PolySail International

High Performance/Low Cost Sails for Small Sailboats



18 (Small) Scows (Soon to be 20)


I started building 4’ x 8’ scows not long after I built my first Cartopper in 1996. In this photo essay, I have attempted to capture why I am so intrigued with these little boats and the seemingly endless variations that are possible.  As of this writing, I have had a hand in constructing 18 of these small scows for myself and as a mentor for others. Hopefully some of these photos and comments about these 18 builds will encourage others to try their hands at building one of these easily-constructed and inexpensive small craft on their own or with friends. Perhaps, like me, they will find boatbuilding to be a lifelong hobby and an entry to the worlds of sailing, fishing, cruising, exploring, and/or just messing about in boats.


The first two scows I constructed I modeled roughly after the Bolger/Payson Skimmer that was featured in Dynamite Payson’s book, Build the New Instant Boats. The photo that sold me showed the Skimmer powered by a 9.9 hp Merc zipping across a lake throwing triple rooster tails from her full-length skids. According to Dynamite, Phil Bolger claimed these three skids provided considerable lift to the little boat while keeping the little scow from going airborne and doing a slow somersault every time she encountered a good-sized wave. I used the study plans in Dynamite’s book to build hull #1, seen below with an electric motor at one of the early Lake Monroe, IN messabouts.


There was at least one sharpie and a 16’ wooden runabout restoration before the next little scow was constructed. I decided to build scow #2 from Styrofoam to make it easier for me to throw a boat in the bed of my pickup and go fishing in thin waters. By this time I had started to deviate from the Skimmer design with narrower hulls, different transom angles, and wider twin skids. But these designs, which I called Hot Tubs, were all basically little fishing boats for small Indiana lakes, rivers, and back waters. You can read more details about these boats at http://www.polysail.com/boatnote.htm


Hot Tub #1 at Lake Monroe, IN. A conservation officer informed me that I needed to register my trolling-motor powered “tub.”

This Styrofoam box became Hot Tub #2 with the help of a little polyurethane glue, some bamboo skewers, fiberglass, and duct tape to hold things in place until the glue set.

#2 was a lightweight at a finished weight of about 45 lb. With its thin lauan covering over foam, it appeared to be heavily built, and spectators at the ramps were often amazed to see me launch it by tossing it several feet into the water. 

Hot Tub #4 had removable wheels and was only 40” wide. I couldn’t find a photo of  the original #3 which I built for my niece to use on her familiy’s farm pond.

#4 got a workout at a Michigan messabout from a tunnel hull builder who tried her with a couple of his engines. With a 5 hp she could get up on a plane and really fly.

#4 also was the first Hot Tub to be tried with a sail. With no rocker aft, she wasn’t much of a sailboat.

Hot Tub #5  was the 4’ x 8’ version of a racing Chris Craft.  Built from good luaun, she had an inner shell of Styrofoam, go-cart steering components, and a swiveling adjustable plastic seat.

I was a Tony Stuart fan back when he was racing for Home Depot at the Brickyard, so this boat took on his NASCAR theme.

She looks pretty impressive with the 5 hp Briggs hanging off the transom, but I never did test her with that engine.  Read more about this little scow here: http://www.polysail.com/4x8boat.htm


Sometime before I built Hot Tub #5 and a couple of other boats, I became interested in David “Shorty” Routh’s PDRacer, a sailing version of a 4’ x 8’ scow.  I still had the mast, boom, sail, and foils from my Cartopper, the first boat I ever built and the platform for my first experiments with PolySails back in 1996, and the PDRacer seemed like a natural for the small lake behind our new house purchased in 2003. Built in 2004, Lame Duck became hull #100 to be registered in this developmental class, and the first of many more of these little sailing scows to follow. Lame Duck’s construction followed the plywood on frame model of my earlier scows and was not particularly innovative except for her 60 sq. ft. leg o’ mutton PolySail which had the leech and luff reversed for a lower Center of Effort. Her excellent handling encouraged me to build another, and another, and another, etc.





My son Ryan was home on leave from the Navy when this photo was taken as he piloted Lame Duck around Lake Vista, the small lake behind our home in Fishers, IN.

Lame Duck handles some rough water at the Midwest Messabout at Rend Lake, Illinois. Lame Duck was the sixth 4’ x 8’ scow I built.

Crewed by two novice sailors from Japan, Lame Duck rounds a mark in the 2008 Hoosier Regatta. Hot Tub V is the committee boat in the background.

John Nystrom and Andy Cougill, a couple of new boat buddies from Peru, IN, work on their PDRacers in my garage. I cut parts and served as their mentor for assembly.

John and Andy got snowed in and spent the night. The next day, we decided to test Lame Duck as a sled. We rigged a safety line in case the ice was too thin.

John takes his completed John Duck for a sail on Lake Vista. John was a state cop and ex-military, so he built his boat like a tank and chose a lug sail to power it.



With John and Andy’s boats, hulls # 134 and #135, I began integrating the framing with the sides and transoms rather than building a frame and then covering it with plywood. My next personal PDRacer was Wild Duck, #143. This boat was constructed in similar fashion but also built to set a record for the amount of sail carried by a PDRacer. Most of the time, I sailed her with a biplane rig—two 52 sq. ft. leg o’ mutton sails, one on each bow corner, but for the record attempt, I stepped a third 60 sq. ft. leg o’ mutton in the middle between the two other sails, bringing the total to 164 sq. ft. Wild Duck could also be sailed with just a single sail if the wind was too brisk. Counting the two ducks I helped John and Andy complete, Wild Duck was the fourth PDRacer to come out of my garage in Fishers, IN on Lake Vista. Later, Wild Duck would be the only boat of my five-boat fleet to go with me when we moved to Florida. I learned a great deal from Wild Duck about how the Center of Effort of sails shifts with different sail and leeboard positions when sailing with twin sails.



With her biplane rig, Wild Duck caused quite a stir at the 2005 Midwest Messabout

Triple leg o’ muttons helped Wild Duck set a record for the most sail carried for one mile both up and down wind.

Wild Duck was no slouch with only one sail to power her if there was any wind.





Wild Duck spreads her wings going downwind in the 2009 Worlds. Faulty positioning of her leeboard made it difficult to turn into the wind, and I placed an embarrassing 10th. I also had two double penalty turns for hitting boats and buoys.

This was the last rebuild for Wild Duck before setting out for the 2011 Worlds in Oklahoma. This boat had unusual step-down gunwales and an add-on transom for trolling motor use.

Wild Duck goes up in smoke at the north end of Florida’s Turnpike about three hours into my trip to Oklahoma. This photo was taken shortly after a Florida Highway Patrolman exhausted his extinguisher in an effort to put out the fire.






Scow # 10 for me was a build with Tom Heiser of Muncie, IN. Tom wanted a boat with plenty of flotation, so I devised a removable foam insert to fit inside the hull.

Tom opted for a big lateen on his PDRacer, named the Amakusa Duck #223.

PDRacer #6 for me was to construct #241 along with Daniel Mieth, a young man who lived across the lake from us. Daniel  sailed to victory in our 2007 regatta.


John Nystrom and I talked at length about running the Texas 200 in the spring of 2007. One of the designs that came out of that discussion was for a lightweight boat that had a polytarp “cabin” that could be rolled up or extended bow to stern for sleeping. That design was only partially realized with hull #199 Webfoot. This boat had a foam bottom covered with fiberglass and a tarp covering that could be rolled up or extended bow to stern over a mahogany arch framework. Although the boat never made it to Texas, it was an interesting PDRacer concept boat. The hull was very light, and going downwind, there was no need to row or put up sail. The forward part of the polytarp cabin caught enough air to propel the boat downwind without help from oars or sails.  For some reason, I made Webfoot only 44” wide, and it had two foam sides that had to be attached to make it a “legal” PDRacer.  There were little “tabs” fore and aft on the bottom that fit into the foam sides for attachment. Interestingly, I could also use these tabs to steer when the sides were not attached. Dunk a stern tab and I would begin rounding up in that direction. I also learned how strong an arch could be if it were glued together in the arched position. Two 2”x 3/16” x 8’ strips of mahogany lathing made strong enough support pieces that the boat could be rolled over on its top and the arches would easily support the hull. I am using this “glued arch” concept in lieu of chines on a PDRacer kit I am currently preparing for a father-son team project in PA..


This boat, scow #12, was the last boat I built before moving to Florida in 2009.








I rarely make a model of boats I intend to build, but  I did make a small cardboard model of Webfoot.

Webfoot  was made of Styrofoam and 2mm marine plywood. Even the seat and its supports were mostly foam covered with thin plywood. In this photo, the foam sides are temporarily attached.

The “tabs” for the foam sides are clearly visible in this shot.

This shot shows the cover fully rolled out and attached. If I sat on the bottom and not on the seat, I could sit up under the canopy. I never got around to finishing the side panels before I sold this boat.

Here I am being powered downwind by the wind alone—no need for the oars going this direction.

This was the only photo I could find of this boat sailing with the foam side panels attached. I had a temporary mast up and a very small leg o’ mutton (about 40 sq. ft.) attached.


When I first moved to Florida, I was undecided about whether I wanted to continue to be involved with building small boats and sails or try my hand at something else. For the first few months, I tried satisfying my sailing urges by joining the US Sailing Center in nearby Jensen Beach, but I soon found myself doing mostly maintenance work on their large fleet of Optis and that just didn’t tickle my trigger. With my ex-Navy son just down the road and without a boat for the upcoming 2009 PDRacer World Championship near Atlanta, my course was clear: it was time to build another scow. I spent quite a bit of time doodling designs that I thought might appeal to Ryan, and the final result was hull #351, the Z-PDR.


The Z featured some departures from my PDRacer designs of the past. She was clearly meant to be a racing boat with her curved sheer, low profile, humped transom tops, wishbone rudder case, tall, raked mast, and battened PolySail. When launched, she proved lightweight and fast even though she carried only 58 sq. ft. of sail. Unfortunately, her bottom was made from Home Depot’s crappy 5mm lauan, and Ryan regularly stepped through voids or holed the bottom on the Intercoastal Waterway’s shallow bottom. A couple of skids helped with the problem, but those were not the only bashings the Z would suffer as the unlucky scow #13 in my 4’ x 8’ scow history. Read more about the development of this boat at:

http://www.polysail.com/zduck.htm and http://polysail.com/zduckupdate.htm


The Z had a foam insert for flotation and for stiffening the hull. I’ve found there is no oil-canning with a foam-reinforced hull.

Here’s a view of the Z’s Spartan cockpit and wishbone kickup rudder case. Only the hiking strap is missing in this photo.

Here is the finished hull loaded on my wheelbarrow/boat cart ready for rigging. Note her gently curved sheer.



Ryan tests his boat on the ICW as we readied for the 2009 Worlds. He would hole the bottom on his second test run, and I had to make emergency repairs shortly before leaving for Atlanta and the 2009 worlds.

At the 2009 Worlds at Allatoona Lake, Ryan placed 4th overall. He might have placed much better if I had not delayed his start in the third race by having him assist me with some repairs on Wild Duck. Still, he performed well for a rookie.

In this photo, Ryan is battling with Michael Storer in the white boat with the lug sail on a downwind run. Ryan was able to outsail Michael on this downwind run. In the background is eventual winner Shawn Payment.

Paul “Froggie” Boucher relaxes in the Z after we enjoyed a morning sail across the ICW.  Unfortunately, we relaxed too long on this beach and faced a rough passage back across the lagoon.

The Z caught a corner on a wave, pitchpoled, and was dismasted. Froggie lost his shirt, wallet, and Sailor Jerry. In spite of our efforts to save her, the Z ended her day wedged under the Hutchison Island Causeway getting  battered against this piling’s barnacles.

Here’s a photo of the starboard bow corner after the beating. Fortunately, the stout cedar framing held up and the hull was not penetrated. After considerable restoration work, the Z has been revived and former world champion Rick Landreville would sail her in the 2012 Worlds.

Rick Landreville maneuvers the Z between boats at the 2012 Worlds at Lake Arthur north of Pittsburgh, PA. Rick placed fourth overall after he and I collided in the third race.

With Ryan’s permission, I left the Z-PDR behind with Ken Sherman, one of the race organizers, for his daughter Ceci who was just learning to sail.

Ken sent me these photos a couple of months after the Worlds. It appears Ceci and the Z get along just fine. She will no doubt enjoy racing her older sister Clara who sailed her Pirahna to a 6th place finish in the Worlds.


Scows #14 and #15 were actually two “kit” PDRacers built for the 2010 Wooden Boat Show in Mystic, CT. Encouraged by Shorty Routh, designer of the PDRacer, and Carl Cramer, editor of Wooden Boat magazine, I signed up to offer two kits for the Family Boatbuilding portion of this huge event. Preparing the kits actually required the building of two complete PDRacers and all their parts, disassembling the hulls, then taking the boats to the show to be reassembled by the two families who had purchased them. Both these boats were very similar to the Z-PDR, but this time I used marine plywood throughout the hulls. Although it was a tremendous amount of work and a 2600 mile round trip, it was very satisfying to see these boats assembled and launched within the two and one-half day window of the show and, at the same time, introduce PDRacers to many of the 30,000 people who attended the show. There is more information about the construction and launching of these two boats near the end of this article: http://www.polysail.com/zduck.htm





Two nearly completed PDRacer Z-Duck Kits await loading for the trip to Mystic, CT

for the Wooden Boat Show.

Our work site at the Wooden Boat Show.  Carol Roffly and her friend Arlene built the boat in the foreground while Dean and Susan Herring completed the duck in the background. My friend Nate Carey offered invaluable assistance to the boatbuilders.

Carol takes her finished PDRacer for a sail on the Mystic River. The PDRacers were the only craft among the family boatbuilders to be finished in time to sail on Sunday. I don’t think Carol ever registered her completed PDRacer.


Scow #16 and also Hot Tub #6 was a kid’s version of the PDRacer that I built to take with me to the 2011 Worlds at Sail Oklahoma to entice some of the youngsters to try sailing. This scow was shorter and narrower than a PDR and featured an offset mast and rudder so that the boat could be sailed, rowed, or powered by a souped up trolling motor. With a little less rocker in her stern half and built with all lightweight marine plywood, Wedgie handled very well under both power and sail in her few trials. Equipped with a high-powered water gun that would shoot 50 feet, a beach chair, and a number of other kid-friendly accessories, I’m sure this little scow would have been a hit with the kids. Unfortunately, Wedgie was also a victim of the turnpike fire that consumed Wild Duck. Read more details about Wedgie’s unique construction and sail rigging near the end of this article: http://polysail.com/zduckupdate.htm


Wedgie was small enough to seem right at home for a float test in my son’s pool.

Note the big watergun/bilge pump up under the forward decking. The decking widened toward the stern to make hiking out easier.

The offset bungee cord and snotter control line kept the small sail from having a “bad tack.”  This little scow might have run away from the larger ducks.


I moped around for a couple of months after the demise of Wild Duck and Wedgie like I had just lost two good friends. My students at Indian River State College wondered why I had returned as such a grumpy old man from a few days off .You can imagine some of their whispered speculations. I was without a boat of my own for the first time since 1996. Brad Hickman’s news that he had won the 2011 Worlds with one of my PolySail lugs lifted my spirits a little, but I was still disheartened. Finally, my wife got sick of my whining and did the unthinkable. She proposed that I build another boat. Shortly thereafter, I was back at the drawing board, and Dangerous Duck was born.


I wanted to make a big splash with Dangerous Duck, so I posted some drawings and wrote a couple of articles for Shorty’s PDRacer newsletter about the build. I also posted updates on my PolySail International Facebook Page and in the 60 Sailing forum at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/60sailing/ Unfortunately, the sail business got extremely busy just as I was trying to finish her up, and I’ve been fortunate just to get her in the water for a test sail with a single big sail up. In reality, Dangerous was intended to carry on Wild Duck’s legacy as the only biplane-rigged PDRacer on the planet, but she will carry Lame Duck’s hull number #100. Dangerous Duck proved not to be so dangerous at the 2012 Worlds with me at the helm. A poor sail choice for conditions, last place starts in races 1 and 2, and an upset in the 3rd race condemned #100 to a 7th place finish overall. My reflections on this event are available on my web page in an article called 2012 PDRacer Worlds at http://www.polysail.com/2012%20Worlds.htm






Dangerous Duck is intended to be an all-out PDRacer. Built with foam flotation, cedar framing, lightweight okoume, and Europly, she weighs in at just over 70 lb. Note the three mast partner holes.

Preparing for launch. I had to borrow the rudder from the Z-PDR to test sail Dangerous Duck. The duck leeboard worked surprisingly well, but it’s mostly for show.  She might have some surprises.

I’m not exactly sure what to call this sail. It looks like a batwing up top but it has a sprit boom below. It needs tweaking, but I think it will make a good light air sail.


My next PDRacer project, PDRacer #12 and scow # 18 for me, was a joint project with the Roger Jewell family. Roger is a missionary with a home in the DR (Dominican Republic) and hoped that he and his sons could learn a little about sailing and boat building before they returned home. His plan was to complete one boat with his sons under my mentorship, then return to the DR and build three more PDRacers—one for each of his sons. Last fall I had volunteered to assist them with this worthy project, and this spring, they took me up on my offer. In about a week’s time, we completed DR Duck, just in time for Roger and the boys to load themselves and their boat on an old DC-6 that flies relief missions to the Caribbean out of nearby Ft. Pierce, FL.. I’ve since heard that their boat was holed somehow during the journey, but is now repaired and ready for use.


My son Ryan dropped over just in time to help nail the bottom on. Here he congratulates Roger and the boys-- David, Samuel, and Jessie--on their progress.

To keep costs down, we constructed this boat mostly from materials I had lying around the shop. In this case the sides and transoms had a 2mm PVC covering over a foam and wood framework.

The Jewells pose with me and their finished hull shortly before returning to their home in the DR. They were wonderful apprentices, and I was proud to be their mentor.


I am currently engaged in trying to perfect a PDRacer kit that can be mailed to novice builders. The first kit was recently completed and mailed to a father/son building team in Hoboken, NJ. The kit construction leans heavily upon what I have learned about composites, glues, and small scow construction techniques over the past sixteen years. It is slow going, however, because of the volume of polysails I’ve been building this year. A close friend from my high school years is also in line for a kit for his grandson who is stricken with cancer. Then, too, I should probably replace my son Ryan’s PDRacer. Perhaps by the end of 2012, this photo essay will have a new title as I add two and perhaps three more scows to my repertoire. Maybe the title should be To Be Continued….


The kit duck requires the customer to add some pieces such as the bottom, but most of the pieces and hardware are included in this kit which is scow #19 and PDRacer #13 for me.

Here I have disassembled the kit in preparation for mailing. I learned some difficult lessons about postal and shipping company regulations with this boat. Shipping costs amounted to over $200.

The deck on this boat is made from pre-finished all wood Brazilian cherry flooring. By narrowing the sides and changing the location of the flotation, this PDRacer (scow #20) will cost much less to mail.



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This page updated on 11/5/2012