How To Modify Dinghy Oarlocks
Row your (inflatable) boat: If you acquire a sturdy set of oars and modify the oarlocks, you can propel your dinghy without using an engine.
As usual in winter, the trades whistled with determination through the anchorage at Praia, on Santiago, one of the islands of Cape Verde. Looking out the companionway, I saw a couple in a dinghy let go of their sloop. A moment later, their outboard died. They began paddling with the short, light oars that came as standard equipment with their dinghy, but the blustery wind continued to blow them westward. The next stop to leeward was Barbados.
Not having time to put a motor on our inflatable, I jumped in and took off rowing after them. I hoped I could at least bring the people back. As it was, thanks to our long real oars in real oarlocks, I managed with some effort and perseverance to tow them back to their boat.
In less dramatic, more mundane circumstances, like going to a not-too-distant shore or exploring a creek with some wildlife, my wife, Nancy, and I prefer rowing just to avoid the outboard motor racket. Also, rowing our inflatable for an hour, especially against wind or current, gives us a pretty mean morning workout.
Our dinghy at the time was an Avon inflatable, and the collapsible oars that came with it weren’t much better than the ones that led to our anchorage mates’ misadventure. But by taking advantage of the hard-rubber oar holders that Avon uses, I made a modification that allowed me to use real, 7-foot-6-inch oars. The Avon oar holders have a large footprint, which lends tenacious holding power to the glued joint. However, the slotted opening for the oars flexes too much to use the long oars necessary to develop a powerful rowing stroke. I decided the rubber could be stiffened and reinforced by clamping it between two pieces of wood. Two bolts through the rubber would hold them together tightly, and bronze oarlock sockets could then be screwed to the outer pieces of the wood clamps. To drill the holes in the rubber I used a guided wood bit known as an auger bit.