Duck Heroes  
by Paul Haynie - Chicago, Illinois - USA

Bill Giles had hauled his boat most of a thousand miles from Memphis, Tennessee, to Magnolia Beach, Texas. He had the boat in the water and was standing next to it when the Friendly Guy approached.

"Is that a boat?" the Friendly Guy asked. "It looks like a shop project that didn't work out. You don't really intend to take that out into the bay, do you?"

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Yes, he had already taken it out into the bay, and No, it really wasn't a mistake.

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Bill explained patiently that, Yes, the Puddle Duck Racer (PDR for short) was a real boat, and Yes, he had already taken it out into the bay, and No, it really wasn't a mistake.

The Friendly Guy continued to ask skeptical questions, and Bill began to consider offering to give him a ride out to the middle of the bay and pushing him overboard... And then the Friendly Guy couldn't hold back the smile any more, and introduced himself as Andrew Linn, fellow Puddle Duck Racer builder and sailor. Andrew didn't have his boat with him, but then, he had come three times as far as Bill had, and he hadn't been able to figure out how to conceal an eight foot boat in his carry on luggage. Pleasantries were exchanged, and before very long Andrew was out on the bay in Bill's boat.

The Puddle Duck Racer World Championships are, if anything, deliberately NOT significant or prestigious; significance and prestige would just get in the way.

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You'd think that when the participants in a race travel an average of 850 miles to attend (to say nothing of this rather demented spectator who drove an aging Jeep Wrangler over 1200 miles just to WATCH) that there would be a fair amount on the line, that the prize or the prestige of the event would be significant. In this case, you would be dead wrong. The Puddle Duck Racer World Championships are, if anything, deliberately NOT significant or prestigious; significance and prestige would just get in the way.

Now, it should be understood that three and four hundred mile journeys are not uncommon at messabouts; that is just the nature of the boat building community. It also seems that there are always one or two persons at every such gathering who have traveled further. By those terms, two time Champion (2005 AND 2006) David Sargent's 300 mile "commute" from Lake Charles, Louisiana, pretty much makes him "local". But Bill Giles hauled his boat down from Memphis, and Tim Cleary car-topped his boat more than 1100 miles from Greenville, South Carolina. Scott Widmier split the difference between hauling a boat and flying by flying in from Kennesaw, Georgia and building a boat (in all of two days!) in Texas; class founder David "Shorty" Routh flew in from Phoenix, Arizona; Phil Keck flew in from Chicago; Andrew Linn came all of the way from Salem, Oregon.

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Class founder David "Shorty" Routh presents a prize to Jason Nabors

The question remains: Why? John Wright (who brought THREE PDRs to Magnolia Beach; his own "Q&D PDR", and two "loaner" boats built to Shorty's specification for the use of the fly-in types) has commented that the PDR is not so much a boat as a "cultural catalyst", something that avoids the "Pretty, Polished, Perfect, Pompous or Pretentious" in favor of, as Grahame's Ratty says, "Simply messing about in boats." It is also true that the experience of hiking out to windward as your boat crashes along with a bone in her teeth is pretty much the same at 5 knots as it is at 15 or even 25, and the magic of sailing a boat you built yourself is pretty much the same whether the same whether the boat is an 8 footer or a 30 footer.

Shorty designed the PDP in late 2003 as a follow up to a $50 boat race; his mantra for the design and the extremely informal organization that has grown up around it is, "cheap, creative, and fun." To date, the PDR has been an unqualified success. When the first PDR championship was held in August, 2004, 16 of the boats had been built; a year later, there were 52. As of the 2006 championships this May, there were 104 (and it was up to 106 by the end of the weekend); the Yahoo message board for the group (pdracer) has more than 550 members.

John Wright brought THREE PDRs to Magnolia Beach; his own "Q&D PDR", and two "loaner" boats built to Shorty's specification for the use of the fly-in types.

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Shorty touts the PDR as the "easiest boat in the world to build", and while the certainty of that statement worries me, it is certainly the simplest boat to build that I know of. Or at least it would be, if there weren't so many design possibilities. The class definition consists of a table of offsets and a few simple rules that pretty much stop once you are ten inches above the extreme bottom of the boat. This has led to a bewildering array of bilge keels, daggerboards, leeboards, and centerboards, as well as a wide range of deck configurations. The rigging rules are REALLY simple: Anything goes. The most common sails are Sunfish-style lateens and sprit boomed leg-o-muttons, but there have been gaffers and lugs and Chinese lugs and spritsails and gunters; there are rumors of crab claws and more exotic flip tackers, and there is a three masted square rigger in the works (to say nothing of the fellow who is talking about powering a PDR with a Savonius wind turbine...).

The Yahoo group is a big part of the reason for the dedication PDR builders have to the class; it is at least as much a club as a racing class. A recent post stated, "I didn't come here to WIN, I came here to RACE," which typifies the attitude of many of the members; certainly no one OBJECTS to winning, but no one really minds not winning very much. It is certainly a VERY egalitarian and friendly club; membership depends on taking an interest, and nothing else. It is easy and entirely appropriate to consider everyone else on the board a friend, and the prospect of meeting several internet friends in one session was a significant attraction of the race; Andrew's "Friendly Guy" stunt was based on the utterly valid assumption that the fellow he was harrassing was ALREADY a friend of his, he just didn't know WHICH friend, yet.

Rogues Gallery
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Andrew Creamer
Conroe, Texas
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Andrew Linn
Salem, Oregon

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Bill Giles
Memphis, Tennessee

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David Sargent
Lake Charles, Louisana
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Jason Nabors
San Antonio, Texas
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John Wright
Bastrop, Texas
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Phil Keck
Chicago, Illinois
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Scott Widmier
Kennesaw, Georgia
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Tim Cleary
Greenville, South Carolina

Oh, yes: The race itself. After a pair of match races among Phil, Shorty, and Andrew Linn to determine who got to use the two loaner boats (Shorty was eliminated), the nine remaining racers drew numbered popsicle sticks to determine starting order for the Le Mans style start off the beach. Scott Widmier won the position closest to the windward mark, and Dave Sargent volunteered to take the furthest position out. Dave's "generosity" paid off, as he stayed clear of a traffic jam at the start and was first around the leeward mark, and held that position for two more turns (and MANY tacks) until Phil Keck managed to edge past him to be the first to finish the second of three laps. Dave retook the lead on the last downwind leg, and held onto the lead upwind to finish first. The final standings were: 1, Dave Sargent; 2, Phil Keck; 3, Scott Widmier; 4, Andrew Linn; 5, John Wright; 6, Bill Giles; 7, Tim Cleary; 8, Andrew Creamer; 9, Jason Nabors; 10, David "Shorty Pen" Routh.

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Paul Haynie

About the Puddle Duck Racer:
The PDR is a restricted design racing class developed in early 2004 by David (Shorty Pen) Routh. It is touted as the easiest boat in the world to build, and it certainly can be, if one doesn't get fancy. As I write this, 100+ hull numbers have been assigned, with more boats always under construction. The greatest concentration of boats is currently in Texas, but there are fleets in 18 different states, as well as Canada, Britain, and Australia. Details are copiously available at
Detailed plans by Michael Storer are available HERE