First off, I can barely carry the folded bote from the car to the garage. Oh boy, this is not easy. I stand on the bottom side and lift the upper side open, as instructed. The video has a man using a wooden spreader tool to keep both sides apart. I don't have that, so I place the oar in the oarlock and swing it around hold the sides open.
I wipe the gallons of sweat off my face, neck and head and go into the house and drink volumes of water to replenish my losses. The clock continues to tick and I am now 30 minutes into the simple task.
I then take the other oar and break it down and use the smaller piece to hold the foreseat area open. Bingo, it works, the seat is secure. I am again covered in sweat, and lie myself down in the dinghy, feeling quite safe that it won't collapse on top of me. I do have my cell phone in my pocket.
First, let me say that I have made it a life’s journey to find the perfect dinghy.
I have owned every kind of dinghy known to West Marine, Costco, and those shown at Portland and Seattle boat shows. Still haven’t found my “perfect” tender, but have settled on something I believe to be very close to that goal.
Being a musician by genetic make-up and a mechanic at heart, one would think I’d be searching for that perfect guitar or articulating wrench set. To me, those are tools…and a tool is a tool. A dinghy, on the other hand, is more than a tool. It is something that I bet the lives and general safety of my crew and myself on, every time it is used. A Dinghy takes people places, the “big boat” cannot go. A dinghy must perform well in all kinds of weather and sea conditions, get you there before you forget why you set out, be stable, ride dry, easily handled and/or stowed by one person, take kindly to oars and sail, and most important, not fail in the event of a hard landing, a cut from a cleaving crustacean, or nasty dock nail.
The “PortA-Bote” (Bote: Portuguese for Boat) does all this. The only thing it doesn’t like is being towed over ten knots, because it is light. Therefore, we carry our PortA-Bote on a cradle, aboard our “StarShip”. Because it is collapsible and folds to four inches thick by whatever length the boat is, some people will take P-Bs apart and stow them on the side of their boat, or motor home. I have found that in an emergency, as in an “on-the-water” emergency, Porta-Botes are not something one wants to be messing with as the mother ship is sinking. Porta-Botes are made of Polypropylene and are quite stiff, especially if it is chilly. This brings me (almost) to my tale.
This is a true story. Nobody could make up something like this. Anyway, I was at the Seattle Boat Show in 1995 or 6 and passed by the Porta-Bote (AKA “fold-a-boat”) booth. The salesman was showing a demo DVD about Porta-Botes. I’ve always been told that Porta-Botes were unstable and slow…everything I didn’t want in a dinghy. Now, with a wider transom, the boat could plane, was stable (even with two adults walking around in it) and took huge water. A testimony to P-B’s ruggedness: The Japanese Coast Guard had devised some evil plot to try to protect unsuspecting Japanese from owning flimsy American products. The test was to put over 600 pounds of concrete in a Porta-Bote and drop it off a dock, at a height of over 21’, on to the water. The test didn’t even faze the Porta-Bote. Well, thinking it was a fluke, they tried it again…and again…Nada. When the DVD had finished, the Porta-Bote salesman turned to the crowd, who by now had swollen to five or six, and asked; “Who wants to be the first in their marina to own one of these fine Porta-Botes?” I raised my hand and yelled…”I do…I do!!!!!” Besides, there was a 1/3 off discount which included all the options for free (except sailing gear), free shipping, and the lowest price on a Nissan outboard motor w/free shipping on that too. I just knew my wife, Susan, was going to be so proud of me after hearing about all the money I saved.
Fast Forward: (The Story)
It was the middle of a cold February. Dad (85 years young and victim of several strokes that has slowed him down some) and I were sitting gazing out the front windows of our house in Port Angeles, WA. We had a lovely view of Vancouver and San Juan Islands and were having a nice chat about some of the trips we had taken over the years. Suddenly, the doorbell rings.
I went to the door and it was a truck driver with several boxes. The driver asked if I wanted the boxes in the garage, but I asked if he could bring them into the living room. He smiled and said he would get his hand truck and bring them inside. Once the boxes had been positioned so as to make them entirely the center of attention, I started walking around them like a dog circling a rib eye steak it had just pulled off the table on to the floor.
Dad kept telling me that I should wait for Susan, my wife, to get home so she could help me, if needed, but I assured him that I could handle this assemblage all by myself…I’d seen one guy do it on the DVD - at the boat show. Dad said, again, “You know I can’t help you if there is a problem, so please wait for Susan.” I said, “Dad…get a grip, the guy on the DVD assembled the boat in a couple minutes, I can handle this.” By now all the pieces; the boat shell, transom, seats, and all the hardware were out of their respective boxes and neatly lined up…just like the DVD guy did it. Now it was time to put this boat together.
I put the folded boat shell up on edge (the center keel) and started to pry the boat apart. Wow!!!! It didn’t look this difficult on the DVD. Maybe, I thought, the guy had put together an older boat and this new one was just a little stiff. Also, the boat had been sitting in the cold winter air for the last week, while being transported to Port Angeles. Regardless, I was going to have this thing together by the time Susan got home from work…I had three hours. After some great but failing effort to unfold the boat, so I could put the seats in (the seats and transom are what give the boat its shape), I was about to give up and do what Dad had suggested…wait for Susan. Then the thought crossed my mind, maybe I could use my leg strength to hold the boat apart. You see, when looking at a Porta-Bote that is completely folded up, one is really looking only at the bottom of the boat. A Porta-Bote actually folds in on itself - twice. Unfolding once gives one a look at the gunnels (sides) that are laying flat. Lifting the gunnels up and spreading them apart makes it possible to slide the seats and transom into place, thus giving what is otherwise a polypropylene bag, the shape of the boat.
With shoes off, so as not to scratch my new toy, and much huffing and puffing, I finally got the gunnels separated. I had my back against one side and feet against the other side. Wow, this was like wrestling a Siamese cat…nothing but spring steel. Now is the time to remember that the properties of polypropylene that make the boat slippery in the water, are the same properties that could easily make me lose my footing with sweaty cotton socks on.
As I reached outside the boat for the middle seat….OMG….suddenly, I felt like Jonah, being swallowed by the whale. Dad got more animated than I had seen him in years. My feet had slipped and the boat had resumed its original folded shipping shape of four inches wide, plus me. It was dark and quite cold inside and there was absolutely nothing I could do to get out of my situation.
When Dad got control of himself, his first words were…”Would you like me to call 911?” then another fit of laughter. “NO!!!!” said I. “I know all those people and don’t want them to see me like this. I will wait here for Susan to get home.” I spent the next three hours inside the Porta-Bote wondering how I was going to explain this to Susan. I did ask Dad to turn the heat up in the house as high as he could stand it, so by the time Susan got home the boat would have warmed up and might be more pliable. Dad served me snacks and water through a gap in the folds and eventually Susan came home. More Laughter!!!!!!! Susan turned the heat down and then changed out of her work clothes into her “work” clothes. Together, we were able to open the boat up and insert the three seats and transom. Dad thanked me for the best laugh he had ever had and ordered Chinese food from our favorite restaurant to celebrate the occasion of my release from captivity. THE END.
I love this story, thanks again Larry. You gotta love it.