Saturday, June 30, 2012

Two-Boat Cruisers
By Michael

The Robertsons in their new
family car.
(courtesy Jim Mumy)
Most cruisers set out with three boats: a primary vessel that features a head, galley, and berths; a dinghy, which functions as a launch for going ashore when anchored out; and an inflatable life raft to be used as a refuge in the event the primary vessel sinks. It is a nearly universal approach.

But there’s an alternative, a two-boat approach, whereby a ship’s dinghy is configured to serve also as a life boat, should the need arise. Back in November 2010, I wrote about the pros and cons of this dinghy-as-life-boat (DALB) model and our intent to implement this strategy (and interestingly, it is by far the most widely read post on this blog). But at the time, I wrote from the perspective of a man living in a house, imagining the cruising life to come.
Once in Mexico, we began cruising with the standard three-boat set-up; Del Viento came equipped with an 11-foot Mercury Hypalon inflatable dinghy and a 6-person Plastimo Offshore model life raft. We decided to live with this configuration to see whether, in a real-life setting, it still made sense for us to change approaches.

So how did these first many months of cruising go? What factors confirmed our pre-cruising theory that the two-boat set-up would work best for us?
Well, that roomy 11-foot inflatable was nice in the water, but it was so big that stowing it on-deck was impractical. We did it (for the duration of the Baja Bash) but the entire foredeck was covered. It made it difficult to access both the main halyard winch on the mast and the windlass (I could have deflated it, but our life raft certification was expired and I wanted the dinghy ready to go as a back-up). During our months cruising with the inflatable dinghy, I spent hours repairing leaks in the tubes and I spent money to have leaks in the floor repaired. Maybe it is a quirk, but I really dislike leaking inflatable things. And despite an inflatable keel that never leaked, the dinghy rowed like a barge and I often envied the hard dinghy cruisers who exercised their way back to their boats.

The life raft situation was worse. It was the valise model, meaning it was packaged in a tough vinyl bag and had to be kept out of the elements. On our boat that meant either in a dry lazarette or down below. The bag was large and it weighed a ton. We eventually settled on a home for it in our only lazarette. It was very difficult to retrieve from this place and I counted on sinking-ship adrenaline to assist me if the time came. Plus, the valise robbed us of space we could have used for other things. If we were going to stick with the life raft, we’d not only have to have it recertified, but transition to a canister (very expensive) and find a place and build the infrastructure on deck to stow it topsides.
So in San Diego this past month, having then lived aboard Del Viento for as long as the human gestation period, we transitioned to the two-boat model. We sold our 11-foot inflatable (and large outboard) and our 6-person life raft and replaced them both with a Portland Pudgy. While the Pudgy is not cheap, we offset the cost with the sale proceeds of our old boats and a discount we got for buying old inventory (last year’s model).

And so far, we are very pleased.
The Pudgy is the Swiss Army knife of dinghies. It is a rugged, unsinkable, self-bailing, 8-foot-long polyethylene boat that rows beautifully, features a gaff-rigged sail kit, and an inflatable canopy for service as a lifeboat. Astoundingly, the sail kit (including mast) and life boat canopy (and more) stow nicely in the hollow gunnels of the Pudgy. It has a compass mounted in the coaming and a fender/rub rail around the bow. Deep gutters keep the sole dry and both the sole and decks feature molded non-skid.

I could sing her praises all day long, but I don’t think even a chorus of all five-hundred Pudgy owners to-date would steer a big percentage of cruisers away from the tried-and-true three-boat model. She is surprisingly large for being less than 8-feet LOA, yet she is less than 8-feet LOA. For very large people, and families with more or older kids, the Pudgy may be too small to serve as the family car. Also, we can’t go fast in our Pudgy (3-hp max outboard) and these days, for many cruisers, speed is the name of the game. It is fun and practical to zip across the water in a dink, especially when you have a long distance to cover. Many argue that a RIB with a big outboard expands horizons, making it possible to reach and explore more remote places, especially with a few people and dive equipment aboard. Also, despite the Pudgy’s amazing stability compared to other hard dinghies, she pales in this respect when pitted against just about any inflatable.
We knew about these shortcomings going in, and none of them have yet proven to outweigh what we gained in the transition.

In Dana Point and Catalina recently, it was much easier (and fun!) to row ashore than to fuss with a motor. As we head up around Point Conception in a couple weeks, the diminutive Pudgy will be stowed neatly on the foredeck, snug as a bug and out of the way of the areas to which we need ready access. Pulling our dink up to rocky shorelines in the Pacific Northwest, I won’t worry about tiny hard-to-find and difficult-to-repair punctures. I haven’t yet played with the sail kit, but I look forward to sailing around with the girls, teaching them. And I can’t wait to trigger the CO2 canisters that inflate the canopy that transforms the Pudgy into a life boat—oh, no, I’ll wait for that…

Our kayak, pictured next to the Pudgy in this pic, is
11-feet long by comparison. Note the sheer on the
Pudgy, very pleasing!
(courtesy Jim Mumy)

It is clear that I have no idea I am not rowing in the right
direction. A few seconds later, I likely saw Del Viento
and made a course correction. And would you look
at the tumblehome at the stern, just gorgeous!
--no matter that she is plastic.
(courtesy Jim Mumy)


  1. We considered a Pudgy for some time, but comments from other owners about how slow (under power) it was made us reconsider.

    Did you consider the Porte-a-Bote?

  2. The Porta-Bote has a nice form factor, great for stowing, but wouldn't meet our needs in terms of doubling as a life boat. Other folks, notably Lin and Larry Pardey, have adopted the DALB model using a more conventional hard dinghy they built and tailored, but the Pudgy is an out-of-the-box way of adopting this approach. But no, it ain't fast. Michael

  3. Very cute! And you can always adjust your strategy as your situation changes in the future.

    WOW i cannot believe you've been gone for more than a year now! I hope each day is bringing you a happy moment when you feel satisfied with your choice :-)

  4. I am curious about the Pudgy's home when you travel. you mentioned the foredeck. Why not live hanging off davits? (I know nothing about this stuff)

  5. Hi Gerard, We use the davits most of the time, but for longer passages we stow it on deck. Because longer-term weather forecasts are not as accurate, the likelihood that we'll get get caught in adverse conditions on longer passages is greater. In adverse conditions, the dinghy/life boat is vulnerable on the davits. Michael

  6. I've come to this post after reading one of the Pardy's books that mentioned the Pudgy. I like the idea -- the poor speed performance doesn't put me off, as I figure once I go cruising (on a sailboat with a top speed of 7.5 knots), I am (hopefully) not going to be worrying about getting anywhere quickly.

    Does it stow on the cabin-top aft of the mast? My only real concern would be how easily it could be launched in an abandon-ship scenario.

    1. It's been a while now and I'm happy to report that we still love the Pudgy more than ever. It is bullet-proof and fun to sail. We row it a lot more than we bother with the outboard--it rows nicely. We don't stow it aft of the mast because the vang is in the way, but there is plenty of room for it forward of the mast. I have no reservations about getting in the water quickly if we had to. We keep a long painter on it in case it's rough when we have to use it as a lifeboat.

  7. i love my pudgy - bought a year ago and it's absolutely the most stable dinghy i've ever owned. i'm 225# and the dink barely dips when i stand on the rails.... the only thing i need to change is to fit in a clam cleat somewhere on the middle seat for the mainsheet.

  8. Nice Post. Really inflatable dinghies works very good. You should try this.

  9. I've come to this post after reading one of the Pardy's books that mentioned the Pudgy. This article help the people more and more.
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