Tenders and Water Toys

For me, there’s still only one.

Tenders and Water Toys

Recently a pitch for a new yacht design caught my eye. It was not that the 150-footer looked like a cross between a cruise ship and a marital aid — such silliness has been the fashion for a decade. It was not the transom tender garage — they too have become boringly common. It was what was in the garage, the vessel’s “tender,” that caused me to wonder if the designer understood Archimedes’ principle. A car? Yup — a custom-designed yacht-inspired supercar that does everything but...errr...float?

According to my dusty edition of Chapman Piloting, Seamanship & Small Boat Handling, a "tender" is a small boat that is towed or carried aboard and is used to shuttle people and supplies to and from shore. That's right, superyacht designers … no tires, no rotors, no wings, no periscope. How could we have mucked up this simple mandate so badly?

It’s noontime on a beautiful sunny day in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas. A 40-something couple plus two teens are dockside aboard a 50-something-footer. The kids have tired of staring at the Xbox so Dad reluctantly lowers the hydraulic swim platform and launches the tender — a 60 mph personal watercraft that looks a bit like a basketball sneaker fitted with a seat. The children argue over who will go first since neither cares to inhale the driver’s mullet. The parents have no interest in taking a ride because there is no chiropractic clinic in town. The kerfuffle is settled and the teens terrorize the anchorage with a fleet of other imbeciles doing the same.

Eventually even children tire of spinning about and jumping wakes, so a family expedition to the beach at Hope Town is proposed. Problem: The 11-foot, 260-horsepower PWC that resides where a tender should be seats just two — horsey-style. Dad tunnels through the bilge and produces a moldy, rubber boat-in- a-bag and the remains of a small outboard motor. After an hour spent patching, inflating and exercising the pull starter, they pile aboard. Actually only their feet fit inside the boat so they bounce out of the harbor riding atop the inflatable gunwales. At full throttle, an hour later, they have managed little more than a mile against the current and settle for the marina’s pool!

Fifteen or so miles away near Whale Cay, a yacht rolls pitifully while anchored in the swell of a trench that was dug for visiting cruise ships. Like most fun-loving owners with a crew at their command, they have ignored “Coyle’s Theory of Relativity,” which states that towing a tender with a greater length overall than your vessel’s beam is a horrible headache. The two 25- foot custom-built center consoles and the fleet of water toys carried aboard were apparently just not enough for this owner. The crew has somehow managed to drag a 48-foot express cruiser across the Gulf Stream.

“So, Coyle...just what is the perfect tender?” you ask. Friend, I pull a classic 13-foot Whaler. It seats six (inside the boat), is unsinkable, and is not allergic to dock nails, knives or fishhooks — I have more faith in it than my life raft. The tender has survived thousands of miles, three hurricanes and my two children, who treated it like a water toy while learning boat handling. After this summer’s paint job it looks better than new, which is fortunate, because they don’t build the classic anymore.

Granted, my 13’s ride can be a bit rough, but I assure you it’s a lot more comfortable in chop than any supercar!