Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grahame Shannon's Walker Bay

Grahame Shannon designed both Ladybug II and was one of the designers of the Walker Bay dinghy. Walker Bays are manufactured in the thousands by a company out of Washington state in the US. Mr. Shannon's website states that the Walker Bay is the most popular dinghy in the world. There is an 8' 3" model (the Walker Bay 8) and a 9' 9" model (the Walker Bay 10). We bought our Walker Bay 8 in Mexico, second-hand and in well-used condition, but with a nice sailing rig and upgraded oarlocks. We named her 'Little Annie' as a tribute to the lovely lady who runs Yoga classes in La Paz and who sold her to us.

The Walker Bay 8 is a good fit for Ladybug. At just over 8 feet, she fits nicely on deck with her bow tucked between the windlass and the starboard rail and her stern resting on the coach roof just forward of the two large hatches. She covers the V-berth hatch, but this can still be opened for ventilation in very light seas. 'Little Annie' is the same cream colour as our hull.

The Walker Bay 8 rows very well with one person, but has been criticized for her ability to row with two. This stems, I believe, from a problem in balancing her out with a passenger sitting in the obvious place - the transom. Unless the passenger is a child, the transom submerges and the extra drag from this makes the dinghy very sluggish under oars. There are three solutions to this on our slightly modified boat. Rani and I share the center thwart, back to back, with me rowing facing aft. This works well if the forward passenger is lighter than the rower - otherwise the boat is a bit down by the bow and may be more difficult to keep tracking straight. The transom does not dip in either case.

The second solution is for the passenger to sit on the forward or center thwart, depending on how heavy they are relative to the rower and for the rower to row facing forward. Some people find this position awkward because you must push instead of pull, but it is good exercise and allows you to see where you are going. It does not work well in higher winds because you cannot put your back into it - maybe I am just a weakling!

Finally, you can install a second set of oarlock sockets further forward, between the main thwart and mast partner, as we have on 'Little Annie'. This allows the rower to sit on the mast partner and the passenger on the aft thwart. The rower must row cross oared as the beam is much narrower this far forward.

A word on oars. 'Little Annie' came 5 foot long aluminum dinghy oars, which are much too short to work well on a boat with more than 4 foot of beam. The standard (I believe, 6 foot) oars are ok, but adding an extra foot gives you a lot more power. We added closet poles to our aluminum oars, which fit perfectly inside the aluminum handles and give us 6'6" oars.

Some negatives - 'Little Annie' is much less stable than an inflatable. Friends who are used to their rubber dinghy admired our walker Bay, but found it too tippy to be practical. Inflatables are also better for carrying dive gear and getting back into from the water. That being said, we snorkel from the Walker Bay and get in and out no problem, but I weigh only 150 lbs and Rani about 100. The plastic that the dinghy is made from is soft and flexes a lot when sailing into a breeze. She also flexes a lot when used with even a small outboard motor (so I am told). Finally, she is tricky to repair. Plastic welding - at least the way I do it - does not yield a strong repair. I have had to back up my welding with riveted patches of aluminum sheet.

Some pluses - rows well with one or two people, so long as you keep her transom out of the water. She glides along far better than our previous hard dinghy. She carries enough load for two (lightish) people out cruising. Despite flexing a little too much for comfort, she is a good little sailor with our 40 sq foot Bermudan rig. This allows us to travel far greater distances than by oars alone - no motor required. I like the simplicity of this approach and it is also great recreation in a sheltered bay with a nice breeze blowing. Her soft polypropylene does not mar our topsides or decks and hence require no deck chocks or padding of the gunwales.

Thank you to Mister Shannon for an excellent small dinghy.

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