January 27, 2013

A little boat called Pudgy to anchor Maine-to-Europe balloon flight

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Portland Pudgy operations manager Daniel Mosher installs electrical components in one of the company’s boats recently at the Portland headquarters.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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David Hulbert, designer of the Pudgy, in one of the dinghies he calls the world’s only unsinkable lifeboat that can be sailed, unlike a rubber raft that would “drift aimlessly.”

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TO WATCH one of Jonathan Trappe's test flights, click here

He said he realized how quickly they both could die in the cold Maine waters without a life raft, but he didn't want a rubber raft. He wanted an unsinkable lifeboat that he could sail to landfall.

He couldn't stop thinking about the idea, said his wife, Debbie Paley.

"He basically lived and breathed and dreamed the Pudgy," she said.

Since he began producing the boat seven years ago, Hulbert has sold about 530 worldwide, mostly for ocean-cruising sailboats and motor yachts. Fifteen fishing boats in Alaska carry Pudgies made by him and his two employees, he said.

Nobody has yet had to use a Pudgy as a lifeboat, as far as Hulbert is aware. But one customer, Don Quackenbush, 55, of Fort Myers, Fla., said the Pudgy has already saved one life and maybe two, including his own.

Quackenbush's yacht was at anchor two winters ago off the coast of South Carolina when he heard a man calling for help. He said an elderly man from a nearby boat had fallen in the water after his wooden tender capsized. Quackenbush rowed to him in his Pudgy.

The man, who had been holding onto a ladder on his own yacht, was too weak to climb the ladder. Suddenly, he slipped below the surface and drifted beneath the Pudgy.

Quackenbush reached over and grabbed the man by the hood of his jacket. Standing on the edge of the Pudgy, Quackenbush pulled the man onto the boat. He said he was sure he was going to end up in the water, too, but to his surprise, the Pudgy barely budged.

"The boat didn't flip over. Nothing happened. It didn't even take on any water," he said. "If I didn't have the Pudgy, we would have died. No doubt about it."

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

tbell@pressherald.com

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