Monday, 9 February 2015

Seago Ranger 320 - Tales of an 'inflatable' dinghy

This is a precautionary tale of our inflatable dinghy, bought new in May 2013 and will be of interest to anyone considering buying such a vessel in the future.
The Seago Ranger 320 is a 3.2m inflatable dinghy with an inflatable floor and keel which gives it a v hull shape similar to rigid hulled dinghies but with the advantage that it can be deflated and rolled into a bag which will fit into one of our cockpit lockers. The dinghy had very little use for its first 3 months of life and only really started earning its keep when Stream was making her way south towards the Canaries in August 2013. Even then she was lightly used and crossed the Atlantic tucked up in her bag in the port cockpit locker to emerge mid December in Freemen's Bay on Antigua to commence Caribbean duties.
For the six months we were in the Caribbean the dinghy performed faultlessly only giving us some concern when she started to slowly lose air from one of the chambers, but this was traced to a
leaking valve due to some sand in it and easily rectified.
To avoid the potential problems caused by a dinghy stored on the deck while we were away during the hurricane season, she was packed up in her bag and put back in the cockpit locker in June and taken out again on our return in Dec 2014. This was when our problems started.
The two tubes forming the port and starboard hulls were slowly deflating, such that when left for a few hours they required pumping up again. Not a major problem but inconvenient and requiring investigation! This investigation (Sarah is now an expert at detecting bubbles with the soapy water!) revealed that both tubes were leaking at their stern ends where the fabric is glued to a plastic cone. Over the next six weeks or so we 'chased' leaks around this area solving one and creating another, such that trips ashore in the dinghy required the pump as an essential piece of equipment. Talk about patching a patch!
Before our friends arrived for a short stay with us we decided that more surgery was needed and set to peeling back one of the tapes covering the seams. Unfortunately this turned out to be a repair too
far, with the result that the loss of air had increased not reduced. By this time Sarah was becoming
adept at blowing up the dinghy and would often disappear only to be found carrying out CPR in the dinghy.

CPR in a confined space
In order to prevent Sarah developing arm muscles like a shot putter and calf muscles like Beryl Burlton (look her up if you don't know who she is, the most successful English female cyclist ever) we decided that a trip to the repair man on St Lucia was called for when we arrived there. The news was mixed. Some good, but generally bad. Yes, they could repair the leaking seams and give a 12 month guarantee to their work, but no guarantee that other seams would not develop leaks. The bad news was that the transom ( the bit between the hulls where the outboard fastens) was coming away as well due to glue failing but yes, they could repair that as well and the whole repair would only set us back 750 US $! Gulp!

Patches on the patches

Transom coming away

Apparently the problem is that our 'cheap' dinghy is made from PVC and the glue used to join the seams breaks down in hot climates like the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Seago, the 
manufacturers, make no reference to this in any of their literature and neither do any other 
manufacturers or suppliers when they are taking your money. The dinghy is less than two years old. I have emailed Seago and Force Four chandlery who supplied the dinghy, but so far have not had a reply. We will keep you posted!
Whilst we were in the Tobago Cays with our friends we saw a dinghy which had obviously been
found floating on its own,  being towed behind another dinghy in an attempt to find where it had come from. There was a brief discussion on the morality of claiming this dinghy as ours when it suddenly dawned on Darrell that it was our dinghy! To prevent embarrassment to the guilty party no names will be mentioned, but she has had her knot tieing badge withdrawn.
As a further piece in the dinghy saga we decided to bite the bullet, raid the piggy bank and order a new one rather than have repairs done time and time again. The company very kindly has lent us a dinghy to use until ours arrives in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately on its first use, it became apparent that it is in a worse state than our own one, with a major air leak developing in the bow section, the valves leaking and water getting in! At least ours was dry. Out of the frying pan?

Our 'new' dinghy, leaking 5 minutes after blowing it up.

To be continued.

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