Whether you need to reach the shore, or fulfill a restless urge to explore, sometimes you just need to leave your boat at anchor and set off in a smaller craft. On a large boat, there’s room for a dinghy, but some small craft fall in that zone where the boat is a bit big to land on the beach all the time, yet too small to carry or tow a rigid tender.

Such is the case with TERRAPIN, my 18′ 6″, double-ended pocket cruiser. She has a beam of just 5′ and with so little space aboard, I at first thought that it would be impossible to carry a dinghy of any kind.

Then I discovered packrafts. While they may be sized like pool toys and when first pulled out of the box there’s not much there—typically under 10 pounds and quite compact—once they’re inflated, they become very useful little boats and are far, far tougher than the cheap vinyl offerings at the big-box store.

David Dawson

The deflated packraft is compact enough just rolled up, as seen here, but compression straps are included to make it smaller still. The paddle sections are all just 24″ long.

For TERRAPIN, I purchased a Hornet-Lite directly from the manufacturer, Kokopelli. The raft has proven very easy to inflate, deflate and stow on the cruiser. It weighs just 4.7 pounds and fully inflated, measures 85″ long by 37″ wide and can carry up to 300 lbs. The interior dimensions are 51″ x 16″. I ordered the breakdown kayak paddle offered by Kokopelli, and it’s a good match. It has a nylon composite blade and a fiberglass shaft, weighs just 2.6 l bs, and the four pieces, all under 24″ long, pack away easily.

The Hornet-Lite is a very comfortable boat and is easier to get in and out from the cruiser than I expected. The single inflated tube is wider and deeper aft to support the paddler’s weight correctly, but this also provides very good back support. The paddler sits on a separate, inflated cushion that tucks in snugly and is tied to the boat with a strap. The boat paddles like a short whitewater playboat, which is to say there is no directional stability. Running a straight line comes with technique. But once you have the hang of it, the boat scoots along very nicely. And it’s good fun, besides.

Caroline Dawson

The cozy fit braces the hips and provides back support, making it possible to paddle without sliding out of position.

The boat is sold with a bag that’s intended to speed inflation. This is the one shortcoming of the package. In theory, you open wide the unsealed end of the bag, which has two plastic battens attached to the opening, close it, then squeeze the trapped air through the valve at the other end of the bag into the boat. I’ve seen this system used successfully to fill air mattresses. But for the considerable volume of air needed for the Hornet-Lite, I found the bag much too small to make good progress.

Instead, I use a Coleman 12-volt QuickPump with an adapter for the Leafield D7 valve on the raft. Powered by a 300W lithium battery pack, the pump inflates the raft in a minute. I also use the pump to deflate the raft, not having a flat surface available on TERRAPIN to roll the raft to squeeze the air out by hand. The compression straps provided with it condense an already small package even tighter. A hand pump designed for larger inflatables would also work, but they are bulky items to tuck away on a small cruiser.

All-in-all, I’ve found thee Hornet-Lite to be a very useful tender for TERRAPIN, and when not in use, it’s incredibly compact. I’ve been more than pleased with it.

David Dawson is a retired newspaperman who has been hooked on boats since he was a boy, when his dad built a plywood pram. He does most of his cruising on the Chesapeake Bay, but has taken a variety of trailerable boats elsewhere to explore waters from New England to Florida. Nearer to home in Pennsylvania, he enjoys kayaking the local rivers, lakes, and bays.

The Hornet-Lite packraft and the Alpine Lake Paddle are available from Kokopelli. The packraft is $550 and the paddle $124.95; when purchased together, a discount brings the paddle to $74.95 and ground shipping is free within the U.S. and Canada. The Hornet-Lite and Alpine Lake Paddle both have a 3-year warranty, and the Leafield D7 valve has a lifetime warranty.

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