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My crazy adventures with Sevylor inflatables


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I hope you have fun...

We tend to consider Sevylor inflatable boats as cheap “slackrafts”, but they can do much more than we usually think. In fact, in the early 80s, Sevylor advertised its rafts as “poor man’s sailboats” and “poor man’s powerboats”… this might seem laughable nowadays, but I have used both for a long time, and I believe that Sevylor had some point in it.

 

Let’s tell the story long: when I was about 7, one of my uncles was in the board of a nautical club. They organised summer sailing courses for children and he convinced me to enrol in one. I became hooked. For the next seven years, each summer I sailed the club’s Optimists and run many races with them… sometimes, I even managed to avoid finishing last. But, alas, soon I grew too large for the Optimist. And then, since I was 14, I became a sailor in search of a boat. I volunteered as a crew hand for anyone who owned a boat. I sailed, paddled, rowed, powerboated… I had a lot of fun and I learnt a lot, but I wanted my own boat. The problem was that boats were expensive, even dinghies. And you needed a place to keep them all year round. Being a student, I had no regular income, so buying a boat was out of question.

Then, in the early 90’s, I visited Barcelona’s Boat Show and I had a look at Zodiac’s stand. At that time, Zodiac owned Sevylor, and a small part of the stand was devoted to Sevylor’s products, they had the usual towables, Tahiti kayaks, Caravelles… I took a Sevylor brochure and I was astonished when I saw they had a sail kit for their Caravelles and similar boats. I asked Zodiac’s salesperson if I could buy one from them, but he told me they did not import them to Spain. I insisted, and he told me to give him my phone number.

I wasn’t very hopeful, after all, I was about 20 then, and I had found out that “give me your number and I’ll call you” was a polite way for girls you met at the disco to say “I don’t want to see you again”, but, to my surprise, about 15 days later, I received a phone call from Zodiac. They told me that, during a routine inspection, they had found a sail kit in their warehouse. They had brought it for a Boat Show about ten years before, and then, they had forgotten about it. It was the old model, they had recently made some changes. If I was interested, they would sell it to me at 40% of its listed price in France. That was 30.000 pesetas (less than 200 €) and it seemed a really good deal to me.

I asked if they could sell me a boat too, but they told me I had to contact one of their retailers for that. The following morning, I send a 30.000 pesetas cheque to them, and a few days later, I received the sail kit.

Just by chance, a neighbour saw the big pack and asked: “what is this?” I explained, and told him that I was going out to buy the boat. He told me that he had an inflatable boat in his storage room. He had bought it to play around in the beach, but, the first day he tried it, he embarked with his wife and son, and, before they had made 10 metres from the beach, they hit a breaking wave and capsized. They lost the oars, their towels and their nautical enthusiasm, so the boat had remained unused in their storage room for several years.

We went to inspect the boat, and, when we extended it, ¡BINGO!, it was a Sevylor Caravelle 330, just what I needed. I took a foot pump and inflated it: it looked good and had no obvious air leak. The neighbour told me I could have it for free.

I inflated the boat and assembled the sail kit, everything seemed to be O.K. Now, it came the time for the sea trials. Considering my neighbour’s experience, I chose a quiet beach, where I was sure I would find no waves. I chose the place carefully, there was a parking close to the beach, so I didn’t have to haul the boat and the sail kit a long way (together, they are about 30 kg). It took about 90 minutes to inflate the boat and assemble all the rigging (with time and practice, I reduced that to less than an hour), took it to the shore, oriented it so I would receive the wind from a side (a beam reach), jumped inside and… there we go!

 

I pulled the mainsail sheet, the sail caught wind and I was moving. When I was about 50 metres from the shore, I tried the rudder: the boat answered the rudder as expected. Then, I pointed closer to the wind (a close reach) and the boat keep moving. Finally, the ultimate test: let’s tack… and the Caravelle tacked. Believe me, it’s easy to miss a tack with a sailboat. It’s not a serious problem, but quite an embarrassing experience for an experienced sailor. Well, the Caravelle with the sail kit tacked effortlessly, much better than some “serious” sailboats.

 

That first day, I sailed for an hour. Later trips helped me to figure quite well the boat’s behaviour and handling… actually, it behaved like a real sailboat. Yes, it was not too fast, and it never managed more than 50º degrees against the wind (a “proper” sailboat can go to 40º), but, overall, it was a much better sailboat than it could be expected by its looks.

 

 

So, as the Caravelle was a boat and it had a sail, I was technically a sailboat owner… I was as proud of my boat as any other boat owner.

The boat (deflated) and the sail kit (disassembled) fitted comfortably in the boot of a small car. That was great for me, as I live in Barcelona but I usually spend my summer holidays in Galicia, in North-West Spain. The Sevylor was a very handy way to have a sailboat in both places. Also, keeping it in the boot of the car, I didn’t need a storage place.

For the next two years, my usual procedure was to drive close to the beach, haul the boat and the sail kit, inflate it and go sailing. The first thing I learned was that the humble Sevylor turned me into the focus of attention of the whole beach… should Bill Gates have appeared in his mega-yacht, he wouldn’t have attracted as much interest as I did. A few minutes after starting to assembly the sail kit, I had a crowd around me asking “Does it really work?” “Did you make it yourself?” “How much does it cost?” and similar questions.

The second thing was that assembling and disassembling took a long time: about 50 minutes to inflate and assemble, and then, after sailing, rinse with fresh water, let it dry, disassemble and deflate… that was another 90 minutes.

One night, we were having supper in my grandmother’s house, and I explained my sailing adventures to her. And she told me that she had an old dilapidated house by the sea. It had been rented to an outboard engines mechanic for a long time, but he had recently retired and the house was free. Being so old and in need of repairs, it was unlikely that she could find another tenant, so she offered the house for me to keep the boat. Next morning, I went to examine it, and I decided it was fantastic: just 100 metres from the house, there was a launching ramp that I could use, and the house was just in front of some small islands that I could visit with the boat.

 

So, for the next three years, I kept the boat fully assembled for my whole summer holidays, and I was able to use it almost every day. When my friends and relatives saw it the first time, they all laughed, but after they had tried it once, they all wanted to repeat… sometimes, I thought I would need to organise a schedule.

 

Sadly, after five years of use, the Caravelle was showing its age: there were some small leaks, and the inner and outer tubes had communicated. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find a professional to repair it there, so I substituted it for another Sevylor, this time a Fish Hunter HF 280. The Fish Hunter line is similar to the Caravelle, but in olive green, made with thicker PVC and with two rod holders at the stern. The sail kit also fitted beautifully. I took the Caravelle back to Barcelona, just in case I could find someone that could repair it (I did, and the Caravelle was kept in use for five years more, I’ll talk about that later).

 

 

So I kept sailing in Ria de Arousa with my new sailboat. By then, I was in a serious relationship, my girlfriend (now updated to wife) started coming for holidays to Galicia with me, and she enjoyed sailing in the Sevylor too. Three years later, my Grandmother died and the house passed to one of my aunts, but she allowed me to keep using it for my boat.

 

Sadly, all good things have an end. About five years ago, my aunt received a very good offer for the house: a well known cook thought it was a great place for a restaurant. My aunt sold, and now, the house is a restaurant, and a good one, by the way… but, without a place to keep my boat, it has rested under my boat since then. I have found a good substitute in inflatable kayaks, but one of these summers, I might decide to try to inflate and assemble the Sevylor again.

 

But that’s not the end of the story: as I explained before, I took the leaking Caravelle back to Barcelona. I asked Zodiac for a professional to repair it, and they oriented me to one very close to my home. I was lucky, he was about to retire soon. But he looked at the Caravelle and he told me it could be repaired at a very reasonable price. Now I had a serviceable Caravelle again, what could I use it for?

 

Soon I had an idea: my wife’s parents have an apartment in Platja d’Aro, in the Mediterranean. There are some beautiful coves that can only be accessed by sea near there, but I had no place to leave the Caravelle inflated. Fortunatelly, Sevylor also had a very small electric outboard engine. As it was very cheap (about 100€), I decided to buy one (with a 12 volts / 12 Amperes/hour motorcycle battery, a battery charger and a cheap foldable hand trolley) to use in Platja d’Aro.

 

 

The motor is little more than a toy: it has 150 W power (¡that’s about 0,2 HP!), no throttle in the tiller (just a two-position switch marked “Slow” and “Fast”; more realistically, it should be labelled “Slower” and “Slow”) and no reverse, it can pivot 360º round the shaft instead. But it’s weight is less than 1 kg. and it fitted readily in the Caravelle’s stern. So, I took it to Sant Pol bay, inflated it, installed the engine and… here we go again!

 

It was really slow, but it could move the Sevylor, and the battery had enough charge to go to my favourite cove and back. I never tried to go very far from the shore, or to use it with rough seas… its advantages were that it was cheap, light and silent. Mi mother in law enjoyed sitting comfortably in the bottom of the Caravelle and the silent navigation, and she didn’t care about it being slow, so she became my usual passenger. When not in use, the boat and the engine could be comfortably stored under the bed.

 

But, after another five years, the poor Caravelle was clearly showing its age: the inner and outer tubes were communicated again, air leaks appeared again, and some zones of the PVC looked worn and brittle… this time, it really deserved retirement, but it had served me well for about twelve years, and it was already aged when it was given to me… ¡not bad for a cheap slackraft!

 

I bought a new Fish Hunter to replace it, but the outboard started playing up soon: sometimes it wouldn’t work, or it wouldn’t change from the “Slower” to the “Slow” speed when I pressed the switch. So I bought a new Sevylor engine, this time, a 32 lb engine… ¡this means a hefty 0,5 HP!

 

The problem now was that the new engine did not fit in the boat’s stern fittings, as they are designed only for the lighter engine. Sevylor has a plank additional stern, which is rated for outboards up to 3 HP, so I bought one.

 

I also had to buy a new battery (a car battery, 12 V and 45 Ah), as the new engine would drain the 12 Ah battery in about 15 minutes. Now, boat + stern + engine + battery weighted almost as much as the boat with the sail kit, and it also took a long time to assemble once in the beach. I needed a place to keep it assembled, but our apartment is about 2 Km from the beach, and finding a place closer to the beach is outrageously expensive in Costa Brava. Again, a friend came with the solution: he had an unused parking lot in the basement of our block, and he allowed me to keep the boat assembled there. But now, I needed some kind of trolley to take it to the beach assembled: after some experiments, I built one with a metal curtain bar, Decathlon’s trolling wheels for kayaks, a discarded bodyboard plank and a lot of rope. And it worked! It has the additional advantage of such awful looks that nobody ever thought of stealing it when I left it unattended in the beach.

 

 

 

 

The trolley made fairly easy to haul the boat + all its complements all 2 Km to the beach and back.

 

Although the increase in power might not seem too much (from 0,2 to 0,5 HP), you have to consider that it’s a 150% more. And it transformed the Fish Hunter in a very different beast: now, it can keep quite a good speed, and it can keep it even against strong headwinds and waves. It can even keep up with the typical tenders with their 2,5 HP gasoline outboards! With a judicious use of the throttle, it has an endurance of more than one hour. Now, I was not restricted to about 100 metres from the beach, I could go quite far into the sea and discover new coves… Mother in law was delighted.

 

Sadly, History has a way of repeating itself… two years ago, my friend received a very good offer for his parking lot and sold. Now, I have to keep the boat unassembled and deflated under the bed. I still use it occasionally, mostly when mi mother in law asks for a little sea excursion, but I have switched to inflatable kayaks… with my new Kokopelli Rogue Lite, this summer I went as far as I used to go with the Fish Hunter and the “large” engine. I don’t need so much gear and I build up.

 

Overall, ¿who said that Sevylor boats are only cheap slackrafts? ¡They are also cheap (and wonderful) sailboats and powerboats too!

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The quality of the image is not great (phone cameras were not very sophisticated by then), but it’s the only picture I have of the yellow Caravelle. Obviously, I christened it “Yellow Submarine”.

Imagen(27).jpg

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I bought one similar to your greenie at a garage sale back about 1993 or so. It came with the totally useless outboard mounting bracket, which I gave away, and the previous owner had fitted it out with a plywood sole which was gay- ron- teed to rub through in a salt water environment, so I tossed it too.

At the time I lived on Catalina Island and had to bring the inflatable home on top of my golf cart after every use. The path to my apt. was surrounded by huge prickly pear cacti and there was  not one single time did I walk it down or up that trail that a cactus didn't reach out and plant a sharp spine in my dink. Repairing leaks and pumping it up were a daily occurrence.

One day a big Santa Ana blew in and I had to row it out through large surf to get to my sailboat. Even though I'd pumped it up tight before putting in, while rowing out a big wave hit me and it nearly folded in 2. I broke one of the cheesy aluminum paddles and  cut my hand severely on the sharp edge.  I managed to park myself in the bow and single paddled out to the boat, but the thing was half deflated and full of bloody water by the time I got there.

Upon finally getting ashore by way of one of the local shore boats, I used the last of my repair kit patch material and glue to fix the maybe 50th leak and sold her asap. That POS taught me a great lesson about value, practicality and safety.

I wouldn't recommend one even as a pool toy.

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Great thread - “you’re looking at the wave of the future,” gushes the optimistic ad.  “Just ask for ‘the boat in a box’”, it continues.  Well, maybe not.

But I got a story.  Somewhere off Sitka, Alaska years ago we were towing an inflatable dinghy in calm conditions.  Big mistake number one was towing a dinghy there!  Realized only hours later it was gone.

We had as “back up” a very cheap vinyl blow up kayak that a friend had given us months earlier, before taking off...who knows why she gave it to us, as it was terrible for paddling in a straight line!  (Maybe that’s why she gave it to us.). That became our dinghy from Sitka all the way to Vancouver, with a 5 year old (admittedly we made few stops en route, being in a hurry to return...for some reason :-) ). It worked - sorta.  The inflatable vinyl “pool toy “ type kayak from Canadian Tire (Canadian Tire is cheap box box home stuff and tool store chain in Canada, affectionately also known as “crappy tire”).  It wasn’t quite as bad a pool toy, but it wasn’t too far above it in quality!

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21 minutes ago, Jud - s/v Sputnik said:

Great thread - “you’re looking at the wave of the future,” gushes the optimistic ad.  “Just ask for ‘the boat in a box’”, it continues.  Well, maybe not.

But I got a story.  Somewhere off Sitka, Alaska years ago we were towing an inflatable dinghy in calm conditions.  Big mistake number one was towing a dinghy there!  Realized only hours later it was gone.

We had as “back up” a very cheap vinyl blow up kayak that a friend had given us months earlier, before taking off...who knows why she gave it to us, as it was terrible for paddling in a straight line!  (Maybe that’s why she gave it to us.). That became our dinghy from Sitka all the way to Vancouver, with a 5 year old (admittedly we made few stops en route, being in a hurry to return...for some reason :-) ). It worked - sorta.  The inflatable vinyl “pool toy “ type kayak from Canadian Tire (Canadian Tire is cheap box box home stuff and tool store chain in Canada, affectionately also known as “crappy tire”).  It wasn’t quite as bad a pool toy, but it wasn’t too far above it in quality!

Why?

Did a whale eat it or something?

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I've had two inflatables that I'm pretty sure were Sevylor... one conventional rubber boat and one kayak-shaped.

Both had short but fun lives. Durability is an issue, they seem to degrade in UV and are not very chafe-resistant. Surprisingly good puncture resistance though, I took our dog for many rides in them.

Considering that they are almost sure to have fairly short service lives, I think they are probably not that cost-effective. But they are inexpensive, forgiving, and readily available.

FB- Doug

 

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1 hour ago, kent_island_sailor said:

Why?

Did a whale eat it or something?

Poor seamanship.  I didn’t tie a good knot on the stern rail, with a backup knot!!  Calm, glassy, high summer conditions in the N. Pacific, in between gales, that is.  What could go wrong :-)

We put out numerous ‘securite’ calls on 16 for a couple hours, reporting our dear dinghy adrift...as mostly up there, though, dead silence.  Well, it was a Craigslist used $400 dinghy.  Insurance eventually gave us $700!!  Anyway...

Holy shit!!!  This is the same one we had - 2009!  What a glorious piece of crap it was.  I have a fond memory of the three of us, two parents and a 5 year old, paddling in after anchoring at the very end of Kwakshua Channel on Calvert Island, the mighty North Pacific just over the sand dunes at the head of the inlet, loaded with Dungeness crab...the boat was absolutely terrible to paddle! Hilarious - (obviously) would not go on a straight line more than a boat length...

http://www.szhfkl.com/en/boat/29-inflatable-boat-wb005-1234567890123.html

CDFF4D9D-FB45-40ED-9269-24204F1623E5.jpeg

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You collected insurance on a dinghy that you lost because you didn't tie a good knot? Maybe I'm still in the dark ages, but that seems questionable.

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2 minutes ago, Russell Brown said:

You collected insurance on a dinghy that you lost because you didn't tie a good knot? Maybe I'm still in the dark ages, but that seems questionable.

Full disclosure.  We made a claim - thought we’d see what they came back with.  Not trying to game the system.  “Knot came undone”.  Covered.

I know someone with a large powerboat whose negligence caused some sort of big engine problem.  Insurance covered expensive parts replacement.  I got all the details from him.  I was flabbergasted.  Anyway, yes, standard claim: lost item.  That said, we did feel very sheepish about it, never having made a claim for anything.  

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8 minutes ago, kent_island_sailor said:

I thought it was something specific to that area like "Everyone knows polar bears eat dinghies" or something.

Funny enough - that’s the same awful colour as the glorious Sevylor we had.  Maybe the colour repels orcas, aquatic bears, large killer Dungeness crabs, etc. :-)

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2 minutes ago, Russell Brown said:

I should try it one day.

We were almost “weirded out” by it.  Couldn’t believe it.  That said, we used to pay a crap load for insurance, and keep boat at a dock all the time, so the insurance company had already made a bundle of money from us...I suspect they’re tighter with claims now?

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If insurance didn't cover negligence it would be about impossible to finance anything.

Buy a boat, car, house, or airplane and the lender will want it insured. They surely wouldn't want to be risking you doing something stupid and having the insurance be void. If I decide to make french fries and manage to cause a boiling oil fire and burn down my boat or house, the insurance would pay. If you land gear up because you are an idiot, the insurance will pay. Good luck getting another retractable-gear plane insured, but they will pay :rolleyes:

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1 hour ago, kent_island_sailor said:

I thought it was something specific to that area like "Everyone knows polar bears eat dinghies" or something.

No, bears like kayaks better.

 

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I think when I was 9 I bought a Sevlor row boat at the NY Boat show.  It came with an inflatable seat that still survives today.  

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Didn’t a French doctor once cross the Atlantic in a Sevylor, judiciously drinking seawater and his own urine, subsisting on plankton and food he caught, monitoring his physical and mental health, to see what the effects would be on the human body, and then write that book about the experience?

Oh, wait.  Different dinghy.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 3/19/2021 at 10:11 AM, d'ranger said:

J.R. - thanks, an entertaining story including making your MIL happy.

I was thinking the same thing!   Don't often get the MIL to do stuff, much less adventures out in small inflatable rafts.

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On 3/19/2021 at 9:32 AM, Ishmael said:

No, bears like kayaks better.

I'm sorry, I'm sure she was really upset and I feel sorry for her but I just laughed until it hurt.  Leave a toy out for the bears, don't be surprised when they come and play with it!

 

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