Can Your Dinghy Fly?

Micheal Robertson discovers that his Portland Pudgy tender can be powered by oars, outboard, sails, and . . . balloons!

Del Viento- dinghy

Our former dinghy hogged the foredeck underway, the Pudgy is more than 3 feet shorter–both a bonus and a trade off. Michael Robertson

We like our Portland Pudgy and accept the fact that she’s slow. Her displacement hull is, well…pudgy. She isn’t rated for an outboard larger than our 4-hp-equivalent Torqeedo, but that’s okay, she moves well under oars and so we row most of the time. But maybe there’s another way.

A guy named Jonathan Trappe bought the same dinghy we have, same color, same options. That is to say he bought a canary-yellow Pudgy with the sailing kit and inflatable exposure canopy. Then he registered it with the FAA as an experimental aircraft: N878UP (we didn’t do this).

Last month, in Mexico, Jonathan attached some balloons to his Pudgy and soared to 20,000 feet. He raced along for seven-and-a-half hours and covered 118 miles before landing in a lake. That is to say, Jonathan’s Pudgy averaged 13.65 knots during this trip.


Jonathan plans to take his dinghy across the Atlantic the same way: as a gondola suspended beneath a bunch of balloons.

Interestingly, of the 231 posts on this blog, by far the most popular is from November 2010: Life Raft Or Lifeboat? I wrote it as we prepared to head out cruising, thinking about whether we’d adopt the Pardey model (and cruise ship model) of repurposing our tender as a lifeboat. We committed to this approach the day we ordered the Pudgy and haven’t had any regrets. I never wonder whether my lifeboat will inflate if needed. I never think about getting it repacked. Except when we’re in a marina, we use our lifeboat day-in and day-out.

Aside from the peace-of-mind she brings as a lifeboat, the thing we like most about the Pudgy is simply that she’s a hard dinghy. Unlike an inflatable, we can row her. We like rowing and it gives us exercise. Leaving the outboard at home is convenient (not having to ship the outboard), eliminates the risk of outboard theft, and lightens the load. Our Pudgy has sheer, tumblehome, and she’s tough as nails. Sailing her is fun (especially when the air and water are warm) and an excellent diversion for the girls. Sure there are trade-offs (not being able to cover large distances quickly), but I am now starting to like the idea that she can fly.



The following video of Trappe’s trans-Atlantic trial run is pretty cool:


I__n our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we slumbered through the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along at