“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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Adding Cleats for Convenience

As full-time cruisers with a dog we get on and off our transom into our dingy many times each day. Add to that having friends come and visit by dingy. The result is that you have to pass a line around the stern rail, and everything we have mounted there, to tie the dingy painter off to the stern cleat.  So I decided to add two new cleats to either side of the walkthrough to allow for easier, quicker tying off and departing.

I found two, stainless steel cleats that are mounted by bolts or machine screws through the top of the cleat at a discount marine store.  From a local hardware store, I picked up some 1/4-inch by two-inch machine screws with a phillips head and an Irwin drill bit and tap set or matching size.

Photo 1 - Drill & Tap

Catalina imbedded an aluminum plate in several locations on the boat for securing hardware to the deck. On the stern, the aluminum plate runs between the two stern rail posts.  I chose to install one cleat on each side just next to the stern rail posts closest to the walkthrough. 

Once I had the locations marked out, I began drilling the holes.  I started using a 1/4-inch drill bit. The drill bit with the tap and drill kit is slightly smaller than 1/4-inch to allow for the tap to cut away material and leave a 1/4-inch threaded hole.  Drilling through the fiberglass you can feel the resistance change when you get to the imbedded aluminum plate.  I partially drilled into the aluminum plate to create a centering point for the tapping drill bit. 

Note on using tools on deck. I learned the hard way to always tie off drills and other tools while working on deck over the water.  I use an elastic tie that has a carabiner on one end and a line that secures around the tool on the other.  The one I purchased came with 3 ends for going around the tool that clip to the elastic tie.  This way I can quickly switch when using multiple tools like a drill and an impact gun.

Photo 2 - Drill

Once the initial hole is drilled, the next step is to drill the hole to prep for the tap. The Irwin bit was decent quality and cut through aluminum plate quickly.  I then cleaned the drilling debris from the area and began the tapping.

For those that haven’t done a lot of tapping, I find that the best process is to slowly advance the tap and after about a half to full turn you begin to feel more resistance.  I then back out the tap a half to full turn to clean the cutting blades on the tap. Once the tap is advanced through the plate I will run it all the way out and back in again to make sure the threads are nice and clean.

Photo 3 -tapping the plate

I prefer to bevel the top of any holes for deck mounted hardware.  This allows the bedding material to make a better seal around the bolt. I use a stainless steel counter sink bit to make the bevel.

Photo 4 - bevel bit

Once the bevel is complete, I cleaned the entire area and wiped down the fiberglass with acetone.  I then prepped the screws by putting them through the cleat and forming butyl tape around the base of the cleat and a cone shape going down the screw.  i also coated the bottom half of the screws with Tef-Gel to help protect for corrosion.

Photo 5 - butyl on screw

Using a cordless impact driver I slowly start the screw.  This helps start the screw without cross threading.  I took a couple hours to let the butyl tape work in but I was doing this in the Bahamas in 85 degree F temperatures. In colder temps butyl tape will take longer to set properly.  I got the screws started and advanced them until the butyl tape starts to squeeze out. Once I see the butyl tape start to squish out I stop and let it sit for 30 minutes.  I will then advance it another half to full turn and stop again.  I continue doing this until I have advanced the screw all the way down.

Photo 6 - Cleatl

The only thing left is to clean up the residual butyl tape and start using the cleat. It makes tying off the dinghy much easier.  We have towed the dinghy using these cleats and it tows great.  You can keep the dingy directly behind your boat in the flat spot your hull has laid down. 

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Preparing Equipment for Life at Sea and the Consequences of Not Taking Early Action

So what’s the first thing you should do when you get a new piece of equipment for the boat? A new dinghy engine, generator, power tool?

The last thing any of us really want to do, take it apart. Even equipment that is designed solely for life at sea is missing one key thing, anti-seizing treatment on machine screws and bolts.

This was a lesson I had learned early in my boat ownership life. When every you have metal on metal threads it can be extremely difficult to undo these items after they have existed in the salt air for sometime. There are some easy steps you can take to deal with this, primarily by taking apart all of the bolts and using one of the many anti-seize, anti-corrosion treatments on the threads and reassembling the equipment.

I have three “go-to” products for depending on the application.

For stuff that will really get exposed to salt water I use Lanocote from Forespar.

This works great on stuffing boxes, bolts for the outboard motor, etc.  You can get it from Defender, West Marine and I have even seen it in better hardware stores.  Lanocote looks like a thick grease.  I use the small tub and simply dip the ends of bolts or machine screws in the tub before reassembling.

For areas that are above the waterline that might get corrosion due to salt air and occasional spalsh I use Tef-Gel.

I like this for reassembling stanchions, for bolting hardware into imbedded deck plates, turnbuckles, etc.  This can be a little harder to find.  I often order it online and have switched back and forth between the syringe and the tub.  Both come with a brush that makes it easy to apply to the inside of nuts or threaded plates.

For bronze, brass and plastic fittings on water systems I use Real-Tuff by Oatey.

This is a teflon based thread sealant but it also helps as an anti-seizing agent.  I typically use this applied over teflon tape on threaded by fittings.  An example of this is when I built my own exhaust riser/mixing elbow.

Recently I had two examples of why the use of these products is important.

This winter I broke down my new-to-us Nissan 9.8 horsepower, 2-stroke outboard we use on our Highfields Dinghy.  The engine is probably from the late 1980s to early 1990s.  We purchased it used two years ago because it is the lightest 10 horsepower (they are really 10 horsepower and just called 9.8 or 9.9 because some inland lakes have rules that say no 10 horsepower or greater engines) you can get at just 57 pounds.  I like the engine and don’t mind the age but knew I would be in for some work to get it ready for life at sea.

Breaking the bolts loose on the powerhead was difficult but I was able to get them off.  Once I removed the powerhead I found the tube for aligning the shaft was corroded and broke in my hand.


Worse yet, one of the bolts holding this onto the powerhead snapped in two with very little pressure.

Broken bolk

Thankfully I tackled this project here, before we left.  If this had happened while we were out cruising I would have had to try to hand drill this out or use an “easy out” then retap.  But I have a friend that works in a good machine shop (shall remain nameless since he did the repair work while on the clock).  He used an “easy out” but as soon as he put pressure on the broken bolt it crack the cast aluminum engine block.  Again, thankful this happened here as the same friend was able to have one of the welders repair the crack and then he was able to drill and tap the new weld using equipment they had at the shop.  This repair might have been an engine ender if I had to do this using the tools available on the boat.


Notice the large welded are in the upper right.

It’s great to have friends that can help with specialized equipment.  Might be one of the biggest things I will miss when we are gone.  The friends will come and visit us in tropical locations but they won’t have their tools with them.


The repair was perfect.  Now I just needed to reassemble everything.  I used Lanocote on all of the bolts to prevent this from being a rebeat if I have to work on the engine in the future.  I also had two brass screws for the throttle assembly strip out on me that I had to drill out but those were a little easier to deal due to the softness of the material and the location.

This past weekend we finally were able to tackle a leaking pressure relief valve on our water heater.  I had tried to remove it last week but it would not budge.  I soaked it down with PB Blaster and hoped it would be easier to get off this week.  No such luck.  But thankfully our friend Chris was able to get in there and get enough torque on it to break it free.  That didn’t mean the fun was over because once you have it moving there is still no room to work.


Your working over and under the steering cables, around the throttle and shifter cables and you can’t get a full turn on anything due to other parts of the water heater or the cockpit floor only six inches above the valve. Getting the old one off and the new one on took constant back and forth of approaching it from over, then under and you had to take turns using an adjustable wrench, a pipe wrench and channel locks as they all could only grab the valve in certain locations and angles.  When we go the old one off, sure enough for a drop of thread sealant or teflon tape.  Treated the new valve in the usual way and we are back to using hot water.


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Great Service on our Highfields Inflatable

Considering today was the second day of Spring and it was snowing, I was prepared for a pretty disappointing day.  Glad I was wrong! 🙂

We have fallen into a routine that on Saturdays we go to my office and work on various boat projects and on Sundays we study for our captains licenses and work on smaller projects on the boat.  All part of trying to get that Epic To-Do List gone.  So today’s task was for me to drive our Highfields RIB to Portsmouth, RI to drop it off for the dealer to fix a leak at one of the valves.  If you have read our We Bought a Boat at the Boat Show or review of our Highfields CL290 Aluminum RIB you know we went a little deep into the cruising kitty for this purchase but are very satisfied with the dinghy.


Summer enjoying a ride around World’s End in our Highfields


Late last year I notice it seemed to be losing air on the port side.  This was in October so I thought it was mostly related to the cold weather.  Over the winter I am lucky enough to store the inflatable in our heated warehouse at work.  I noticed it seemed to lose air in the warehouse too.  So I did the typical check with soapy water and found that we were losing air around portside valve.  I figured this was a warranty repair but I expected it would take a while to get it back because the dealer is probably busy with getting ready for Spring.

So this morning I packed up one of the work trucks with the RIB and drove the hour and a half or so to Maritime Solutions/Inflatable Experts.  When I got there Norm, whom we had dealt with when we purchased the boat, so me coming and knew why I was there.  He had a couple of the guys from the shop come out and unload our RIB.  I explained the loss of air and that I thought it was coming from the valve.  They pumped it out and checked it with a soap like I had and found the same valve leak.  They explained to me that the valve systems were screwed together to compress the fabric between and inner and outer section.  They got the specialty plastic wrench and tightened up all the valves.


When I told them they we were going cruising to the Caribbean one of the guys in the shop went and got me an extra valve wrench that he had.  He didn’t want me to lose any fun days out cruising to get such a simple repair done.

They put the dinghy back into my work truck and helped me strap it down.  I was there for about 45 minutes and left with a fixed dinghy.

The guys are Maritime Solutions/Inflatable Experts are great and I would recommend them to anyone without hesitation.



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).


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.


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.


We Bought a Boat at the Boat Show

No we didn’t get rid of Smitty.  We love her too much for that.  But we did purchase a new inflatable.

We’ve been having ongoing inflatable issues ever since we have had one.  Our first inflatable, named Smitty Ditty by my Bride, was a 10-foot fiberglass RIB.  We got Smitty Ditty with the purchase of Smitty and that came with a 5 hp Nissan 4-stroke outboard.

Smitty Ditty

Smitty Ditty

We very much had a love/hate relationship with Smitty Ditty.  It was our first inflatable.  And she did take us almost everywhere we wanted to go.  But she weighed about 140 pounds and was too big to fit on the bow inflated and not be in the way for the anchor locker.  She also leaked water no matter what I did.  I reglued her 3 different times with no luck.  She was also having a problem holding air and had two large (over a square foot) patches on the rear of each pontoon.

Enter the Limo!


We purchased the Limo because we wanted the motor.  Our friend Stu has the Tohatsu version of this engine (Nissans and Tohatsus of this era are the same motors with different stickers and paint).  Our 5 hp 4-stroke weighs 54 pounds.  This 9.8 hp 2-stroke weighs 57 pounds.  Essentially we doubled our horse power for 3 pounds and the inconvenience of mixing gas. Done deal.  The motor just happened to come with a 11-foot inflatable rated for 1,545 pounds.  It was huge and you could easily put 6 adults and a dog in the boat.  You could have a large cooler in the middle of the boat and still sit people around the outside.  The party bus of dinghies.

The Limo came at a good time.  We put the new motor on Smitty Ditty for some test runs.  By the time we made it back to the dock it was apparent that the Ditty was no longer holding air.  I had just repatch one of the large patches on the back and the patch wasn’t taking.  In addition, the hull was now leaking water into the area between the two hulls so it now weighed close to 200 pounds.  We sold her to someone at the dock and used the Limo for the rest of last season.  The Limo isn’t bad, just big.  We lost close to 1.5 knots when towing it and there is no chance of having it on deck. It also has a soft bottom so beaching it to take Summer for a walk is dicey.

So this year we planned to make a big purchase, a new inflatable.  We didn’t want to mess around with used, patch inflatables for when we head out cruising because it will be our connection to land and all purpose vehicle.  We knew we wanted a hard bottom so that Summer could stand in it with no problems and we could beach it.  The length had to be 9.5 feet or less because that would fit on deck.  We also wanted it to weigh as little as possible so that putting it on deck wasn’t a big deal.  We also came to the conclusion that we wanted hypalon as opposed to PVC since PVC didn’t seem to last in the Caribbean sun.

After weighing all these options, an aluminum RIB was high on the list.  They are lighter than the fiberglass and more durable for beaching.  There are several that you can get in hypalon.  The only down side is the cost.  AB was the prime builder we liked with 9.5 foot aluminum ribs in single floor weighing 70 pounds and double floor with a  bow locker weighing 118 pounds.  But these come in with hefty price tags of $3,800 and $5,300, respectively.  Also, the AB aluminum hulls are painted white and the paint peels in the hot sun.  So now most people are getting the hulls bear aluminum and that can get hot on a sunny day.  I don’t wearing shoes and Summer doesn’t either (not that I ever tried).  We had a few fiberglass RIBs we were considering too that were less money but more weight.

Last September we saw the Highfields aluminum RIBs at the Newport Boat Show and thought they looked good.  So when we went to the New England Boat Show this weekend we sought out the Highfields along with any other RIB at the show.  After seeing the Highfields side by side with the others we were looking at we decided we really liked the boat.

We purchased the Highfield Classic 290.  It’s a 9.5-foot double floor model with a bow locker in ORCA, a type of hypalon.  The weight is 108 pounds.  We decided against the single floor ultra light models for two reasons: the single floor isn’t flat and could be difficult for us and the pup to get in and out of plus stand; I have read reviews from people with really light inflatables that say they feel less safe in high winds and chop due to low weight in the bow.  Highfields powder coats their aluminum hulls instead of painting them so they don’t have the same issue with flaking.  We got a good deal at $3,200 with a cover, under seat storage bag, pump, patch kit and dry bag.  It will be ready for us to pick it up in March.

Here are some photos of the 10-foot version they had at the show.


Flat floor with non-skip on powder coated aluminum


Transom support plus a bilge that reportedly will hold 10 gallons before your feet get wet.


Bow locker that you can lock with a pad lock unlike the AB.

No formal name yet but we (or should I say my Bride who gets to name the boat) are leaning towards Smitty Ditty II.

I can’t wait to add a few key features (fuel filter, drink holder, fishing rod holder, lights for night time dingy missions) and get it out on the water.  At 108 pounds our little 9.9 hp motor should get her up on plane no problem and move her along at a nice pace.