Mirror dinghy cruising


This 10 foot and a bit Mirror dinghy was the first boat the editor of this web site used for cruising. This was back in the early 70's or perhaps it was the end of the 60's. I first tried a long weekend trip with my brother on the Norfolk broads, setting up a tent on the river bank at night. Two persons with camping gear was really too much for this boat, I remember we had luggage stacked up on the foredeck which would have been totally impractical for sea sailing. I soon wanted to progress to the estuaries of the Essex and Suffolk coast, having already acquired a love of these places after a several coastal cycling trips staying at Youth Hostels such as Blaxhall, Colchester, Maldon, Neging Tye, Finchingfield (of those only Blaxhall is still going). I used a land tent for my first outing on tidal water and I recall leaving the mirror dinghy anchored at Ewarton Ness on the river Stour and setting up the tent at the top of the beach. Somehow I could not imagine that the boat would still be there in the morning, the anchor seemed so small and light compared with the size and weight of the boat. I was so anxious about this that just to be on the safe side I tied the anchor to an old lorry axle which was half buried in the foreshore mud. I soon learnt that anchors do actually work quiet well and that as long as you use them carefully and the weather conditions are not extreme you should have no worries about your boat drifting away. See this section for some notes on anchoring. After a couple of little expeditions I had realised that it would be an advantage to be able to stay on board overnight and decided to make the tent shown above. Basically, it is much easier to find a place to park a boat than it is to find a spot where you can put up a tent without risking trouble with a land owner. Besides, it saves carrying all your equipment ashore from the boat then back again in the morning.

The tent above was made from a lightweight but high quality (and expensive) waterproofed synthetic fabric. The sides fastened with small strings threaded through holes in the topsides just under the gunwhale and tied off inside the boat. These holes under the gunwhale were only about 4mm diameter so no significant water would come in that way when sailing. The ridge of the tent was supported by the gunter yard and sloped aft such that the pitch angle of the tent was the same at stern and forward, this ensuring that it would set with minimum wrinkles. It was a good tent, but it is certainly not the only way to fit a tent on a Mirror dinghy. I have seen at least a couple of these boats fitted with tents which extend right over the bows. This can give a more streamlined shape which might be better with a strong wind from ahead, not that you would choose to sleep on board a little boat like this if it were anchored in exposed water.

Turning now to the sleeping arrangements, you notice the large flat white thing inside the tent - that was a rectangular sheet of 3/8" plywood which spanned the space between the side buoyancy tanks. It had little chocks attached to the underside to prevent it sliding out of position, when I first tried it without these chocks the bed had a tendency to collapse in the middle of the night.  The front edge of this plywood panel was 6 foot forward of the transom and the aft edge was a foot or so forward of the forward end of the aft bouyancy tank. I only needed to place the boat's plywood dagger board to fill this gap and I had a level sleeping area 6' long by the beam of the boat - it could even be a double bed! During the day time the large plywood panel was turned round through 90 degrees and its long dimension (which had been fore and aft at night) then just fitted in the width of the transom so that it could be stowed flat in the stern of the boat below the tiller, still leaving room for the helmsman to sail the boat. The front end of the sheet of plywood needed support from the dagger board case, you can see that a spare gas cylinder is being used for that purpose in the photograph. Although the Mirror dinghy has good stability for such a small and light weight boat (I think it weighs only about 90lbs empty) one was a bit restricted in how one placed ones weight, for example to keep the boat on an even keel it was necessary to place the air bed centrally, not to one side as in the photo. Also, the Mirror dinghy looses its stability if there is too much weight forward, this gave me rather a surprise when I first tried stepping ashore over the bows - then I tried to regain balance by grabbing the forestay. Somehow I didn't quite capsize the boat but I only made that mistake once! You will see in the picture that I used to place a plastic ground sheet under the air bed to help keep the air bed and sleeping bag clean. I don't bother with that these days, I just keep the air bed the same way up so there is a dirty side which is against the floor of the boat and a clean side against the bedding.

The circular plastic hatch in the foredeck was a standard hatch, about 12" diameter, from Jack Holt Ltd. This firm is still going and although their website does not show quite such a huge range of parts as used to be in their paper catalogs I have an idea that the older fittings may still be available if you ask for them.  This plastic hatch gave me access to the forward buoyancy tank for stowage. One would not want to stow too much heavy gear that far forward in the boat but it was good for light but bulky items such as my sleeping bag which I packed in a bin liner since I was not sure that the hatch would not leak a bit if the boat ever capsized. Fitting the foredeck hatch took the boat out of class for racing but that did not bother me since I did not intend to race it. Well, that is not quite true, I did enter just one race on a reservoir near Birmingham and by some fluke I actually won the race - so at that point I guess I quit while ahead.


My very first cruising trip with my new tent arrangement was from the Hamble to some point off Folkstone, from where I turned round and ended up at Rye in E. Sussex. Why I choose that particular route I cannot remember. The picture above was taken somewhere along the Sussex coast, perhaps near Eastborne? I particularly remember being able to row right up to within a few feet of the base of the sheer cliffs near Beachy Head.  I was lucky to have fine weather and light winds, indeed it was flat calm for long periods so I rowed for hours and hours, but in such a small boat that is certainly preferable to having to fight against even a moderate chop. The trip took three days and I stopped for some sleep at Littlehampton and Newhaven, but most of the time I was at sea sailing or rowing. I was in thick fog somewhere near Folkstone when a small motor cruiser came up to me and asked me if I could tell them the way to the nearest harbour and I had to admit that I had no more idea than they did. I was very tired by then and I decided to head north to find the shore and in due course I landed on Dungeness point, then, realising that I needed a harbour, I got back in the boat and followed the beach westwards to Rye. I remember that as soon as I got into Rye harbour I lay down on a shingle bank by the river and fell asleep in broad daylight. The picture below shows the boat at Rye, comfortably grounded for the night on a mudbank, the khaki green tent blending unobtrusively with the surroundings. 


After I had designed and built a new larger boat I kept my Mirror dinghy for a while, thinking that it might be useful for short evening trips. However, you can only sail one boat at once and having taken the trouble to design and build my own boat the Mirror dinghy got little use so I was happy to get rid of it before it completely fell apart. The tent was passed on to another Mirror Dinghy owner in the Dinghy Cruising Association and I was pleased to hear only the other day that it got quite a few seasons use after I had finnised with it. 

If you want a small light boat for cruising with one person I think the Mirror is an excellent choice, although I don't have experience with any of the alternatives. The boxy mid and aft sections of the Mirror give it good stability considering its size and weight. The large amount of buoyancy in the hull is a great ultimate safety feature, it could never sink and I found that it retained plenty of buoyancy and stability after shipping a lot of water. I never actually capsized my Mirror dinghy but I understand that if they do capsise they have a tendency to go right over with the mast pointing downwards, which is not so good. The squared off bow gives a bit more boat for the length and extra reserve of buoyancy forward but it does slam into waves. The gunter rig with simple stays and with spars which all stow within the boat is a very handy arrangement. Given an ideal launching site with car parking close by I was able to get sailing in the Mirror dinghy within about 10 minutes of arriving at the waterside and this was partly because the rig was so simple to put together.

The Mirror dinghy has a daggerboard (i.e. a keel which slides up and down) rather than a swiveling centreboard. No doubt it was designed with a daggerboard because a centreboard would take up a lot of space in a boat of this size, very few sailing dinghies of less than about eleven foot do have centreboards. However, it should be pointed out that a daggerboard is vulnerable to damage through hitting the seabed and the Mirror dinghy is the kind of small manouverable boat which encourages one to explore shallow waters. I reckon I was reasonably careful but even so I broke two daggerboards and also damaged the daggerboard casing and the bottom of the boat just aft of the casing. On one occasion I sailed into a submerged fence like structure, striking it at an angle so that the tip of the daggerboard was levered sideways and inevitably snapped off. Since I was not familiar with the area and the obstruction was not marked there was not much I could have done to avoid that happening. Given the choice, I think I would have a pivoting centreboard even in a boat the size of the Mirror dinghy.

I fitted one row of reef points and a second attachment point for the halyard to the gunter yard to set the yard at the right height for the reefed sail. From memory, this single reef was quite a deep one, bringing the yard jaws down close to the gooseneck. I always dropped the mainsail to reef, then re-hoisted it. Other Mirror dinghy owners have fitted a second main halyard for a reefed sail and that allows reefing without dropping the sail. The Mirror dinghy is designed with two mast steps, the forward mast step being to balance the boat without the jib for single handed sailing. I rarely used the forward mast step, finding it easy enough to handle both sails when single handed provided that jam cleats are available for the jib sheets.

The Mirror dinghy has open storage compartments under the mast step and these are sufficient for the items you might like to take with you for a day sail but for overnight cruising you would need more storage space. You can stow waterproof sacks under the thwart and in the aft end of the cockpit under the tiller and you could consider a foredeck hatch for stowage for light but bulky items. I have seen a Mirror dinghy with a purpose made removable wooden stowage boxes under the thwart and at the aft end of the cockpit.

The first few times I used the Mirror dinghy I had it on a car roof rack which is feasible, but having it on a road trailer was my preference. Although the Mirror is a light boat it is still quite a weight to lift onto a roof rack, especially without help. Also, if you carry a boat upside down on a roof rack you have to make sure that all loose items in the boat, including the long items like spars and oars, are removed from the boat or are securely fixed in place.