Portland Pudgy

Once, in the interests of research, I spent an afternoon bobbing around in a liferaft. Ever since, I’ve had an obsession with bilge pumps, because what I learned was this: I don’t ever want to spend time in a liferaft again. The discomfort was one thing, and should not be downplayed, but what really got to me was the sense of helplessness. A liferaft is a passive device, at the mercy of wind and
Author:
Updated:
Original:

Once, in the interests of research, I spent an afternoon bobbing around in a liferaft. Ever since, I’ve had an obsession with bilge pumps, because what I learned was this: I don’t ever want to spend time in a liferaft again. The discomfort was one thing, and should not be downplayed, but what really got to me was the sense of helplessness. A liferaft is a passive device, at the mercy of wind and waves, and once in it you surrender any control over your future. It is not a good feeling.

This is why I like the Portland Pudgy, a dinghy that can not only be rowed, motored and sailed, but also used as a lifeboat. There is something counterintuitive about having to spend money on something you hope you never have to use, which is why the purchase of a liferaft is often accompanied by mumbling and grumbling and visions of the sails or electronics you’d rather have spent the money on. A liferaft that can also be used as a day-to-day tender is a different animal altogether.

The Pudgy was developed several years ago by Portland, Maine-based builder David Hulbert. Its chunky lines and brightly colored rotomolded polyethylene hull bespoke the triumph of function over form and gave rise to the name. A certain clique of sailors—typically those bound for far horizons—immediately cottoned on to this colorful, utilitarian tender-cum-lifeboat. Recently, Hulbert introduced a revamped Pudgy with a few design improvements.

A Pudgy buyer can start with the base boat, which comes with little more than oars, seats and a compass. A long list of accessories takes you from the base rowing boat through a sailing rig with rudder and leeboards to a basic electrical package including a battery and LED lighting, a solar panel, a three-section survival canopy, sea anchor, boarding ladder, davit system and a Torqeedo electric outboard. Most of this stows either inside the double-skinned hull or under the seats. There’s also room for water, fishing gear and provisions.

The Pudgy is USCG-rated to carry up to four people, but they’d better be slightly built and very good friends; there are limits to what you can expect of a 7ft 9in dinghy with the floor area of a four-person liferaft. (But take it from me, a four-person liferaft is even less fun.) I’d not like to row the Pudgy any distance with more than three adults aboard, and with the need to sit on the sole and duck below the sail, two (at most) would be a more realistic sailing complement. The boat is very stable and rows beautifully, though, and I suspect that with more wind than the zephyr I experienced on our sea trial in Bristol, Rhode Island, its sailing performance would be satisfactory.

At 128lb the Pudgy is no lightweight, but with its built-in rollers and eyes for a lifting harness it’s easy enough for a shorthanded crew to deal with. Slung from davits it would be no more cumbersome than a RIB, and since it measures just 2ft 2in from keel to gunwale it could also be stowed upside down on a foredeck or, on a bigger boat, on the cabintop under the boom.

Although various sailors have built their own versions of sailing lifeboats over the years, there is no commercially available equivalent to the Pudgy. It’s tough, functional and practical, and if the choice came down to climbing into a traditional liferaft or boarding the Pudgy, I know where I’d rather be. For a cruising couple or a family with small children, the Pudgy makes a lot of sense.

Specs

LOA: 7ft 8in

Beam: 4ft 4in

Weight: 128lb

Sail Area: 41ft²

Price: Base boat $2,500

Related

210801_JR_SE_Tokyo20_346141438

Olympic Sailing Updates

Though the results are in for most of the Olympic sailing fleets, there’s still time to cheer on team USA in the NACRA 17, both 470 and Finn classes. In the NACRA 17 fleet, Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis are in 9th place securing a spot in the medal race. They’re currently 17 points ...read more

01-LEAD-IMG20210409160620-copy

Cruising: La Soufrière Volcano Eruption

This past spring my family and I were at anchor aboard our 50ft steel-hulled cutter, Atea, off Bequia, a small island five miles south of St. Vincent in the Southern Antilles. Bequia’s large, protected bay is lined by a collection of beach bars, restaurants and hotels, and is a ...read more

01-LEAD-GMR_ISLA_0415-1

Electric Multihulls

Witnessing the proliferation of Tesla automobiles you would have no doubt that the revolution in electromobility is well underway. Turn your gaze to the cruising world, though, and you might well wonder what went wrong. Where are all the electric boats? And as for electric ...read more

Lee-Cloths-Lee-Boards-and-single-bunks-on-ISBJORN_by-Andy-Schell_Trans-Atlantic-2019

The Perfect Offshore Boat: Part 2

November, 2009: Mia and I were sailing our 1966 Allied Seabreeze yawl, Arcturus, on our first-ever offshore passage together, a short hop from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. Our second night out, the brisk northwesterly wind shut down, but the sea state ...read more

210727_JR_SE_Tokyo20_186871368

Tune in for Olympic Sailing

Today marks the start of 470 and NARCA 17 racing on Enoshima Bay, and racing in the other seven fleets is already underway. A few of the American sailors are already off to an impressive start, with Maggie Shea and Stephanie Roble currently in second place in the 49er FX, Luke ...read more

Happy-Cat

Boat Review: Happy Cat Hurricane

I’m not sure what I expected from my daysail on the Happy Cat Hurricane. One thing I do know is that the day didn’t go as planned. The SAIL staff was invited by Alex Caslow from Redbeard Sailing to Gunpowder State Park on Chesapeake Bay near Baltimore. We were to test several ...read more

210722_PM_Tokyo20_4910_5979-2048x

Olympic Sailing Guide

The Opening Ceremony for the Tokyo Games is finally here. From July 24 to August 4, sailors from across the world will be gathering on six courses on Enoshima Bay to race for gold. Ten classes will take part in the event: RS:X (men), RS:X (women), Laser Full Rig, Laser Radial, ...read more

01-LEAD-TobagoCaysHorseshoeColors

Chartering: Voltage is King

For some time now, both in the pages of this magazine and with individual charterers, I’ve talked about how important it is to pay close attention during a charter checkout. The idea is to listen “between the lines,” as it were, to be sure you aren’t missing any hidden red flags ...read more