Does your dinghy snatch or surf when being towed? If so, Max Liberson has a solution, which worked wonders when attached to his 23ft gaff cutter Wendy May

I’ve owned my dinghy for 30 years and the friend who sold it to me was killed in a motorcycle accident not long after. I’ve given my son sailing lessons in it, and almost lost it off Ramsgate when I was towing it back from France and it surfed up past the boat, came tight on the painter and flipped. Some years later, I used it to rescue a man who had fallen out of another dinghy.

The dinghy under tow during the very early (cold) spring voyage from Essex to Wales

So, when I had to transport my gaff-rigger Wendy May from Essex to Wales, the dinghy had to come with.

The problem was, with Coronavirus hitting the UK, I didn’t want to drive my van from Wales to Canvey Island, in case I couldn’t travel to get it back later. The 10ft dinghy was too heavy to be hoisted on Wendy May’s deck , so there was only one thing for it… I would tow it.

But I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t surf ahead of my boat again like it did off Ramsgate before.

So I came up with a device that deployed a small drogue (a plastic funnel) when the towing painter came slack.

Diagram 1: The anti-surf set-up during normal towing with the pressure on the aft stopper knot at the bow of the dinghy.

It was easy to rig: all I did was bolt a stainless U-bolt into the stem and bolt a bit of plywood onto the transom.

I drilled a large hole amidships in the plywood and through this rove a 10mm nylon rope.

I put two stopper knots in about 8ft apart – one knot in front of the U-bolt and one aft of it.

I led the rope through the hole in the plywood, fed it through the funnel, put another stopper knot on it there and then tied a bowline to which I attached another scrap bit of old halyard and an empty paraffin container (with the lid still on).

The idea is that as the dinghy is under tow the aft stopper knot is hard against the U-bolt. As the dinghy starts to surf, the drag-line pulls the funnel (drogue) into the sea clear of the turbulence of the transom, which digs in causing the forward knot to hit the U-bolt, and puting the brakes on the dinghy.

Diagram 2: The dinghy starts to surf, allowing the painter to go slack. The dragline pulls the funnel into the sea, the brake effect comes on and forward knot transmits force to stem of dinghy and the dinghy stops surfing. This was tested in F7.

I added another painter to the normal ringbolt, and that was that.

I’m pleased to say the dinghy behaved beautifully. The device worked well and stopped the surfing.

Author Max Liberson on board Wendy May at 2019 Southampton Boat Show

Wendy May in her former berth in Canvey Island