Is a cruising dinghy just a poor man's substitute for a proper yacht?

Here are some real benefits in using a dinghy rather than a yacht for cruising, apart from the obvious one that the purchase cost and the operating costs are lower by one or more orders of magnitude:

  • A dinghy can be transported on a road trailer behind a car which is not possible with any reasonably sized yacht. This means that a dinghy has greater flexibility to explore a variety of cruising areas. Getting a yacht to a new cruising area can mean long sea passages which take up most of a short holiday before you get a chance to relax and explore at leasure.
  •  It is easier to find overnight stopping places for a dinghy than for a yacht. The small dimensions and particularly the shallow draft of a dinghy mean that it can use mooring sites which yachts cannot reach and which are often available without overnight mooring fees. Having said that a yacht may be able to use an exposed anchorage whilst a dinghy does need sheltered water if it is to be habitable overnight; even so I think the options for an overnight stop are ususally wider for a dinghy than for a yacht.
  •  The upper reaches of estuaries, and indeed inland rivers and even canals, are interesting places to explore by water but are inaccessible to yachts both because of shallow water and because of fixed bridges. (on most dinghies it is fairly easy to lower the mast, the Wayfarer is particularly good in this respect)
  •  Dinghies don't make you seasick. It is true, most people are liable to seasickness on a yacht but on a dinghy it is comparatively rare. I don't think this is only because dinghies stay at sea for shorter periods than yachts. We have made trips of 12 hours duration in our Wayfarers and rarely has anyone been seasick. This may have something to do with the super abundance of fresh air and the horizon being visible all round. Some have said that if it is rough enough to be sick on a dinghy it won't happen because you will be too scared to remember to be sick.
  • A dinghy can be rowed so an engine is not essential, although a dinghy can carry a small outboard. A yacht cannot really manage without an engine these days since, apart from anything else, manoeuvring under sail is prohibited in many harbours and marinas. This is a big advantage for a dinghy if you are a green purist and feel that your boat should only be propelled by non-polluting renewable energy sources.

Yachts have their own advantages too. If you want your boat to be a retirement home you are probably better off with a yacht. No one would pretend that a dinghy is as comfortable (or should we say less uncomfortable) as a yacht for long sea passages, although the trailability of a dinghy may allow a sea passage to be avoided in the first place. However, various people have shown that sea passages in a dinghy are possible if you are really determined. Frank Dye with various crew members sailed a Wayfarer from Scotland to Iceland and Norway and survived force 9 gales on route. More recently, in 2014 Phillip Kirk and Jeremy Warren sailed around Britain in just 33 days with their Wayfarer dinghy.  There are a handful of others who have made very long sea passages in sailing dinghies. For example, early in the 20th century Frank Rebel made a 9,000 mile voyage across the Pacific ocean in an 18 foot racing dinghy which he acquired cheaply since it was in poor condition. This was not even intended to be a pleasure trip, he just wanted to get to America but could not afford the fare for a steamer. When he arrived he was thrown in jail because he did not have a visa. He stopped at many islands on route but the trip still included some long passages and some bad weather.