Meet our dinghy, Plug Nickel, who took us to Cloud 9

Check out our custom aluminum tender, and the very unique place she took us today.

Given that our goal is to spend a minimum amount of time tied to a dock where we can step from boat to shore, and the maximum amount of time at anchor, dinghies are essential elements of the cruising life. For you landlubbers, dinghies, or tenders, are what we use to get ashore from the mother ship, to schlep our provisions back to the boat, to explore the shoreline around us and to visit other boats in the anchorage. We can anchor the dinghy at a place of our choosing and jump into the water for snorkeling or diving.

The relationship can be love-hate though. We grumble at the hassle and work involved in getting it ready for use, launching it off the boat, only to have to reverse the entire process seemingly right away, when it’s time to hoist the tender back aboard. But there’s nothing like a tender that does what you want it to do.

What’s the perfect tender? Well, you might as well ask most women what is the perfect pair of shoes. There is no one beast that could possibly satisfy the list of desirable criteria. Whenever feasible from a deck storage standpoint, most with our lifestyle opt for two: one big, fast powerful one and one far more lightweight.

Plug Nickel is our big, fast powerful one. (You’ll meet Penny, our little one, soon.) Circa Marine, builders of Buffalo Nickel, designed her to our wish list and we are pleased with the result.

Notable features: double aluminum hull, with very cool integral fender surrounding (the black stuff); a pair of staple-shaped aluminum bars forward for boarding and general clinging onto. They call these ‘granny bars’ I have no idea why, as I am nobody’s grandmother, and beatings about the head and neck might ensue should anyone refer to me as such…


There is lots of stowage around the sides, some handy cubby holes under the two pedestal seats, and also some dry lockers forward, in addition to the ones in the helm console.

We opted for an asymmetrical helm console. Stan drives standing up at times for visibility of underwater obstructions, but prefers to sit down as a rule or on a longer haul.

The team at Circa was kind enough to lower my own pedestal seat, so I no longer feel like Alice when she was in the Big Chair. There’s also a bench seat aft, and a couple of fishing rod holders.


Circa also installed a system for securing up to four scuba tanks, we have just the two in the photos.

Aft, there is a ladder on the port side that folds down for swim-boarding. The pair of blue ‘socks’ are for drainage of the exposed interior. They will suck water out as the tender propels forward, then tend to fold and seal when the dinghy stops. A conventional screw-in plug provides drainage, if needed, for the sealed bilge area between the aluminum hulls. This air space enhances buoyancy of the boat. What we’ve got here, in our humble opinions, is one bad-ass tender.


The pair of dinghy chocks affixes to the aft deck with eye bolts, making the chocks entirely removable should we opt for… oh, I don’t know… ballroom dancing on the aft deck in the moonlight?


Here’s how we deploy Plug Nickel. I operate the remote-controlled electric winch on the aft deck, which raises and lowers the tender by its harness, rigged to the port side boom. The booms move freely from side to side (we control their tethering lines,) but do not move up or down.



Once the dink is in the water, Stan climbs in and unhooks the snatch block from the lifting harness, and we’re ready to travel.

This all sounds simple, but it’s worth pointing out that a 1000 lb aluminum wrecking ball hanging from a rope as the mother ship rolls around on the water is nothing to fool around with.

When we evaluated the FPB, now that we have some years of cruising under our belts, we quickly realized how much easier, quicker and safer launching and retrieving a dinghy with this boat would be compared to the traditional Alaskan trawler style yacht, where the tender is typically stowed high above the waterline on the flying bridge deck.

So. Where to? First, our Australian friends John and Leanne aboard s/v Red Sky, whom we’d met in Costa Rica and then reconnected with in the Galapagos, showed us some great nearby snorkeling reefs. About 30 minutes from Musket Cove, it presented the perfect opportunity for Stan to start the process of breaking in the 40 hp 2-stroke outboard.

Dinghy driving is tough work for idle beach bums. At one point the gin-clear water just became too appealing, and John felt the need to jump in for a dip.


After our snorkel, we continued on past the reef another 15 minutes, toward the world famous ‘Cloudbreak’ surfing spot. Nearby, our destination was the newly launched pontoon oddity ‘Cloud 9.’ If John hadn’t known about it, it’s not the type of thing we would ever have stumbled upon, a speck in the ocean, enlarging ever so slowly as we approached. Think euro-style Teppan grill and chill bar meets Waterworld meets coral reef, miles from shore.


 The dark spot on the horizon that Leanne is checking out below is the tower where the judges sit during the Volcom surfing competition just ended at Cloudbreak.


We enjoyed some Fiji beer, conversation with our young Italian hosts and some chill tunes piping through the sophisticated sound system before hopping back into our tenders and making our meandering way back to the anchorage. One of those sun and sea-filled days in good company that calls for a contented sigh… and a repeat in the near future.



4 thoughts on “Meet our dinghy, Plug Nickel, who took us to Cloud 9

  1. Valerie/John, is the 40hp Yamaha enough power or could the Circa dink take a 50hp (little difference in weight I think?)
    Mike Chaseling (#9)

    1. Hi Mike, as to what the Circa dink could take, I don’t have the expertise to tell you whether the 50 would be excessive. I do know that Iron Lady, with a very similar tender in terms of weight and dimensions, seems happy with their 30 hp. And though we subscribe to the philosophy that more is better in terms of power for our dinghies, 40 hp, especially considering it’s just the 2 of us most of the time, seems like PLENTY. Stan opened up the throttle yesterday in calm conditions, and yeah, tough to imagine we’d even dream of going that fast most days!

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