Old School Film Hack

Portland Pudgy Dinghy — A Craigslist Cautionary Tale

On I-95 North -- Northern Maryland (February 2012)iPhone 4S + 35mm

On I-95 North — Northern Maryland (February 2012)
iPhone 4S + 35mm

Early this last Thursday evening, one of my RSS feeds popped up with a Craigslist ad for a Portland Pudgy dinghy, which you can still read here (note: the original ad is gone as of 10:45 am this morning).  As any reader of this blog can attest, we’ve been hankering after a Portland Pudgy for quite awhile – so this was like having one dropped into our laps.

Wow – and what a deal!  It was the basic model, along with the performance sailing package and some davits!  Good quality modern dinghies aren’t cheap – even when they’re from the used market – so this was truly a remarkable deal.  Almost too good to be true…

Gateway National Rec. Area (Credit: Wikipedia)

Cindy and I quickly conferred and the decision was made to pull the trigger, so off went an email and voicemail.  By 9:00 pm that night, we learned we were the first in line, the dinghy was ours for the taking and how quickly could we come and collect it?  Plans were made for a Saturday pick-up of the dinghy at the Gateway Marina in Brooklyn, NYC and payment was required in cash.

No problem.

Initially I was a bit leery of carrying that much cash on me for a Craigslist purchase, especially for one located in Brooklyn, but I relaxed when I learned that the dinghy was stored at the Gateway Marina, which is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area that is owned by the US Interior Department and protected by the US Park Police.  Have you ever encountered US Park Police from New Jersey or New York?  If so, you’ll know they don’t suffer fools or troublemakers at all (as we know from an unfortunate camping experience a couple decades ago) and they pack serious heat – so I felt comfortable with moving forward with the meeting.

The destination marina

The destination marina

So yesterday I woke up early, as I normally do (without an alarm clock) and I was on the road by 3:15 am.  There was no one on the road.  Period.  I don’t know if it was due to it being President’s Day holiday weekend or what, but the asphalt was virtually deserted until sunrise.

I made excellent time, arrived at the Gateway Marina at 8:10 am and was told by the “guard” at the gate that I could park inside and cool my heels until my contact arrived.  The reason I qualify “guard” is because it wasn’t a US Park Ranger as I was expecting; it was a sleepy-eyed young fella that acted pretty slow and groggy (he was fast asleep when I left about 45 minutes later).

My contact, Isaac (the go-between and not the actual owner of the boat), arrived within 10 minutes and had me follow him to where the dinghy was located.

The destination boat

The destination boat

Only it was still on the boat.  Stored for the winter… upside down in the davits and hanging from the handholds in the keel (I didn’t know they were strong enough for that).

In other words – not ready for pick-up.

Isaac said he needed the cash before he lowered the dinghy, so I presented it.  He counted the bills and was satisfied, so we continued.  The line in the port davit was jammed, so it took some time for the dinghy to be lowered, but eventually it arrived on the hard and I was able to give it a quick going over.  It looked pretty much as advertised… not quite “like-new” as described in the Craigslist ad, but definitely in the “little used” category.

We waddled it over to my truck, as the roller wheels at the stern of the skeg in the Pudgy weren’t designed for use in a dirt and gravel parking lot.  I had expected to mount the dinghy on the top of the truck for the return trip home, but it was actually just small enough to fit inside the bed shell with a couple of inches of overhang at the rear.  Isaac commented on my old-beat-up-and-rusted 1990 Toyota pickup truck, but I simply replied that it allowed us to spend the equivalent of new truck payments on boating instead, which he appreciated.

Once the dinghy was safe inside the truck, Isaac handed down to me a jumbled pile of accessories that came with the Pudgy, including the performance dagger-style leeboards (never used), rudder, tiller, oars, the sail, an anchor, the mast and gaff, the boom, some straps and a couple of other odds and ends.  He went on to describe how the sailboat had changed hands 5 times over the past decade, that he’d sailed on her with the new owner on several occasions and how the new owner seriously didn’t care for the Pudgy… even though the Pudgy was the single best dinghy that Isaac had ever used, being rock steady and stable with 5 people aboard.

Than Isaac delivered his gotcha… the davits weren’t coming with me.

He said the new owner of the boat was completely hands-off and that absolutely everything done maintenance-wise to the boat was performed only by the boatyard staff (I’ve seen a lot of boaters like this over the years, so it’s likely to be an accurate description of the new owner).  And as the davits were still securely mounted to the boat, the new owner wasn’t going to let the davits go until the boatyard staff properly removed them prior to splashing the boat for the new season – probably sometime in April or so.  Isaac said the new owner was a man of his word and that the davits would be removed and shipped to me at a later date, but nothing else was going with me beyond what I had already received… besides, I had already gotten a great deal as it was.

With that choice of words, my instant perception was that the new owner had gotten cold feet about parting with the davits and they were no longer part of the agreement, and it made me wonder whether I’d see anything at all in the mail come springtime.  Maybe.  But also maybe not.

And that was the end of that.  I tried to reason with Isaac that I could take everything related to the davits except for the parts that were actually screwed into the hull, but the subject was closed.  End of story.  And – of course – he already had my cash, so it wasn’t like I could withhold part of the money until the davits were delivered to me.  I could have kicked myself for such a blunder.

So I left the marina with our new-to-us Portland Pudgy dinghy… and began the long return trip home.

Cindy and I had left up in the air the decision as to whether I would return directly to our residence or whether I would drive first to our marina to swap out our new dinghy for our old one.  In the end, I decided to swing by our marina to perform the swap.  That way I could compare the two dinghies side-by-side and — since we were already missing the davits — check and determine if anything else was missing from the Pudgy and the accessories I was given.

I arrived at our marina during the golden hour before sundown and hustled to make the swap…

All in all, I’m already very pleased with the Pudgy.  The construction appears to be very robust and well thought out; everything that I handled was rock solid and secure — there is no sense of anything being flimsy or frail.  Quite the opposite of Sara, which flexes, bends, tips and leaks with any weight in her at all.

The only items that appear to be missing from the Pudgy are the oarlocks, the towing bridle harness, and the owner’s manual — all of which I’ll see if Isaac can provide.

We plan to keep Sara, as she will convey with Shearwater if and when we decide to sell her in the future.  Sara may be a terrible choice as a boat tender for two adults, but she’s perfect for kids to learn and play upon.

Note:  As of this writing, I have downloaded the Craigslist ad and have kept a record of all my email with Isaac, as well as the New Jersey registration number on the bow of the boat.  If the davits don’t arrive in the spring, we’ll review what our options are at that point and whether or not to pursue them.

19 thoughts on “Portland Pudgy Dinghy — A Craigslist Cautionary Tale

  1. Gybe the sailor

    Agree with Cindy, Sara is prettier, what else can one say about a vessel with “pudgy” in the name.

    You'd do well to archive all correspondence in this transaction. Davits aside, I'm thinking of selling tenders off yard boats this winter. Cash, meet 'em at the boat, strip it from the davits and hightail it.


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous

    Hello Mitch,
    my wife just showed me your comments on your blog on how you purchased that Portland Pudgy last Saturday in Brooklyn, NY. She probably did that because I was quite upset last weekend that we were not quick enough to make that “great deal”. I phoned the seller last Saturday around 9am, after talking to my wife in the hope she would consent to this unexpected opportunity to own and use a Portland Pudgy for that price, and she did. Initially when I called I could hardly understand the seller at first, since the crying noise of what I thought to be a toddler made it hard to understand the other side. This must have been the reason that I did not understand his name if he at all mentioned it. Asked whether the Portland Pudgy was still available, I was told almost triumphantly that it had just been sold, which corresponds with your story. However, the presumed owner then went on to tell me that the davits would be still available for me to purchase since the new owner of the Portland Pudgy was not interested in the davits […]. This does not quite fit with your story. Unfortunately I said that I was mainly interested in the Dinghy myself. Otherwise I could have told you the asking price. I would not be surprised if those davits pop up on Craigslist in the future …. Maybe worth while to have an RSS feed as well for that item (just in case so you can set up a potential sting operation). I do hope you have a proper bill of sale with the signature of the owner. Otherwise I wonder how you are able to register your dinghy with the authorities. Odd that the Portland Pudgy which was stationed in New York appears to carry no registration number (at least it is not visible on your online pictures). Up here at the North Shore of Long Island everything is registered, even small dinghies. Maryland may have different rules, I suppose. Enjoy your Portland Pudgy!
    Fair Winds,


  3. Mitch Zeissler


    Thank you for the detailed response – I sincerely appreciate it! To give you a better sense of the timeline, I was already back on the road to Maryland by 8:45 AM, with the Pudgy in the rear of my truck, so your call a few minutes later was just after we had completed our transaction.

    I have had additional phone contact with the go-between, Isaac, earlier this morning and he has made no further mention of the davits to me (he would not respond to any of the many emails I sent to him since Sunday morning, he only responded to me via a phone call).

    We are still short the oarlocks, towing bridle and owner's manual; Isaac reports that the owner's manual cannot be found (I can believe this), the Pudgy did not come with a towing bridle (this is included in the price of the basic boat according to the Pudgy website, so I have a hard time believing this), and he says the owner will look for the oarlocks but that they should have been in the pile of accessories he gave to me (they were not).

    Isaac and I discussed me taking the davits at length, since they were supposed to be included in the deal, but he wouldn't allow them to leave with me. From the gist of our conversation on Saturday morning, it sounds like the owner is giving him a sales commission on whatever he's able to bring in, and Isaac just decided — on the fly — to go for more money for the entire package. I certainly won't pay anymore for what I was already supposed to receive.

    I do not have a written bill of sale. The transaction was cash only and sealed with a handshake. It was evident at the front gate that Isaac is known to the security guard and apparently is a regular there.

    The dinghy does not have registration numbers, but the mother ship was registered in New Jersey — so I don't know if that makes any difference. In Maryland they only need numbers if they have a motor on them.

    Thanks again!


  4. Anonymous

    With Craigslist or Kijiji sales (or garage sales) never give over the money until you see all you are getting out in the open and can go over it carefully. You can show them the money but you keep it until you see what they are giving.
    It has never been Seller Beware but Buyer Beware(y).


  5. Captain Tiki

    Thank you for posting such an in-depth article about your Portland Pudgy. I'm probably going to buy one and it will probably have to be a new one. (I live in north Texas, land of the bass-boat.) The pictures are great. They gave me a real “feel” for the size of the boat. I'm 67 and looking for a boat I can just throw into the water and go sailing: one that won't sink, is easy to right and doesn't take up the whole garage. BTW, the guy you dealt with when buying the boat seemed like a real, well you know, I don't want to say it here. Thanks for sharing.


  6. Mitch Zeissler

    You're very welcome. I've found the Pudgy to be the perfect little tender and have taken it out more than the big boat this year (not by design). It's a work horse and doesn't need to be babied like other boats of similar size.

    And yeah, the guy I dealt with was a real d*ck.


    1. Mitch Zeissler Post author

      Thanks. No, I didn’t get a direct photo of Isaac, as I was trying to take the pictures without him knowing. And, no, he wasn’t the real owner; he said he was friends with the real owner and was acting on his behalf.


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