We put six portable sailing dinghies under £5,000 to the test to see which one is the best all-rounder and really deserves a place on your boat
Dinghy Go Nomad3 & Dinghy Go Orca
Dinghy Go has become something of a market leader in the inflatable sailing tender field.
The Nomad was its first boat to come to market, now on its third iteration with tweaks to the design over the years.
The Orca is a newer offering from the company and is larger than the Nomad with a more pronounced vee in the hull and a larger sail.
Both sailing dinghies came with oars that attach to either side tube via a robust plastic attachment and which stow along the side tubes.
The Dinghy Go products both felt well thought-out and clearly have benefitted from plenty of time in development to create a product that attempts to be as versatile as possible.
Dinghy Go Nomad 3 specifications
Total weight: 48kg
Biggest bag dimensions: 120cm x 43cm x 22cm
Assembly time: 21 min
Dinghy Go Orca specifications – Best on test all round tender
Total weight: 51kg
Biggest bag dimensions: 120cm x 41cm x 26cm
Assembly time: 21 min
Dinghy Go Nomad3 & Dinghy Go Orca set-up
The set-up process for both boats is almost identical.
The hulls are inflated and there is a thwart that slides along two rubber mounting points via a groove in the side of the fibreglass seat.
Both sailing dinghies have an in-built mast slot at the bow and both have a mast foot, which is added during the setup process.
Although the Orca is bigger than the Nomad and can carry an extra person – optimistically quoted as five by the manufacturer to the Nomad’s four – the additional size is all in her length with both featuring the same beam.
It does also carry a significantly larger sail – 5.2m2 compared to 3.7m2.
All this means that the Orca is sold as a sportier version but we suspect most will be purchasing her for the increased space, either for people or luggage.
Crucially, however, both sailing dinghies require the same process for setting up and both came in at 21 minutes.
Again there was a representative on site, so their 21-minute setup time is an accurate reflection of time to set up on the second or third go, once you have learned the tricks.
There are a few details that need to be done in a specific order.
Like the Seal, the thwart needs to be installed at mid inflation, as does the mast foot.
Though the thwart can theoretically be installed while the boat is deflated, the mast foot really needs doing at the mid-point.
It seems there is scope to fully inflate forgetting about this and therefore a need to deflate again to get her ready.
Dinghy Go Nomad3 & Dinghy Go Orca test
The Nomad 3 sails relatively well but feels rather more like a rowing-and-motoring tender with a sail.
As such, her upwind performance leaves a bit to be desired and she generates a significant amount of leeway.
This isn’t a major issue and she sails along well but making significant headway to weather is a slightly slow process.
For sailing around in a harbour or off the beach she works well enough.
With a bigger sail area and more aggressively veed hull, we were keen to see if the Orca could deliver more performance and make her a more viable option for ship-to-shore under sail alone.
Results were mixed. The Orca does make better headway to weather, but carries a lot of lee helm.
She is 50cm longer than the Nomad, and it seems much of this additional length has been added forward of the thwart and daggerboard.
With the increased sail area and the mast still at the bow, the Orca has become a little unbalanced with too much sail in front of the daggerboard.
It takes some getting used to, but she does go to windward better than her smaller counterpart.
Both sailing dinghies performed well under engine.
Though neither reached the speeds achieved by the Seal or the Seahopper they felt like reliable tenders.
The increased vee in the Orca gave her a touch more directional stability than the Nomad.
You could happily motor across an anchorage or up a river on either boat.
The Orca’s increased length will certainly make her a touch drier in more wavy conditions and with extra space for luggage and passengers she comes out on top.
Both Dinghy Go options rowed very well.
As relatively lightweight inflatables they obviously suffered from headwinds and crosswinds more than a traditional tender might.
We thought the oars might feel a little lightweight when in use, but both they and the retaining clips were sturdy enough to get the job done without any fuss.
The Dinghy Go’s setup of aluminium boom and mast means it is not really possible to row with the rig still in the boat, so these need to be dropped before you start rowing in earnest.
As a tender to row and motor with an option to sail both models work well.
There are some frustrations in sailing these sailing dinghies, but these are relatively minor issues that you will get used to over time.
However, their principal role is as a tender, and they perform well in this department.
Given the very minor difference in weight (3kg) and size when packed (rig bags are the same size and the boat bag for the Orca is a couple of cm larger in length, width and depth) beyond the price we would say there is little reason to go for the Nomad over the Orca.