To Have a Hard Dinghy  
by Roy McBride - Cape Town, South Africa

Well once upon a time, anyone requiring a tender to his or her yacht, the so called ‘Hard Dinghy’, was all that we could look at, often a class boat ‘pressed into service’ and used as the tender, fitted with an outboard, it may never have sailed again?

Then we saw the start of the so called ‘Rubber Ducks’, probably due to a British company called ‘Avon’, producing their smallest offering and naming it the ‘Redcrest’, a sort of Duck. This was the mid sixties and the trend from then on was for rubber boats and eventually those with hard bottoms, either in plywood or GRP moulded with the float tubes really just keeping the water out. Normally a power propelled craft, as rubber boats do not row well at all.

As we moved ever closer to the twenty first century and the year 2000,we started to see fewer and fewer hard dinghies being offered for sale, such was the trend to the still called ‘Rubber Ducks’ a name that has stuck for a very long time now.

Back in 1946 ‘Fairy Marine’ in England, produced a sailing tender, cold moulded in laminated wood veneers, and popped out as a pressed shell in some quantity, they sail well, as any design by the late Uffa Fox always will…….They are still about and still sailing too.

click to enlargeA locally produced Duckling Dinghy, note the flare of the bow and the craft's width carried aft. This boat has no connection with the boats built by Fairy Marine, this GRP boat is very much more a modern style, nice to look at from any angle, which is not the case with Uffa Foxes design.


Here in South Africa, we have another ‘Duckling’ as well, it was moulded in GRP in Cape Town by MSM and I was told that the mould or ‘Plug’ for the boat was made by George Meek, a very well known yachting and climbing person from Cape Town. When our own Duckling is repainted from time to time, it’s still possible to just see the moulding marks from the strips of plywood that George will have used? One local yachtsman actually commented at how nice our ‘wooden’ dinghy looked.

There are hard dinghies still being moulded but very few these days, lots were made in False Bay by a certain Jonathan Reid, he was popping them out each week to order, around twenty years back, all from a mould he had been given. The dinghy never had a class name that I know about. Either way, they are very unstable and not to be recommended, as you have to step exactly into the boats center when boarding if your are not to tip the boat over.

click to enlarge

A newly restored twenty five year old Duckling. Janet can row it with ease.

Should you be in the market for a new dinghy, there is another hard dingy being advertised nationally but its quite an expensive option. I assume its an import, but for those who do not mind using a little hard work, preparation, plus a little searching around, add a bit of luck too, you will find many MSM Ducklings, lying around in the various yacht and boat clubs in South Africa. I doubt their purchase will be at all expensive.

When we first tried to sail our Duckling it was a dismal failure. The Seagull outboard normally had to push us back to where we had started, so sailing was not much tried.

Then I had a look at its original and very old sail, very light cloth and more a bag than a sail. Taking the sail to Geoff Meek, Georges son, at North Sails, saw a brand new sail being produced by them, while I made new hollow wooden spar set from clear Oregon Pine. With both of these new items the boat was very much a better sailer but still not exactly sparkling up wind. This was to change when we took Janet, then aged thirteen, to the Imperial YC to do an overnight camp and sailing instruction course (recommended). Ours was the only Duckling and I was surprised to see that all the Optimists sailing had such long dagger boards, our Duckling had the original MSM supplied item and at least 600mm shorter than those on an Optimist. It took some persuasion but on borrowing an Optimist dagger board for a trial sail, I returned back to my starting point with great ease, problem solved!

Our Duckling came our way in a swap, some cash and an exchange for the dinghy, Seagull outboard and some sets of wet weather gear too. It was a good deal, as even twenty five years on we still have all but the Seagull. That was exchanged for an Inflatable boat when we arrived in Rio De Janeiro, with an outboard but no boat but that’s another story.

Our Duckling is well traveled. Its been to Brazil, The West Indies, Venezuela and all the way back again on the deck of our last yacht, ’Ocean Cloud’, an Endurance 37, by Peter Ibold. The dinghy is light enough for two to drag it up a beach, easy to lift onto your boat with a spare halyard and will carry four persons with safety and ease. It came with what I suspect was a factory option, a 100mm diameter nylon wheel fitted in the small keel under the transom.It’s a very neat piece of work and easily allows just one person to roll the boat up or down a slip or hard surfaced area.

It’s a safe tender due to its fore and aft enclosures, and while you can flood it, you should not be able to sink it. It will row and sail, all it needs is a 2hp outboard and it will speed along with a full load at a low throttle opening and top speed. It’s also very stable due to its extra width at its stern.

click to enlargeThe final development chapter on our Ducking came two years back when after another paint and restoration job, I fitted the two 130mm diameter inflatable floats on both sides. The reason for this was two fold. At a stroke we had a very unsinkable tender, plus coming along side a boat, we had a built in form of fender as well.

Yours in a Duckling,
Roy Mc Bride