‘That extra 400mm of rubber was about to cost me just shy of £700!’

Phil Sampson never dreamed that doubling up on his rubberware could be so much fun...

Personally I blame Andy, my neighbouring berth holder. Meet Andy and you’d think he’s a nice guy, which is absolutely true except that he has a habit of leading me, and in particular my wallet, astray. The problem with Andy is that he knows far too much about boating than is good for me. He’s owned more boats than you can shake a stick at, and even renovates them for a living. So when he speaks, I listen…

Dinghy envy

A couple of years ago, I invested in my first dinghy, a 2.3m O2 Lite. We’d watched too many people struggling with heavyweight dinghies over the years and concluded a tender simply wasn’t for us, but then along came the O2 Lite which promised us the ‘boat to beach’ (or, more likely, ‘boat to bar’) solution we craved. Best of all, the dinghy packed up into a bag small enough to fit into the stowage box in the engineroom of our Fairline Targa 34.

Apparently, we wouldn’t even know it was aboard when we weren’t using it and for a year or two, everything was great. We coupled the dinghy up to an e-Propulsion outboard (great choice – lighter than a conventional outboard, silent and no need to carry petrol on board) and pottered around the Hamble and our local bays in bliss.

Then along came Andy. He’d just bought an O2 Lite dinghy as well. But not for him the compact 2.3m version. Oh no! He’d gone for the 2.7m whopper. Dinghy envy set in instantly. Ours was a bit on the small side, and with legs curled up wherever they would fit, pins and needles and even cramp weren’t unknown. Also, I’d never been overly keen on the colour of our boat. It only came in black, while the larger one came in regulation dinghy grey.

Extra legroom… and it comes in grey… I’ll take it!

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“Ah yes,” I said to Andy in a fraught attempt to defend my corner. “But it would never fit in our storage box.” “Hmm, not so sure about that,” came the reply. With that, Andy turned tail and returned two minutes later with his O2 Lite on his back. Its case includes backstraps so you can wear it as an oversized rucksack. True, it makes you look like the maritime equivalent of an Everest Sherpa, but it does make carting the thing around a whole lot easier.

“Open up your engine hatch then,” said Andy, and to my consternation, the dinghy slid snugly into the box. Andy gave me a wink and a grin, knowing that he’d just sealed the deal for our local chandlery. That extra 400mm of rubber was about to cost me just shy of £700. But no worries, I thought. We can flog the old dinghy on eBay.

A new perspective

Then we made our big mistake. Before we sell it, we thought, let’s take it for a spin up the Grand Union – our local canal. I’ve lived near the cut for most of my life but, apart from fishing for gudgeon as a boy, I’ve never had any real interest in it. I certainly never wanted to own a barge or narrowboat, as all those locks look like too much hard work. But just up the road from us is a lock-free stretch a couple of miles long.

It runs through open Buckinghamshire countryside between the hamlet of Grove and the village of Slapton. This, we decided, would be the passage for the O2 Lite’s maiden freshwater voyage.

A 2-mile stretch between the locks is just the ticket

I also confidently expected this to be the dinghy’s only freshwater voyage, at least under our ownership, as I had already begun planning the eBay sale. But getting out onto the water has a knack of changing hearts and minds, and before long we were captivated; caught up in the moment of gliding silently along at a stately 4 knots, which is the limit on the Grand Union.

And while I like to think I’ve always appreciated our local canal-side scenery, seeing it from the water is an altogether different matter. Forget the towpath. This is the place to enjoy the splendour of our waterways.

Silent running was central to the experience. It was a hot summer’s day and many of the liveaboard canal dwellers were basking in the sunshine. Virtually everyone we passed sat up with a jolt, exclaiming we’d caught them by surprise.

With our electric outboard, nobody heard us coming and even the ducks were caught unawares, scrambling for cover at the last moment when, presumably, the disturbance from our prop tickled their webbed feet.

As the dinghy burbled and drifted its way lazily past the trees and bushes lining the banks, we soon realised that this was a new kind of boating pleasure we’d never dreamed of. Add to the mix a couple of tinnies and we were in Grand Union Heaven.

The Grand Union’s cast its spell over young Orlando

We spent the entire afternoon on the water that day and the die was firmly cast. Forget selling the dinghy. Let’s do it again on weekends when we can’t make it down to the Hamble.

Double the fun

Since then, we’ve been up and down this stretch of the canal numerous times. We’ve even used it to introduce our two-year-old grandson, Orlando, to the water and I’m delighted to say he loves it. It used to bug me if we couldn’t get down to the sea on a decent boating weekend, but that feeling is now a relic of the past.

The canal makes a really good substitute. After all, it’s being out on the water that counts and it’s nice to know there’s a larger dinghy waiting for us on the south coast when we decide we can get away. The only question remaining is whether I’ve forgiven Andy for once again costing me money. I suppose I have to admit I have – but if he ever asks me if I’ve sold the old O2, I’ll just say no. After all, if he thinks I’ve pocketed the proceeds, he’ll only find something else for me to spend it on!


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