January 31, 2012

Rats ate the dinghy

I CAN STILL REMEMBER the day I punctured my inflatable dinghy.  Well, one of the days. I was ready to go ashore after doing some woodwork.  I dropped down into the dinghy rather heavily.  The screwdriver I  had in my back jeans pocket blasted through the cloth. It also penetrated the side tube of the dinghy with a soft hiss.

I was with another cruiser, bemoaning my accident, when he said:  "Well, be thankful you were able to fix things with a simple patch. Inflatable dinghies have improved enormously since the old days. Have you heard of the Berthon boats?"

I hadn't, of course,  I had to look them up. Apparently Berthon boats were the first kind of collapsible dinghies.  In the 1870s, they were carried on ocean-going ships as lifeboats.  According to Cornell's Encyclopedia of Nautical Knowledge, they were made to fold together in concertina fashion.  They had flat bottoms and thwarts hinging along the center line.  Their   frames hinged at the bilges.  They had skins of heavy waterproofed canvas.  "Use of the type was discontinued . . . chiefly on account of its vulnerability to attack by rodents," says Cornell.   

The collapsible lifeboat was designed by the Reverend Edward Lyon Berthon of Portsmouth, England. Wikipedia says that when the boat was demonstrated to Queen Victoria, the Prince Consort, the Princess Royal,  and the Prince of Wales, the latter commented that a cannonball would go through it easily. Berthon asked him what a cannonball would not go through, and the Queen was reported to have been greatly amused. The Royal Navy accepted a perfected design in 1873.

But 'perfected' is a comparative term, of course.  We tend to take inflatable dinghies and liferafts for granted these days but they are light years ahead of the old Berthons.

Interestingly enough, the Berthon Boat Company is still operating today on the same site and is still a boat yard with a workforce of 70 skilled craftsmen specializing in the refit and repair of yachts of up to 150 feet. It also has a 280 berth deep-water marina and a yacht sales division.

Today's Thought
Small craft are immortal or as near immortal as anything can be.
— John Gardner

"Hey, waiter, what's wrong with these eggs?"
"Don't ask me, sir, I just lay the tables."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)


merrick said...

Happily modern folding dinghies don't suffer from being the meal of choice for rats as any owner of the splendid Seahopper folding dinghies will tell you

SailFarLiveFree said...

I actually had rats (or maybe mice?) eat several large holes in my previous PVC dinghy. Lesson learned: Never store your deflated dinghy in the garage rafters!