Unsinkable Dinghy Tested in Rough
Waters with Fiorentino Parachute Anchor

April 05, 2005 04:15 PM US Eastern time zone

When heavy weather sailing expert Zack Smith was presented with a somewhat unconventional testing request, he approached it much the same as he has hurricane-force winds: He enthusiastically said “Let’s go!”
       And so he will. From April 9 through April 10, Smith will take a 7-foot, 8-inch service dinghy called "The Pudgy" into the chilly, choppy waters outside San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and put it through the paces. And then some.

       Created by David Hulbert, engineer and president of Pudgy, Inc., this dinghy is designed to do triple duty as a sailing and motor dinghy as well as a rescue craft. Most important, the ultimate goal for the Pudgy is to do the unthinkable: not capsize in heavy weather. Hulbert, a lifelong sailor and industrial designer who is accustomed to refining airplanes and trains, wants to create a craft that will withstand heavy weather and diminish, if not completely eliminate, injuries and deaths associated with capsized life rafts.

       To accomplish his goal, Hulbert turned to Smith for help. I knew that I needed an expert to help me conduct several real-life tests to see how the Pudgy would perform. Having heard a lot about the Fiorentino parachute anchor, I wanted to see how the Pudgy would do with and without one, as well. So Zack was the man for the job.

       Indeed. Smith, a lifelong sailor and veteran of numerous heavy weather experiences, has spent the last ten years designing and testing parachute anchors for public and military use. Smith recently wrote and produced “The Complete Para-Anchor Set-Up,” the first and only DVD that demonstrates how to rig parachute anchors to a variety of     vessels.

       In the case of the Pudgy, Smith’s task is somewhat formidable. He will need to be able to deploy a parachute anchor that, when deployed, creates enough underwater drag to pull the front of the dingy into approaching waves to prevent it from capsizing. Smith has already tested several prototypes, so he is well on his way to success.

       Drift rates, wind speed and wave heights will be recorded aboard a rescue boat for later analysis needed to help measure the performance of both the parachute anchor and the Pudgy.While out on the water, Smith also plans to conduct stabilization tests in wave heights that range between 10 and 16 feet in an attempt to capsize the boat. Finally, he will attempt to board the Pudgy from the water without using a boarding ladder.

       While Smith is no stranger to life-threatening conditions, the U.S. Coast Guard has expressed concern about this particular test scenario, especially due to the strong currents and wave patterns associated with the waters beyond the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite this, the Coast Guard has generously offered optional test locations if the testing site proves too dangerous.

       Says Smith, “I’m not worried about my safety for a couple of reasons: First, The USCG in Maryland has already completed a buoyancy test on the Pudgy and rated it at 1,875 lbs. before it started to submerge. Second, the Pudgy is a rotation-molded, double-hulled boat that’s made from a rugged polyethylene hull that is impact- and puncture-resistant.” "In other words,” Smith continued, “it can’t sink.”

       Just in case the word “Titanic” came to mind, be assured that a nearby rescue boat with divers will be on hand, just in case.

       At press time, wave tests for the Pudgy are scheduled for April 9 through April 10 at Point Bonita just outside the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.  Approximate test hours:  1:00 to 6:00 P.M.  A video will be made available to news
media upon their completion.  Zack will also be aboard the trawler "Sugaree," to answer questions before and after the tests at Club Nautique's Sausalito base.   

       Sailors also will have the opportunity to try out the Pudgy for themselves—but in the calm waters of the Pacific Sail Expo Show. The show, to be held April 13 through the 17, is located at the foot of the Oakland Estuary in Jack London

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