My next boat, Storm Petrel came with a real sailor's dinghy, an Avon Redcrest, but it took so long to unroll and inflate I had little confidence in it as a life saver in an emergency.
I ordered the Sport Yak from a chandler in Las Palmas and it was delivered from Barcelona, over a thousand miles away. A Swedish single-hander, Robert, ordered one at the same time and when they eventually arrived at the shop in the city we carried one each through the streets to our boats. As we decided whose was whose Robert noticed a fault in the hull of one and dismissed it. I had such faith in Sport Yak's that I accepted without question this small manufacturing artifact - which looked as if a hot object had indented the hull - but it turned out as a sign of a badly manufactured product.
|Making way up the River Gambia. 2004|
The Sport Yak fitted exactly on the fore deck, upside down so it would not fill with water. This was a careful choice because ocean sailing makes a towed dinghy extremely problematic. A couple of half hitches held it securely in place and enabled a very fast release. The Sport Yak weighs just 20kg so could be thrown into the water in a hurry. The unsinkable double skin design means it will float just as well upside down and even when full of water.
|Cooling off at Georgetown in the River Gambia. 2004|
Within a month my brand new Sport Yak had a small split at the bow. Also I noticed a crackly sound as I got in and out of it, pushing on the sides, something I had never experienced with my previous Sport Yaks. As the split got bigger I grew suspicious my dinghy was a bad job and I photographed the split and emailed the supplier to let them know. They did not offer a replacement and blamed me for denting it.
As a child I remember sitting on the Sport Yak until the hull dented right in, and it was such a tough plastic it always straightened out with a pop. This new one was different.
|Wassau, 150 miles up the River Gambia. May 1st 2004|
|Bansang 220 miles up the River Gambia. 2004|
|Bar at Denton bridge, Oyster Creek near Banjul, Gambia. 2004|
|Kaur, 150 miles up the River Gambia. 2004|
I sailed to Senegal and into the River Gambia. The Sport Yak got lots of use and was even stolen for a few hours, but the locals found it a mile along the river and returned it to me. A youngster had taken it.
The unsinkable Sport Yak was used to wash clothes in and to play in the cooling sweet water of the River Gambia with 45C day temperatures.
|Buba Samateh, friend and shipmate, at Georgetown 150 miles up the River Gambia. 2004|
I eventually sailed back to Europe and in the French inland waterways the Sport Yak was essential to get ashore when canal sides were too shallow for the 4' 6" draft of Storm Petrel. The split in the bow kept growing extending all around. The whole top seemed to be fragile and became stress cracked all around.
The Sport Yak was almost a write off, just 4 years from brand new. After returning to Britain I sold Storm Petrel and the Sport Yak was given away to the buyers as a handy platform for floating around the boat to scrub the hull, but not a yacht tender of any worth. Within a month the new owners had the Sport Yak stolen. A year after it disappeared I spotted it in a local boat yard in a very derelict state. The split had grown to make the dinghy unusable and the little dinghy was abandoned, left to fate on a patch of sea grass and full of dirty rain water.
|The end of Sport Yak by the River Deben, Suffolk, UK. 2013|
I thought of reclaiming it and contacting Storm Petrel's owners, but I've left it to take it's course and instead have written this history of my Sport Yak. A tribute to a great dinghy, but a caution about poorly manufactured goods. I suppose for every thousand Bic biros there is a duff one.
I now have yet another Sport Yak which has all the excellent qualities I expect. It was owned by my parents as a play boat for their grand children and when they grew out of it, the Sport Yak spent 7 years behind the shed in their back garden, until they offered it to me to make use of on the River Deben, where I live on a house boat. Of course I jumped at it and the current Sport Yak rests intact and indestructible on the fore deck, ever ready for instant deployment on warm summer days at high tide.
My fourth Sport Yak is as good as number one and two. Number three was a bad one, even though it was an essential part of the biggest adventure of my life so far.
|Stolen and derelict by the River Deben, Suffolk, UK. 2013|