exploring Caleb Pond, Katama Bay, its marshes, and we enjoyed seeing the oyster farming from a close-up perspective. In other words, we ventured to all the places you could go in an inflatable without worrying too much about the depth of the water.

In September 1991, we rented a house on Vinalhaven Island, in Maine’s Penobscot Bay, for a couple of weeks. We took the Avon, Toby and all our associated vacation and boating gear. Our vacation place, right on the harbor, came with a mooring for the Avon and a borrowed dinghy with which to get out to it.

At Vinalhaven, with all the large schooners, beautiful yachts and big fishing boats, we felt kinda puny, putting about in our little inflatable. We playfully decided, if anyone asked, we’d say we were out “exploring in our tender,” our yacht back in the harbor. Well, of course, no one ever asked. But maybe that’s when we decided it was time to buy a bigger boat, and then the Avon could advance her dream of becoming a boat’s tender.

During this vacation, we were not boating in a protected bay or lake. We were in open water. We circumnavigated the island in that little Avon. We ate lunch on the dock in North Haven and enjoyed the sights through the Fox Island Thorofare. And we only began to regret the excursion when we met some good-sized swells on the east side of the island, in East Penobscot Bay. We made it back to port without incident and were back out on Isle Au Haut Bay the next morning.

One spring, the Avon had its dream fulfilled: It became the tender to Serenade, a 27-foot Catalina. It found itself with a brand-new, bright-red bridle strapped to its sides and a long towrope attached to Serenade’s stern. It happily followed her all around the waters of Cape Cod. Yes, she was ancillary, but she still allowed us to poke about shallow waters, inlets, and other places we wanted to go that Serenade could not.

However, she was still “the Avon,” and, we suspected, like other tenders, she would have wanted to have real status as “tender to . . .” (TT). We sold Serenade and traded up to a 36-foot Jeanneau. This was a beautiful cruising boat, and since she was built in France, we gave her a French name, Toujours, meaning “always.” As the Avon was again ancillary, she became Quellefois, which means “sometimes.” After eight years of ownership, she finally became “tender to,” and she had a name affixed in big, bold letters: Dreams do come true, after all.

With Toujours leading the way, Quellefois went to many storied ports of call in Rhode Island, the North Shore of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and again to Maine. This time, she was not stuffed in the back of the Explorer. She made excursions she could never have envisioned: up rivers both mighty and placid, under low bridges, through small inlets to visit lonely beaches and interesting sandbars, and up tidal creeks to small docks and fun town landings. For each cruise, her primary role was to get to shore or explore.

After another eight years, Toujours was replaced by Selkie, a 45-foot Catalina. Selkie, which derives from Scottish folklore, is the name for seals that can take human form but, as humans, long to go back to the sea as seals. Quellefois no longer made sense in her new role as TT. She became Pinniped, the taxonomical group in which seals are classified.

Our two time-honored dinghies have seemed perfectly content with their specific functions in our waterborne lives. Still Afloat continues to be satisfied, or merely resigned, to floating on the dinghy dock, waiting for the opportunity to be of service and to ferry us to the boat safely. She patiently waits on the mooring for the return trip to the dinghy dock, however long that may be.

Pinniped appears to be thrilled to have achieved the lofty status of “tender to” and seems ever impatient for the next adventure. Pinniped longs to have an outboard fitted to her stern, to take off for the dink dock at a yacht club with reciprocal privileges, or for an adventure where her sailing vessel cannot take us.

Marilyn Brigham, along with her co-captain/spouse Paul, sails Selkie, a Catalina 445, out of Quissett Harbor, Falmouth, Mass. She is a lifelong sailor and current member of the Quissett and Cottage Park yacht clubs.