We’ve been silent for a couple of weeks – more about that later. In our previous Ariose Note, we shared the lead up to getting a Portland Pudgy as our dinghy. So many factors pointed to this being the best option for us: safety, durability, size… The cost put a nasty dent in our cruising kitty, but hey, it’s only money. If we’re ever in the unfortunate situation of Ariose going down and Tim and I needing to take refuge in our dinghy, I can imagine as shark fins circle, having a solid unsinkable sanctuary rather than a puncturable inflatable between us and them, we will have no regrets for every penny spent!
We mentioned that we christened our new dinghy Poco – it seems a fitting name. Not only is it consistent with the musical theme of its mothership Ariose, and descriptive of its diminutive size and pace, don’t you think that Poco the Portland Pudgy has an appealing ring to it?
Let’s back up a little to getting Poco from its birthplace in Maine to its new home at the Haileybury, Ontario marina. We were soon distracted from the pain of payment by the excitement of getting updates on its construction and finally, its journey north across the border. We worked out the mysteries of dealing with a customs agent. Initially, these communications seemed to point to a scam (tell me again, who are you and what is your role and why is our dinghy being held captive in Mississauga?). The customs agent’s name was Joe, and I realize I’m guilty of stereotyping but his traditional Italian surname and manner of speech triggered images of our precious Poco being held for ransom by some shady Mafia character. We paid out more money to Joe, allegedly to cover taxes and customs fees and finally, delivery day arrived.
Everything was set. Our harbourmaster had okayed delivery right to the marina. That was fine as I was able to arrange a flexible work day so that I could be there to receive it should it arrive during work hours. The transport company assured me the driver would call to give a few hours advance notice. The Temiskaming Shores City Hall is situated at the waterfront, just down the road from the municipal marina, so to cover all bases, I informed administrative staff there about the delivery just in case there was a mix-up.
And there was! At about mid-day, I got a call from an unknown number. Awesome, I thought, it must be the courier. Instead, it was a puzzled city staff trying to figure out the mystery of a very unusual parcel delivered to City Hall. No one present had any awareness of my heads-up. Apparently, the driver had not been given clear instructions, or had not remembered them, or had just not bothered with them. He arrived at the waterfront and spotting the only official looking building near-by (i.e. City Hall), went there insisting they take the boat as he was pressed for time and couldn’t wait. One of the staff, James, accepted the dinghy and put it in the back of his pickup truck. He then went through the paperwork, and finding my name, tracked me down at work. He sounded very relieved to have solved the mystery of the atypical package. He held it safely while waiting for me to arrive and even assisted me in carrying it to the water’s edge. How’s that for being incredibly helpful? James sure seemed to go above and beyond his usual responsibilities, although maybe Temiskaming Shores’ Economic Development Officer job description does include dealing with dinks!
Portland Pudgy sure wrap their dinghies well. I carefully extricated Poco from the packaging. As you can see, I didn’t abide by the warning label, but I was very cautious and the boat emerged unscathed. My hand, however, didn’t fare quite so well. Maybe they should have provided a “do not drop heavy objects on hands” warning instead. I tucked the protective materials in my car to return them via provided and pre-paid box for Portland Pudgy’s re-use – what a great way to reduce costs and waste. I wheeled Poco into the water, promptly rowed it out so that it could join Ariose at her berth, and headed back to work leaving the two of them to get acquainted.
We enjoyed Poco over about 12 days/nights of sailing for the remainder of the 2015 season. So, what are our initial impressions about the Portland Pudgy? Here’s our appraisal so far.
It certainly is cute! The Pudgy comes in 4 colours – we went with forest green to complement our Alberg’s accent colours. When we developed our criteria, we did say that safety was our primary concern and aesthetics were down the list, so had we been true to our intentions, the bright red or yellow options would have been a better choice for visibility. Aesthetics won out in this decision.
The advertised durability, stability, and virtual unsinkability were some of the features really important to us. We want our dink to last! We took advantage of a sunny afternoon late summer once Lake Temiskaming had warmed slightly to test out some of these claims.
Portland Pudgy’s site boasts about a drop test done by the European Union’s consumer protection agency in which they filled a Pudgy with one thousand pounds of rock, and dropped into the water. How did it respond? Apparently, it just bounced up with plenty of freeboard and no harm done! We were at the base of the towering cliffs at Devil’s Rock. Hmmm. Should we haul it up the rock face to try a re-creation of the EU test? Maybe not a good idea. We did, though, inadvertently conduct a different durability test.
We originally thought we would install davits at Ariose’s stern to be able to stow Poco out of the water. We even purchased the customized davit harness to do so. We had some concerns about Ariose becoming aft-heavy (the Alberg 30 is not a large boat), in fact and in appearance. We also knew that the most secure place for a dinghy is on deck. Once we saw the Pudgy in person, we realized it would fit – just! – if placed it between our mast and dodger. We would need to install some chocks, and work out a way to get its 120+ pounds up. We did a test run, attaching Poco’s bow to the main halyard (the rope that hauls up the mainsail), and using the winch, cranked away. We had lowered the lifelines on that side, and placed some fenders to protect Ariose’s deck at the points we expected there to be weight bearing. We’ll have to play around with technique some more as it was rather tricky. Ideally, we want to get this procedure down so that one of us can manage alone if necessary. As Poco’s stern was level with Ariose’s deck, we settled it on a fender, released the halyard a little and prepared to set the dinghy upside-down on deck. Suddenly, the fender slipped and Poco’s full weight fell against a cleat. Yikes! We were disheartened to see a deep gouge in the “indestructible” polyethylene that looked like it may have even slightly penetrated the outer wall.
We continued on and got Poco secured. It will restrict visibility from the cockpit a little, and impedes easy movement up to the bow. This still seems a better option than davits, so we will go with that. And this leads to our next point… we don’t expect to need to have Poco on deck very often. Why is that?
That’s because it tows so well. Of course, we have no experience with ocean waves (yet!), but out in the choppy waves of Lake Temiskaming, we were pleased to see that it rode like a cork, tracking well (none of the slaloming manoeuvres of Tim’s canoe), with no noticeable drag. It comes with a bridle which attaches to two stainless steel eyes and seems really well balanced. The Pudgy tows so well that we expect to be able to confidently pull it along in all but the roughest conditions rather than stow it on deck.
The Portland Pudgy is advertised as being nearly impossible to capsize. There are convincing testimonials on their site that sounded like hype but nevertheless, these served as an attractive sales pitch to us. Stability is a good thing. If we weren’t going to test out the drop-filled-with-rock from-a-height test, we certainly could test out the tippability. With any hard dinghy, you need to be mindful of where you put your weight, keeping it more or less centred. It’s tricky doing so as you step down from a sailboat into a dinghy. We didn’t need to worry. We soon realized that we could step off Ariose onto Poco’s gunwale (or is that gunnal? – figuring out sailing lingo may be a good future Ariose Note). Anyways, we soon realized we could board it by stepping onto the top edge of the side wall of the dinghy. We wanted to see, though, at what point it would capsize. We never did find out the answer to that. We tried. And tried! Tim valiantly jumped on the gunwale. Tim bounced on the point of the bow. Tim put his weight into vigorously rocking it back and forth. (Had we known we’d be creating this blog, I would have photographed these entertaining acrobatic to share!) Poco easily won each of these rounds, not even taking on water. Can’t say the same for Tim. Tim took on plenty of water as he would eventually lose his balance and take yet another plunge into the, shall we say “refreshing” waters of Lake Temiskaming. I think I could detect a certain smugness in Poco’s lines on our return from that outing.
What about buoyancy? What if we were in Poco and were swamped by a wave, would we go down? A US Coast Guard test was reported to require an incredible 1855 pounds of weight to submerge the dinghy, and still, it didn’t sink. The high density polyethylene is inherently buoyant, the area under the floor is filled with closed cell foam and the water-tight storage compartments inside the double hull add buoyancy. That’s triple protection. We also read of another test in which the hatches were deliberately opened and the interior flooded. The Pudgy submerged to the gunwales but stayed afloat. One of the options we bought was a pump, that in this test, was used to bail out the interior chambers. Once the boat rose up out of the water they were able to bail out the cockpit. We’ll take their word for it, thank you very much.
Other features that have stood out for us so far? The wheels on the keel are nice, allowing us (theoretically) to pull Poco along docks or shore. I found it a little heavy to do so solo and wonder if the wheels would stand up to much abuse. It is self-draining when empty or carrying less than 35 pounds. This works really well. We were able to leave Poco uncovered at all times, with no fear of filling with rain or need to bail it out before using it. We are wondering once we fill Poco’s storage compartments with emergency and other supplies, if we will compromise its self-draining ability. We’ll see. That leads nicely into another feature of the Pudgy we are really impressed with. Between the double-walled hull is lots of storage capacity. We’ll be able to fit the emergency gear, and if we purchase the sailing kit, remarkably, the sail and mast will also fit. Extra clothes, food, water, beach gear … heck, maybe even a spare kitchen sink could be tucked in.
The Pudgy is supposed to row well. We hope to avoid having to use an engine so this was another attribute important to us. After trying it out, we have no concerns about ITS rowing ability. The oars are a good length, the rower can choose one of two positions, and it seems to be able to track well, when Tim’s rowing it that is. Strange tendencies emerge when I’m at the oars. For some reason, I manage to achieve gentle circles, or zig-zag wanderings rather than the intended straight lines. I’m considering submitting a complaint to Portland Pudgy about its asymmetrical tendencies, or perhaps I’ll just assign Tim as Poco’s head helmsperson.
So far, the Portland Pudgy definitely lives up to all the manufacturer’s claims especially around its stability, towing, and when the right person is at the oars, rowing. It really is a brilliant design. As far as durability, we found out that it, like any dinghy, is not invincible, and we will treat it with care. If you would like more information about this amazing little boat, check out Portland Pudgy’s website. It is user friendly and has details on almost everything you could possibly want to know.
The best part of having our dinghy is the access it gives us to those special, otherwise inaccessible, moments when cruising. Some of the highlights of our 2015 sailing season were those enabled by Poco. We enjoyed gentle rows through the beckoning morning mist. Daytime shoreline investigations revealed hidden treasures. One of the more memorable ones was exposed when Tim detected the sound of running water behind a solid curtain of overhanging cedars. He parted them, and we had a magical time exploring a giant granite staircase with cascading stream. We look forward to Poco delivering us to many more adventures.
So why the recent gap in our posting schedule? This Ariose Note has (once again!) grown longer than intended, so I will save that explanation for next time. Before closing, we noticed that several new people have recently subscribed. Welcome aboard … it’s great to have you along.