Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Feedback from Bruce Balan, 16 years a Portabote owner.

This information was kindly emailed to me by Bruce Balan who has owned a Portabote for 16 years:

A Cruiser’s Review of the 10’ Porta-Bote

First, a history of our 2 Porta-Botes:

I purchased my first 10’ Porta-Bote in 1999 and Porta-Botes have been our primary dingy every since. I sailed from California to Mexico and back from 1999 to 2001 and then left the USA permanently in 2005. My wife and I have been slowly sailing around the world since.
Copyright Bruce Balan

Many features of the Porta-Bote make it a great dinghy for full-time cruisers. We love that we can easily pull it up on the beach with just two of us. We like how well it steers and tracks compared to many inflatables. The bote gives a fairly dry ride, and goes really fast with a small outboard! It also stows perfectly on our 1969 Cross 46 trimaran.

Unfortunately, we’ve had quite a few problems with our botes over the years.

One of the oarlocks on the first bote pulled out within a year. I repaired it myself. This first bote came with the terrible wooden seats which were heavy. They soon began to delaminate. I upgraded to the first generation plastic seats but they failed in a couple of years. The bote also developed a leaking transom after 7 years. We ended up negotiating to buy a new boat from Porta-Bote for a discounted price. We were in Ecuador at the time so shipping was expensive. That was 2007/8.

The first bote’s black hull flotation had begun to deteriorate badly in the tropical sun so we made canvas covers for the new bote’s flotation.

At 9 years, one of the original oars broke. It cracked at the holes where the two pieces join. We bought a new set when we arrived in New Zealand. Now (2015), the new set shows it is heading toward the same end.

In 2010, the 2008 bote’s hull split at the bow. Using 3M 5200 and rivets provided by Porta-Bote we were able to repair it. Looks a bit dodgy but it is holding well. In 2012, the plastic seats again began to fail. Several of the plastic support brace holders cracked as well as the bottoms of the seat where the metal braces pushed up through the plastic into the foam. We asked Porta-Bote for a new set of plastic brace holders and they refused, saying repeatedly that we were the only ones who have ever had this problem and that we had abused our bote. We were told the braces would cost $144.

After much discussion and additional accusations of abuse, Porta-Bote finally sent some brace holders free of charge. We fiberglassed the seats to repair them.

Copyright Bruce Balan

In early 2013, our bote was put in indoor storage in Thailand for 2 years while we did a refit on our sailboat. When we took it out, the transom split. Now in 2015, we have a temporary (leaking) repair and will try a more permanent repair with some Eternabond tape per Porta-Bote’s recommendation.

We treat our boat with respect as it is our primary means of transportation off of the main boat. Until this month we have used a small 2-stroke 3.3 HP engine (we now also have a 2-stroke 5 HP). My wife and I together weigh about 280 lbs., so most of the time (but certainly not all the time) the boat is lightly loaded.

So, after owning Porta-Botes for 17 years, and using the bote daily for months on end, here’s my take: 

The Porta-Bote is a great boat for the occasional weekender. It’s light, fairly rugged, easy to put together, gives a good ride, and is reasonably priced (if you are in the USA). But the botes just can’t handle daily use as a primary dinghy, especially in the tropics. Moving provisions and jerry jugs back and forth, scuba diving, surf landings, long trips in very choppy conditions – these are all common in our life. In our 10 years of full-time cruising, we’ve run across several other cruisers who have had Porta-Botes. Most people like them and most everyone has had problems with them. Most notably: leaking hulls, broken seats, broken oars, deteriorating foam.

It’s a shame because, as I said, there are many good points to the bote. I have to admit that I have also been very frustrated by the uphill battle that we’ve had in the past with the Porta-Bote company. I get very tired of being told that we are the only people in all the world who have ever had that problem. Though some have had good customer service, our experience has been that the first response from Porta-Bote is you abused the boat and it is your fault.

Since we are very far from the USA, I’ll probably try the Australian Quickboat when I can no longer keep this bote going.

Bruce Balan

s/v Migration

July 2015

West Coast of Malaysia