New Boat Review: Walker Bay 10
By Captain Thom Burns
The Walker Bay dinghies are inexpensive. In fact the prices are shocking along the affordability curve. Many people buy Walker Bay boats on a credit card and leave with it on the car.
Walker Bay was kind enough to loan Northern Breezes the sailing version of a 10-footer for a couple of weeks this spring. We rowed and sailed the boat. We trailered it. We pulled it around on its stern wheel up hills and across parking lots. The wheel works best on hard surfaces.
The essential fact about these boats is that they're injection molded plastic. They are a little sterile without even a rail of warm, high maintenance wood. The Walker Bay 10 is almost no-maintenance and virtually indestructible.
Walker Bay Boats was founded in South Africa in 1997. The company is now based in Union Gap, Washington, with offices in Vancouver and Paris. The stated aim of the company is to bring its boats to the masses. They have recorded sales in fifty countries.
The Walker Bay 8 was first out of the molds in 1998. The 10-footer was introduced this spring. Both dinghies were designed by Paolo Rista.
Rista has used a good versatile form with ersatz lapstrake construction. This gives the injection-molded hulls considerable rigidity fore and aft. Strength is gained in plastic hulls by molded angles, curves and ridges. What could be better than fake lapstrake boards? The seats support the boats gunwale to gunwale.
Both boats have a full-length molded keel from the transom to the bow. This adds stiffness and helps the boats track straight when rowed or towed. It also houses the rolling wheel aft.
Solid vs. Inflatable
There are good arguments for solid dinghies. They need to be relatively light and manageable. The eight is the ten is mostly. Solid dinghies do not have inflation issues. They can be stowed upside-down on the decks of larger boats and lowered overboard easily. They usually tow better than inflatables. They always row better, especially in wind.
Both the 8 and the 10 are made of polypropylene resin, which is injected into a steel mold and pressed at 10,000 lbs. The boats emerge smooth and detailed. The basic hull is born in about five minutes.
The solid, foam-filled thwart seats are then set in place and bolted through the strakes. That's about it for construction.
Three of us sailed the Walker Bay 10. All are Small Boat Certified sailing instructors. Mike Bastin, is the former director of Camp St. Croix sailing. In heavy air, all of us had trouble balancing the boat. If I sat in the back, the boat sailed down by the stern and dragged. It also had sluggish steering. If I moved forward, the bow was down slightly. If I moved to the middle and placed some body weight forward, it would pretty much balance but it was noticeably uncomfortable. If I kneeled or laid in the boat, it was better balanced, but no reasonable adult would do that for very long. The boom also sheets in the middle and to the middle seat which makes it difficult to move around this arrangement. It would be far better to sheet it from the end of the boom to the stern. This would open up the cockpit. When you are trying to flatten the boat in high winds, there is nothing to hook your feet on such as hiking straps. This leaves you jamming your feet under the seats and hoping you don't slip out of this position. When tacking, even in light air, the tiller does not go up. You must slide it back or climb over it. This by now must feel like a litany of problems. Let me assure you that I'm not a real big guy at 5'9" 170 lbs and reasonably fit. Many of the problem areas could be easily fixed. The rest are compromises in a boat designed to do everything: sail, tow and row. If the middle seat were moved to make it easier to balance and sail the boat, it would no longer be perfect for rowing. This boat rows very well.
The 10 moved well - hitting 4.5 knots on a reach.
The sailing characteristics we experienced overwhelmed some thoughtful design work and quality manufacturing on the part of Walker Bay. The sail kit and fittings are first-rate although it would be nice to be able to cleat off the main in a jam cleat. The sail with a big window, a tensionable shaping batten near the head of the sail adds shape and roach. The daggerboard and rudder are well done as is the rudder mounting system. The blocks and tackle for the main sheet works well, but we'd prefer to have the sheet simply come down from the aft end of the boom to the stern which would open up the cockpit. This would be easy to do even as a retrofit.
The Walker Bay 10 rowed very well. Walker Bay sent along an outstanding pair of 7-1/2' wooden oars with rubber collars. They set neatly in plastic oarlocks. The oarlocks fit fore and aft in the gunwale sockets, as they are turned outboard they lock.
The Walker Bay 10 is a well built, nicely designed dinghy. It carries quite a bit and it rows well. It is much less impressive as a sailboat. I would make a few changes to make it a much friendlier and comfortable sailing dinghy. I would trim the main from the end of the boom which would open up the cockpit. I would add a foot to the mast and raise the boom a foot to also clear the cockpit of obstacles - the boom. I would place some hiking straps in the boat for high winds. I would make the tiller go up and down for easier movement. This boat does several things that it is supposed to do very well: row, tow, carry. It could be more fun as a sailing dinghy with a few changes. It is a great value in boating if you play to its strong suite.
Captain Thom Burns publishes Northern Breezes and Sailing Breezes.
See Walker Bay Revisited