“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain


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Highfields CL290 Aluminum RIB

I posted a back in February that we bought a new inflatable.  Our new inflatable is a Highfields Classic 290 rigid aluminum hull with ORCA hypalon tubes.  We purchased the boat from Maritime Solutions/InflatableXperts in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. I had spent a fair amount of time researching inflatables and local dealers and found the Highfields and this dealer to be a good value with a good reputation.

Highfield CL290 Spec

We purchased in February and Maritime Solutions said they would hold the boat for us free of charge until we were ready to pick it up.  In early May I gave them a call and said we would like to come and pick up the boat.  They said no problem and asked if we wanted it created or blown up for inspection.  I liked that they gave me the choice and asked ahead of time.  If we had gotten there and it was still created and we had to wait around while they uncreated it and blew it up that would have been a pain.  I asked them to blow it up and they said no problem.  We drove down there in a borrowed pickup on a Saturday morning.  When we got there the boat was inflated.  They let me inspect it for as long as I wanted and helped us load it and tie it down.

Norm, the salesman we had purchased the boat from, was there and went over the paperwork with us.  He was very knowledgeable about Massachusetts laws and how to register the boat.  He went over that with us and had a notarized bill of sale ready so that we would have no problem getting the boat registered.

Initial Impression

The size is perfect for us.  At 9 feet 6 inches it has great interior volume, listed at 6 feet 9 inches.  I have observed on other inflatables that the interior volume is far less and the tubes stick way our beyond the transom of the boat.  Also, with the nice wide beam of 5 feet 7 inches it is very stable.  Having two locations for seat is really nice because the aft seat location provides a very comfortable seat and keeps the boat open for carrying stuff and passengers.  The boat is rated for 1,058 pounds and 4 passengers which could easily fit in the boat with the seat in either position.  I don’t think you could row with 4 passengers though.  After standing in it while floating I am very glad we sent with the classic over the ultra light.  I think the second floor is key.

The overall construction of the hull seams very good.  The welds all look nice and professionally done and the powder coated hull didn’t show any chips or inconsistent coating.  The grey, rubber non-skip included on the hull floor is very comfortable under bare feet.  The ORCA hypalon tubes are large, 17 inches in diameter, and appear to be very well constructed.  There are three chambers in the tubes.  They have held air very well even though the weather has had some extremes for this time of year with some low temperatures getting down into the high 30s and highs in the mid 80s.  Only the port, rear chamber has felt soft but that hasn’t even gone to the point of requiring more air.

there are three molded handles attached to the tubes, one in the front and two on the sides near the stern.  The ones near the stern are in great places where you can use them for dock lines or lifting/carrying the boat.  The one in the front would be perfect for using with a set of transom wheels.  There are also six fabric handles near the bow.  They all seem to be very well adhered and do not show any indications that they will give under normal stress.  There are also two D-rings adhered to the front of the tubes for attaching a bridle.

The shape of the aluminum hull is perfect.  The hull is deep near the bow but flattens out a bit near the stern.  This keeps the boat dry while plowing through chop and waves but allows it to get on plane.  A vinyl keel guard came installed on the hull that matches the grey fabric and is very well adhered to the hull.  There is a fixed attachment point for a line near the bow of the hull that looks robust enough to tow with but I prefer to use a bridle.  It does make a handy place to attached a dock line. There are also six lifting points attached to the hull. Two are located near the bow at the base of the anchor locker.  Four are located at the stern with two points at the top of the transom and two at the base of the transom.  They look strong and provide a good place for locking a cable to secure the boat when at a dock.  We haven’t tried lifting the boat from these points yet but plan to pick up a harness and using these points to lift the boat onto the deck or to suspend the boat at night while on the hook or ball.  These points also make great attachment points for a boarding ladder to assist in returning into the dingy after some snorkeling.

Included Equipment

The following items were included with the boat: oars; air pump; molded plastic rowing seat; repair kit; large piece of white hypalon for repairs; seat bag; dry bag, and; cover.  The oars are light weight aluminum with plastic blades that can be taken off quickly for storage.  The oar locks are great and there are Velcro straps for securing the oars in place.  The molded plastic seat blows away any wooden, plastic or aluminum seat I have seen on any inflatable.  It’s very strong and comfortable to sit on.  When you add the padding from the seat bag you can’t beat this seat.  The air pump is a high quality foot pump but I haven’t used it yet (see biggest annoyance below).  The seat bag is the typical style with a large storage compartment under the seat and 3 smaller pockets on one side.  It has drain holes and is well made with marine zippers, claps and grommets.  We only tried to use the cover once but quickly gave up because the line to pull it tight is only rope and that made getting the bottom tight difficult.  We will likely replace this line with shock cord to make using the cover easier. We have not had need to use the patch kit (and hopefully never will), but I don’t really understand why they included a large piece of white hypalon instead of the grey that matches the boat.  We have not used the dry bag yet but probably should have (again, see biggest annoyance below).

Storage

Between the anchor locker and under seat bag this boat has almost too much storage.  We fit two PFDs in the storage bag with room to spare for our dingy boarding ladder and navigation light.  The middle of the smaller pockets holds the repair kit and a small tool kit for engine repairs.  The side pockets are mesh and we primarily use them as drink holders or for other small items.

The anchor locker is large.  We fit a 5-pound claw style anchor with 50 feet of rhode, a bridle, two 10-foot dock lines, a quart of 2-stroke oil, a quart of ethanol treatment, the air pump, a water bowl for Summer, a sponge and a regular size bath towel and still have room to spare.  The opening area of the anchor locker is also very big which makes getting items in and out easy.  Some of the other RIBs we looked at had very small opening into the anchor locker.  It is also an extremely comfortable seat.  We like to go out and just put around in the dingy.  Sitting on the anchor locker while leaning back on the tubes is like sitting in a Lazyboy! It also makes a great step for getting in and out and Summer loves to put her front paws on it and get her head into the wind when my Bride isn’t sitting there.  The anchor locker has a soft, rubber latch (nice touch Highfields! this could have been painful with a solid latch) that allows you to secure the locker closed with a small padlock.  However, this anchor locker is also the focus of my biggest annoyance below.

On top of that, the oars can be stored ready to deploy.  Plus there are additional storage points down closer to where the hull meets the tubes.  However you have to take the blades off of the oars to use these storage points.  Those points have become very useful in holding a tiller extender for the motor and a small hand pump incase we ever take on some water.  They also very smartly placed a Velcro loop for holding the bowline/bridle so it doesn’t accidently slip off from a wave hitting the bow.  Again, well done Highfields.  We have been keeping our 3-gallon gas tank in the stern, between the two transom supports.  This works well but it does add a little too much weight to the rear of the boat.

Biggest Annoyance!

The anchor locker leaks!  I had read online prior to buying the boat that the anchor locker rattled some but that seemed like an easy fix; just add some gasketing material along the edge so you don’t have metal on metal. I added the gasketing and that reduced the water but it didn’t stop it.  I now think there may be water getting by the bolt holes for the hinges.  It doesn’t appear that these are bedded.  So my next attempt at fixing this annoyance is bed these bolts.  To compound the problem, the drain from the anchor locker into the small bilge is way upfront in the locker.  I see why they did this, it prevents water from building up in the bilge and then filling the anchor locker.  However this makes the water sit in the anchor locker and not drain at all.  I may drill a couple more drain holes to change this set up.

Minor Annoyance

While Highfields had thought out a lot of aspects of this boat, one they may have seemed to overlook is registration plates.  We prefer to use a plastic registration plate as opposed to painting the registration numbers directly onto the inflatable.  We think this is a cleaner look most of the time and it allows you to completely remove your numbers if you sell the boat so if the buyer doesn’t register the boat you don’t get in trouble.  On this boat the only place to attach the plates is to the fabric handles.  I don’t really like this because its not as clean looking as it could be and it leaves zip ties to pinch you when you sit on the tubes.

Performance Rowing

I have rowed this boat in both the traditional rowing position (i.e. back to the bow, seat at the front position) and in a reversed position (i.e. back to the stern with the seat in the rear position).  For an inflatable it tracks really well.  Very impressive and with the light weight as it moves along very quickly.  Most often I end up rowing up to and off of the beach while taking Summer to shore.

Performance Motoring

During typical use we have about 500-600 pounds of people, dog and gear in the boat. With this much weight we can’t get on plane with our 9.8 hp 2-stroke Nissan engine.  We don’t really know if that is from the engine or weight and we plan to look at the engine in more detail before we leave and possibly change to a different pitched propeller.  We do know with less weight this boat will get on plane and fly! As far as inflatables on plane go it is nice and stable but I would not consider taking a hard turn at full throttle.

When not on plan the boat still move along very quickly.  More importantly, due to the high bow the boat is very dry under normal conditions.  Again, plenty of space for all to ride comfortably and we can carry some provisions and supplies without being overly cramped into the boat.

Overall   

We are extremely happy with our choice overall.  This boat seems to be a great balance of cost with performance.  There are many aspects we like better than some of the more expensive inflatables such as the anchor locker access over that on the AB and the powder coated hull compared to the bare aluminum hull of the AB.  Hopefully this boat will have great longevity and out lives it’s 10-year warranty.

We were also very satisfied with Maritime Solutions/InflatableXperts.  They were very pleasant to work with and I would not hesitate to buy from them again.  In fact I saw a neat looking inflatable paddle board when we were picking up our boat that has me intrigued.

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Adding Drinking Water Filters

For a 31 foot sailboat, we have decent water holding capacity.  We have a 35-gallon poly tank under our forward berth and a 20 gallon water heater for a total of 55 gallons.  We can generally go about 5-8 days cruising on that without trying to conserve water too much.

But we aren’t drinking that water.  We have been getting by with gallon bottles of water we purchase at the store.  Between lugging those down to the boat, storing them until we use them and then lugging the empty bottles back up, it’s a lot of work and extra space.  Not to mention all of the first use plastic that we could avoid.

So my plan to stop this cycle of bottled water was to put a good filtration system on the boat so we could start drinking the water in our tank.  At first I was looking at the Seagull and Watts Premium water filtration systems.  However, after some more research it appears that these units are fine when cruising in the states but when you get to the islands, the replacement filters and parts are harder to obtain.  So instead I started to look at units that had the more universal style 10-inch filter cartridges.  These seem to be readily available at most home stores including in the Islands.  Watts makes an RV/Boat unit that comes as a one-piece two-stage filter set up.  But it cost about $100.  I liked the setup of the unit, especially the aluminum bracket on the top that would make mounting easier and I wouldn’t have to fabricate anything.

Watts also sells a filter pack of two-stage filters designed with a particulate filter for anything above 5-microns in size and a carbon filter.  With this combination it will remove any chlorine smell and taste, dirt and sediment, plus more nasty contaminants like lead and other heavy metals, parasitic cysts, and most volatile organic compounds, herbicides, pesticides and insecticides.  It won’t remove bacteria or other biological contaminants.  Only UV is really effective at removing that on boats.  These filters have a decent estimated life at 600 gallons, which is a little less than the Seagull’s estimated 1,000 gallons.

I decided that to prolong the filters, I would add a dedicated tap for the drinking water.  I don’t see as great of a need to filter the water we use to wash dishes or even shower.  Really the focus of this upgrade was to make the water in the tank drinkable.

With a little more searching I found a Watts under the counter system that came with all of the parts and dedicated tape for under $80 (the price has gone up some since I purchased it).

From the dimensions listed online, it appeared this system would fit under the galley sink.

IMG_2088 IMG_2089I had to reroute some of the plumbing in this area.  The hardest part was drilling the holes in the correct spot for the bracket.  I wanted the filters as close as possible to the bottom of the sink so it didn’t interfere with the garbage can.  The “add-a-valve” kit that came with the filter fit the boat’s exiting plumbing perfectly.  I did have to separate the hot and cold supply lines to the faucet and bend the metal pipes very carefully.  All I had to buy in addition to the system was some 1/4-inch bolts with finish washers, nuts and lock washers.

IMG_2090 IMG_2091

I tested changing out the filters and it will be easy.  Kill the pump at the panel or turn the new valve, remove the trash and then remove the filter.  The filter wrench is a little difficult to get in there but my strap wrench I use for oil and fuel filters works fine.

I installed the dedicated tap at the galley sink.

IMG_2093So far we are pleased with the outcome.  We still have some of those gallon jugs to get through.  But after that our plan is to fill up a gallon jug and keep it in the fridge.  This should open up space in the fridge (we usually keep 2 gallons in there but might go down to one) as well as other storage space.