Porta-Bote - Four years on…
We purchased our 10 foot Porta-Bote about four years ago. For the first two years of ownership
it was only used occasionally and stored on the dinghy dock
as we did a refit
. During the second two years we cruised up and down the east coast
, to Key West
the first year, and the Bahamas
during the second year. The Bote was used in everything from calm ICW
waterways, to crossing Georgetown
harbor in 20+ knots. It was our only tender
, served as our family
car and sometimes our family
pickup truck. We didn't abuse it, but it did get a real-life cruising workout. I would say that the actual "time in the water" use would be about 12 months.
We've had a love-hate relationship with the Porta-Bote and, while it has served us well, continuing issues with deployment time has caused us to switch to an inflatable
. We had other problems with the Bote but the biggest detraction was not being able to stow it on deck
for short hops without folding it up. We considered stowing it upside down, fully assembled for short hops but could not do so without removing our inner forestay and baby stay. We also feared that sails
and running rigging
would catch and chafe or tear against the relatively sharp corners of the upturned Bote.
So here are some of our thoughts on the "Bote" after two years of real cruising use.
– The hull
truly is nearly indestructible. In Beaufort
, SC, we once stayed in town longer than planned, returning to find the Bote high and dry nearly 20 feet from the water
. Grabbing the painter and towing it across the barnacles
and shells with the outboard
tilted up was not even a thought, we just did it and went on our way. Try that in any kind of inflatable!
Indestructible yes, but it can
leak. Our Porta-Bote started leaking a small amount from the center seam at the stern after the first year of cruising. The amount was very small to start with but kept increasing to the point that it would take on about a gallon of water
overnight while sitting in the water. In use, the more weight in the Bote, the more water leaked to the point that we kept a small hand pump
onboard to pump
it out every time we got in.
After several e-mails about the leak, the manufacturer reimbursed “most” of the cost of a 3M product (3M Scotchweld DP 8010) that they indicated would stop the leak. We had to specifically ask if they would reimburse us, then find the product on-line and order it. Then they refused to cover the full cost of the shipping
and handling, though the hull
was still under warranty. The manufacturer became quite rude after being asked to cover the total reimbursement. The instructions for repairing the leak included leaving the Porta-Bote in the open, unfolded position for a week after applying the Schotchweld – not easy to do while you are out cruising! We made the repair and the Schotchweld seems to have fixed the leak, the Bote was dry once again.
– Again, after just a year of real in the water use, both the middle and back seats started to break. The plastic shell cracked and split, showing the inside flotation foam. I don't think this affected the functionality of the seats but they creaked in protest when anyone sat on them. In our opinion the seats should be better built.
– It also cracked and split at the bottom on either side of center, and is a bit more worrisome than the seats as there is a lot of force on it from the motor
. A repair using fiberglass
seems to have put it back to rights. How long will it last? Time will tell. Again, one would think a critical part like this should be a bit more stoutly built. (After our experience in getting reimbursement for the DP 8010 we didn't even bother to contact the manufacturer again.)
– The Bote rowed well and tracked straight. The oars were nice lightweight, two-piece, aluminum
and plastic. However, the buttons that lock the two halves together, as well as the oarlocks, rust into a solid lump without constant lubrication. The lubrication spreads over everything, including your clothes. Why couldn't they have used stainless steel
on these two items?
– We found the Bote to be very stable, in fact in some ways we find it to be more stable than an inflatable
. We had no problem getting used to the flexing floor. Getting in and out of the Bote for snorkeling was also not a problem. To make it easier to get back in from the water we used a boat fender
with one line through the fender
and looped around the middle seat. A second line was looped through the fender and hanging in the water to help step up into the Bote. We've done it without the fender too, but it does make it easier. Our new inflatable is very stable as well, but much more skittish than the Bote when getting in and out at the dinghy dock
– Rated capacity on our 10' Bote was “Three persons or 485 pounds.” We didn’t even think about putting four adults in the Bote in anything but calm weather
. As the harbor chop built even three people became problematic. A bit of luggage arriving with the guests? Plan on a few trips.
– The web site shows a picture of someone standing in a Porta-Bote filled with water, and yes, it's still floating! Very nice, but notice also that other than the oars there is nothing else in the Bote. Now think what that picture would look like with two people, an outboard, the gas tank, and those bags of groceries in the boat
. Would the motor
still be above the water? Hmmm. In order to provide more flotation in the stern I always secured a medium sized boat fender (the same one we use when snorkeling) to the inside of the stern for extra floatation. Fortunately, we never had it put it to the test, but I think it would have worked. I believe the newer Botes now have some extra flotation foam attached to the inside of the stern, which is good, but that adds still more bulk to the stern for storage
– Fast! With the two of us, groceries and a jug of water our 10' bote with a 6 HP Nissan
got us up on plane. With just one person in the Bote it is very fast, to the point that it gets a bit squirrelly when you hit a quartering wave.
– When motoring (using the 6 hp Nissan
that came with it) into heavy chop, two foot waves or larger (think Garrison Bight at Key West
or George Town, Bahamas
in a blow) we found that water from the following waves would enter into the low cut transom on the Bote. On a ride of any length in those conditions we found constant bailing was required while under way, and I'm not kidding on this. One hand on the outboard and one hand working the hand pump is the rule
. You must also be careful when backing up. Too fast and you will find a good amount of water coming in over the top of the transom to join you in the Bote.
– This was the biggest negative for us. We found that the process of retrieving all the pieces from stowage and assembling the Bote took generally 45-6 0 minutes, not including mounting the outboard. It’s true that once all pieces are on hand and ready, the actual unfolding and assembly only takes 5-10 minutes but that is a small part of the process on a cruising boat. Here was our process:
First, clear the foredeck of any extra rigging
, for us a baby stay and inner forstay. Next, tie a tarp down on deck
to protect the hatch acrylic
from scratches. Remove restraints and bring the hull on deck from its stowage location. Remove restraints and bring the 3 seats from their stowage locations. Remove restraints and get the transom out from its stowage location. Get out the bag of hardware
. Unfold and assemble the Bote, taking 5-10 minutes depending on anchorage conditions. Remember, you are on the bow of the mother ship putting together a 10-foot dinghy. With a bit of wind
and a just a little bit of chop you will need to be VERY mindful of that life line just a half a foot or so behind you. Rushing at this point could find you in the water very quickly.
In an emergency
you can muscle the assembled Bote over the lifelines
. I can, my wife cannot. We always used a halyard
, pulley and the windlass
for deployment. No wrenched backs, pulled muscles or bent stanchions should something catch on the way over. This is no different than launching just about any deck-stowed dinghy, but you need to include rigging this system in the deployment time.
Re-stowing the Porta-Bote is pretty much the opposite of launching the Bote with the added tasks of cleaning salt
, sand and marine
growth off the hull before stowing. Hoisting the Bote out of the water overnight will limit the growth to some extent, but the issue is still there. I made storage
chocks that contained the folded Bote and two seats securely on deck. The remaining small forward seat and transom are also securely stowed on deck in another location.
Once stowed and secured on deck it’s wonderful! It’s pretty much out of the way and no worry about waves over the bow, or stern. No obstructed visibility issues --stow it and forget it for the trip. Beautiful!
– We have a Monitor wind vane
on the stern so davits
are not an option for us, but I believe the Bote would work
well on davits
. For security
, and sometimes just to keep the bottom clean, we hoist the Bote, including the outboard, out of the water alongside the hull of “Yoohoo". To do this, I first installed a couple of grommets on either side of the hull just aft of the first seat, of the same type as the factory-installed grommets for towing. Then, on a tip from another Bote owner, I replaced the top machine screws on the stern insert with, larger, 3/8" machine screws and eye nuts on the inside. The outboard is already hanging on the stern, right? So there is little or no increase in weight on the stern as you hoist it out of the water. The harness attaches to the grommets and the eye nuts and the spare jib halyard
pops it easily out of the water. The hull only weighs 67 pounds, the seats just a few more, and the weight of the motor and gas can are borne by the stern attachments. I have never seen our Bote bow, or bend, when lifted in this manner. In order to leave it on the davits the only other thing you need to do is install a drain plug
for rain. I did look into this, the plugs are readily available and would seem to be easily installed.
– With double, crossed painters it tows like a dream in normal conditions. Tracks like an arrow. The Bote comes with two grommets installed at the bow for the painter attachments. As your speed varies, and conditions change, you will have to adjust the painters, but it's not a problem until waves build to about 3 feet, especially in following seas, then you WILL have a problem. The Bote is so light that it easily surfs in following seas soon tries to pass you up! Heading back to Nassau
last spring we were caught in much more wind
and found ourselves towing the Bote in 20-25 knots on the stern. It was too late to even consider stowing it at that point so all we could do was manage it. We found the only thing that worked was to pull the Bote in so close to our stern that its bow was slightly lifted out of the water. It wasn't pretty, the worry of it ruined a great day of sailing, but it worked, and unintentionally proved it could be done.
– Do we have second thought on getting rid of the Bote? Sure we do. Motoring through the water with our new inflatable I now find I am constantly scanning the water for anything that might puncture the tubes. As we approach the docks at low tide we find ourselves leaning forward, ready to stiff-arm those barnacle encrusted pilings to fend us off. We never had to do that with the Bote, but we now have a dink that carries four and fits on our foredeck for short hops so, for the moment, life is good!
Other owners may have additions or detractions, but this is what we experienced with the Porta-Bote. If you are considering a Porta-Bote as your new cruising dinghy, we hope the information is of help to you.