PolySail International

High Performance/Low Cost Sails for Small Sailboats

 

 

2012 PUDDLE DUCK RACER WORLDS

LAKE ARTHUR, PENNSYLVANIA, USA

(A PolySail Dave Perspective)

 

By Monday morning July 30, I was just about packed. My son Ryan had helped me load and tie down the two PDRacers on his Harbour Freight trailer the previous day. The trailer had new tires, a new sticker on the license plate, and freshly greased wheel bearings. Ry also made certain that I had a fire extinguisher aboard this year after last year’s disastrous fire burned up two of my boats en route to the 2011 Worlds. My clothes and tools were already aboard the CRV as were two large plastic containers of sails in various stages of completion for the presentation I had offered to do on polytarp sailmaking. I loaded all the masts and sails on the rooftop carriers for #100 Dangerous Duck and #351 Z-PDR then stowed the food and drink ice chests so they would be readily accessible for the 1100-mile road trip from Port St. Lucie, Florida, to Moraine State Park in western Pennsylvania, a few miles north of Pittsburgh.  

 

My journey would take me several hundred miles up I-95 from south Florida through Georgia to Savanna where I would slog across South Carolina into the foothills of the Appalachians then into western North Carolina where I would spend the first night in a Comfort Inn. This particular Comfort Inn left me feeling a little uncomfortable when I found a dead roach in the bathroom the next morning. About 6:00 am I headed out into the early morning mist and was soon through western Virginia and into the fog-shrouded mountains of West Virginia. US 19, the Mountaineer Expressway, is the key link over the Appalachians between I-77 and I-79 and was at once both the most difficult and the most breathtaking part of the journey. With the wind resistance from the tarp-covered trailer carrying ducks stacked two high, the Honda struggled on the steep grades and gulped more gas than I had ever seen it use before. On the other hand, there were views that inspired memories of rafting on the New River and visiting remote schools in WV coal country where mine shutdowns often meant over 90% of a county’s workforce would be unemployed. I remember seeing a few shoeless school children in these hills back when I provided technical assistance on federal programs to states and high poverty school districts under a contract with the US Department of Education.  

 

Sunrise in the Appalachian foothills.

The New River Gorge Bridge, the longest arch span in the western hemisphere.

The New River brought back memories of two rafting trips down through the class 4 rapids. On one trip, Ryan was tossed over my head and out of the raft into the rapids. Fortunately, our guide got a paddle to him and we pulled him back aboard.

A set of stairs goes down almost 200 feet to the observation deck. Going back up is a good way to raise your heart rate.

 

More than a few times on this long haul, I found myself questioning my own sanity. I’m not certain, for example, that I would put on a resume that for recreation I drive long distances to mess about with 4’ x 8’ scows powered by tarps. I cringe at the thought of being confronted by the IRS for an explanation of a large annual expenses for tarp sail sales, travel, and R and D involving small wood boats called Puddle Ducks. In fact, I struggle to explain this passion for small scows to my wife, so I’m a dead duck for sure if I have to explain it to anyone who might sit in judgment of my senior years’ activities. In this case, however, it was commitment driving me. For the last 16 years or so, I’ve championed the idea that tarps make decent sails for small boats. Now, with some help from fellow Puddle Duck racers and some sympathetic publishers, I think the concept that tarp sails can offer some level of competitive performance for a minimal price is gaining traction― at least in the “lumberyard” home sailboat building community. If tarp sails could dominate a developmental class like the Puddle Duck Racer, I reasoned, that might help push the idea of polytarp sails over the top into other classes of sailing competition and cruising, and maybe just replace some of those lost retirement funds most of us seniors have suffered.

 

So, seeing that winds were supposed to be light this time of year on Lake Arthur, I thought my light boats with big sails just might have a chance of winning for PolySail International, especially with a former champ like Rick Landreville sailing one of our two boats. Two consecutive years of polytarp victories would go a long way in convincing disbelievers, I thought. Besides, I needed a sailing break from constructing sails and fulfilling orders.

 

About 4:00 pm. on Tuesday, GPS eventually led me to the south shore of Lake Arthur where John Bridges’ team had arranged for “duck guides” to lead non-local duckers to the primitive camping site at Muskrat Cove. By Tuesday evening only a handful of duckers had arrived and set up camp. I met Paul Helbert whom I had raced against in 2009. Richard Frye, an online buddy, was also there with Wet Rooster and his friend Chrissie Chojnicki and her Pink Pearl. Todd McBride, a local steel worker and representative from the sailing club, was there to facilitate all our needs. Todd was always on site and ready to serve, and I think he deserves commendation for a job well done, even brewing me coffee every morning when he saw that I brought no cooking equipment. I crashed early on Tuesday evening and slept soundly until well after daylight Wednesday.

 

The duck marks the entrance to Muskrat Cove about a half –mile further on.

The “official site” for immigrating ducks.

Muskrat Cove was an excellent primitive campsite.

Todd stands with Dan Bickel, the Chief Ranger, who brought in an extra load of firewood on the front end loader.

It didn’t hurt that Dan was a “ducker” too.

The “facility” was a bit deceptive. Inside was a flush toilet and tile floor.

Our launch site at Muskrat Cove was down a small hill with its own newly-created beach and small dock for the chase boat.

 

On Wednesday, August 1, the campground began filling up. Scott Widmier and Steve Gully drove up in Steve’s camper from Georgia. Scott brought along his #104 EC Duck while Steve offered up #415 Mystery2, a cuddy-cabined duck powered by a windsurfer rig that proved to be faster than expected. Ken Sherwood, a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, arrived with his two delightful daughters Clara and Ceci and two ducks, Ken’s #529 PHDabbler and Clara’s #694 Piranha. Ceci would also leave with a boat before the event was over. By evening Muskrat Cove was beginning to fill up. John Bridges, the 84-year-old boatbuilder responsible for bringing the Worlds to Lake Arthur, appeared briefly to greet participants, then left again with Todd for Pleasant Valley, the site of the Regatta, to do some additional planning with Regatta staff. Tom Mauer came in late with Water Dancer and a tent that looked like it could hold 50 Viking warriers and their ship. He had it set up in little more time than it took the piper to call us to the evening feast. Dan Smith from Mitchell, Indiana, Al Huntley, a lugsail customer from Mercer, PA, Kevin Widany from McKeesport, PA, and several other duckers also joined us during the late afternoon.

 

A few of us had opportunities to test our boats Wednesday in very light airs. More often than not, the winds would die and Todd would have to come tow us back to camp. I had the biplane sprit rig up for the first time, but found the performance so puzzling, that I opted for a single sprit rig for the cruise scheduled for Thursday.

 

Mystery 2 and EC Duck were nearly inseparable. They were last seen leaving together for Georgia.

I couldn’t identify these ducks, but they obviously like being together too.

Ken Sherwood helps his daughter Clara and a friend launch Piranha. Ceci, Ken’s youngest daughter stands next to her dad.

A piper appears in the background calling us together for the evening meal. The Z-PDR in the foreground awaits Rick Landreville’s appearance on Thursday.

Wednesday evening we enjoyed a banquet of barbeque and covered dishes courtesy of the local sailing club members.

The Puddle Duck cake featured a forward raking mast and thick, delicious chocolate air boxes. It couldn’t hold up to the battering it took from hungry duckers.

 

Thursday was to be a full day with a sail up to the north to Pleasant Valley at 10:00 am to meet local duckers who were gathering there, then a sail of about another mile or so to a site near the sailing club for lunch at 1:00 pm. After lunch at about 3:00 pm we were to launch for yet another marina where there was a banquet hall set for dinner. I was a little out of synch with the cruise activities because I still needed to set up the Z-PDR for Rick. The boat had only been unloaded from the trailer and not rigged. Rick was flying into Akron, Ohio, from British Columbia, Canada, to participate. Tom Mauer had mentioned that he had received an email from Rick saying that he would arrive Thursday, and I didn’t want to leave him without a boat if he arrived late, so I got help from Todd to move the boat down to the water and stayed behind to rig up the Z when others left at 9:00 am. Once the boat was rigged, Todd towed me over to Pleasant Point where our Muskrat Cove group had been joined by a few local sailors for the leisurely downwind run to the sailing club.

 

I had switched from the sprit biplane rig to a single 55 sq. ft. sprit for the day, not knowing what the late afternoon might bring in the way of wind. I had tested Dangerous Duck with the single sprit earlier and found her easy to handle and predictable with the lone sprit up and her “Dangerous Duck” leeboard. I hoped to find out how she would point with her weighted “race” leeboard, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. Winds were still light when Todd towed me to Pleasant Point. There I had a chance to chat with George Uehling, a young member of the local sailing club who had rigged his orange-striped #719 with a towering 76 sq. ft. Laser rig. Once he launched, it was clear who would lead the local competition. It was also clear to me that I would need a lot more sail for the downwind runs to be able to keep pace with George.

 

This photo, taken on Saturday, shows George Uehling’s #719. George was trying to repair a persistent leak around his canted dagger board.

Participants gather for another meal of subway sandwiches graciously provided by John Bridges and others. Chrissie Chojnicki, who was injured and couldn’t sail her boat, fetched the lunch for the hungry sailors.

We counted 13 boats for lunch. Look at the sail variety! My little yellow 55 sq. ft. sprits’l at the far end was dwarfed by some of the larger sails.

Ducks begin leaving for the long sail back to Muskrat Cove.

With little wind, most boats opted for a tow. Here I ride in the bow with Rick and Todd towing two boatloads of kids.

By nightfall, I have re-rigged Dangerous Duck with my light wind batwing for Saturday’s race. Bad choice!

Headed downwind, I couldn’t keep up with most boats carrying over 70 sq. ft. of sail. That included George and several others. On the other hand I was competitive with those boats carrying the usual 60-65 sq. ft. of sail. At lunch, Rick showed up at the sailing club and mentioned that he had been to Muskrat Cove and “landsailed” the 67 sq. ft. partially-battened shoulder o’ mutton I had rigged for the Z, but that it was not working for him. That meant that there were potentially two boats to be re-rigged for Saturday’s trials. In addition, I still had some prep work to do for my presentation on Saturday morning. Given those issues, I decided that I had better skip the evening meal and sail straight back to camp.

 

Returning upwind, the little sprit performed flawlessly. George’s #719 was the only boat I couldn’t catch with my little sprit. It pointed extremely well, and I was well ahead of most of the boats when I turned for Muskrat Cove and they sailed on around a point to the marina.

 

Returning to camp, I took a last look at Weather Underground’s prediction for Saturday. With a 9 mph wind prediction for the group I was in for the 2:00 pm race, I thought that the 70+ sq. ft. fully battened batwing might give me the best shot at staying alongside George and others in the predicted winds. If I could make it to the finals, I figured I could use the single sprit or another small sail I had for the screaming winds predicted for Sunday’s finals. Back at camp, I re-rigged Dangerous Duck and pondered what to do with Rick’s boat and my presentation on polytarp sailbuilding. Finally, I decided that I would pull the 67 sq. ft., 3.1 oz. “Ghost” leg o’ mutton from the presentation materials and see if that might be more to Rick’s liking. As I was finishing up with my own sail, Todd returned to collect me for the banquet in the chase boat. I protested, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer, and we motored back up the lake to the banquet hall. 

 

During dinner, I discussed the “Ghost” leg o’ mutton option with Rick, and we agreed to go with that sail configuration on the Z for the next day’s race, trying out the sails in the early morning. Once we returned to camp, I began to hear rumors of much stronger winds Saturday and possible thunderstorms and high winds on Sunday. With participation much lower than expected because of the weather, some participants began lobbying John Bridges to consolidate the field into one group of ducks racing all three races on Saturday to produce a champion.

 

By Saturday morning, it had become clear that racing on Sunday would be too dangerous for most PDRacers and that the three-race format would probably be the best option. The only real question at that point was what Saturday’s weather would be like in the afternoon and what sail configuration would be best for conditions. Rick and I went out to test sails about 8:30 am, and we were both satisfied with our rigs if the lighter conditions held.

 

Back at the campgrounds, I made arrangements for Ken’s daughters to sail Dangerous Duck over to the race launch site. I needed to drive over there with the materials for the sailmaking demonstration, and I was worried about being caught short on time if I had to come back to the campsite, then sail myself to the race site at Pleasant Valley.

 

The Regatta was a real carnival. There were hundreds of vendors, boats, and things going on, and the PDRacer Worlds were just a piece of that action.

 

The police kept a watchful eye on the Regatta from atop a small hill.

A wood canoe vendor

 Another view from “cop hill.”

The Puddle Duckers’ piece of the beach. I had my demo sails laid out for the polytarp sailmaking demo, but mostly I just handed out folders with instructions.

We had all our ducks in a row. I can identify my boats and the laser duck from the sails. Dangerous Duck’s  battened batwing stands out.

This Viking duck was an interesting concept. All the pieces were removable for the race.

 

My polytarp sailmaking demonstration didn’t draw any takers early in the morning. I handed out a few brochures with sailmaking instructions then wandered around to take photos as the local duckers started coming in to unload their boats. A look at some of the sails made me wonder if some of the boats would be able to make the first mark, or in some cases, even the starting line. In the meantime, winds were constantly building, and the 9 mph prediction was beginning to look more like 12-15 mph. We would be sailing upwind to the first mark, then running downwind with only a slight jibe between the second and third marks, then beating back upwind to the finish. Three races with just a few minutes between each would decide the championship. I was beginning to wish that I had just left the small sprit rigged instead of switching to the big batwing, but it was too late to change now.

 

At about 1:00 there was a brief captain’s meeting with about 20 captains in attendance, and by 1:30 some of the boats were beginning to launch for the 2:00 pm start.  Just from the maneuvering, it was easy to tell who had race experience, and who would be competitive. I speculated that only about 10 boats would really be among those racing. I was hoping to be among them.

 

When the 5 minute horn sounded, I set my watch for the start and sailed back and forth with other boats behind the start line. The 1 minute horn caught me by surprise at about 3 minutes by my watch, and I knew I was badly out of position, and when the starting horn sounded shortly thereafter, I was among the last boats to start and there was no catching the leaders. In fact, as I tacked upwind, most of the leaders were well on their way to the third mark. The upwind beat seemed to take forever, and when I finally rounded the mark, there was the sudden pig rooting of the bow transom that I’d heard about, then I was up and flying downwind with the big batwing doing what it was supposed to do by catching the wind up high. I made up some ground on several boats, and it seemed like only a couple of minutes until I was rounding the third mark. Tacking upwind to the finish line, I caught a few more boats and finished about 7th in the first race.

 

After the captain’s meeting, ducks began launching and testing their wings.

The committee boat arrives at the start line and the “racing” ducks begin to prowl the line.

Here I am at the far left, badly out of position for the start of race 1. I think the mark is behind the boat with the Tyvek lug.

At this point I still haven’t crossed the start line, and the leaders are out of sight beginning to round the first mark. Ouch!

Here I am catching the boat with the green leg o’ mutton, but I think this is about the last photo where my youthful photographer centered on the race.

Regatta boats motoring through the course were a problem. I recall almost hitting this boat.

 

The second race was more of the same for me. I was over the line early for the start and had to cycle back over the line. However, no one on the committee boat apparently saw me, so I had to circle back over the line a third time before I could officially start. I think I improved slightly to 6th in this race.

 

In the third race, I finally got the start I wanted and was among the first across the line flying near the head of the flock on a starboard tack with Ken Sherwood just behind me where I couldn’t tack until he did. Finally, Ken tacked and I immediately followed. Just as I tacked, I saw Rick Landreville in the Z bearing down on me off my starboard bow, and I knew he hadn’t seen me. I yelled, but too late. We both veered the same way, and my mainsheet caught on his cleat, and over I went. Rick stayed upright, but when he tried to continue, I saw he was still caught on my sheet. I swam over and released the snag, and he was away. Meanwhile, I was contemplating how I was going to get Dangerous Duck upright and finish the race. I had my life jacket on, so I was in no immediate danger, but I couldn’t quite reach the leeboard to pull the boat upright. If I had worked my way around to the other side and released the leeboard bungee, I probably would have been able to swim back around, catch the board, and right the boat. But I was concerned about the leaders getting away, so I accepted help from Todd in the rescue boat, and clamored aboard. By lifting the tip of the mast, Richard Frye was able to flip the boat back up easily, and because of its foam flotation, #100 came back up with less than 2” of water inside.

 

Todd and Richard asked if I wanted to continue, and I said that I did, so I hopped back in the boat and finished the race without further incident but well back in the standings. I haven’t seen the final standings yet, but I believe that I finished eighth overall, an improvement of two places over my 2009 finish, and probably not too bad for an old fart. But the irony of Rick and I taking each other out of the third race when I was furnishing both boats for the race was not lost on us or others. We had a good laugh about it at the campfire later that night. Here are the results, as I remembered them at the time. The official results follow:

 

1. George Uehling # 719 PA (production 76 sq. ft. laser sail. Agile young local club sailor in a 120 lb. boat. Won 2 of 3 races.)

2. Steve Gully #415 GA (production windsurfer sail and jib, ? sq. ft. Agile middle aged club sailor in a heavy boat which pointed well.)

3. Ken Sherwood #529 PA (balanced lug from a PolySail Kit, probably about 75 sq. ft. Big local guy in a heavy boat.)

4. Rick Landreville # 351 BC, Canada (PolySail 3.1 oz., 70 sq. ft. leg o' mutton. Near knockdown in race 3 stopped him. By race 3 the bamboo mast had slipped past its node downward 6"-8" into its aluminum base. This caused the sail to lose shape since no downhaul could be used to
straighten the luff)

5. Scott Widmier #104 GA (homemade roller reefed lug sail, probably about 65 sq. ft. Broken tabernacle in race 1. Big guy in the heavy EC Duck. Club sailor)


6. Clara Sherwood #694 PA (homemade polytarp leg o' mutton, 60 sq. ft. Agile young Opti sailor weighing about 80 lbs. I'm guessing. We competed about equally until the last race.)

7. Tom Mauer # 537 PA (homemade polytarp lug sail, about 65 sq. ft. Big guy, heavy boat.Tom sailed well all day, I thought.)

8. Dave Gray #100 FL (PolySail 5.2 oz. battened batwing with sprit boom, 76 sq. ft. Bad starts and a knockdown in race 3 sent me to the rear of the pack and I couldn't quite catch up with Tom at the finish line in race 3. Lots of twist in the sail didn't help it point well. Fairly heavy guy in a light boat.)

9. Al Huntly # 672 PA (PolySail 6.0 oz. balanced lug, 75 sq. ft., sailed reefed @ 50 sq. ft. First racing experience. Fairly big guy, heavy boat.)

 

About 10 boats participated that were listed as tied for 10th place because they did not finish one of the three races.

 

PUDDLE DUCK RACER 2012 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP OFFICIAL RESULTS

NAME

RACE 1

RACE 2

RACE 3

TOTAL

FINISH

George Uehling

1

1

4

6

1

Steven Gully

3

2

2

7

2

Ken Sherwood

5

5

1

11

3

Rick Landreville

4

3

5

12

4

Scott Widmier

F-11

4

3

18

5

Clara Sherwood

6

7

5

18

6

David Gray

7

6

8

21

7

Cheryl Burmester

8

8

6

22

8

Ugo DeSilva

2

F-16

9

27

9

Matt Baumer

F-11

9

10

30

10

Thomas Mauer

F-11

13

7

31

11

Dave Zeager

9

F-16

F-12

37

12

Alfred Huntley

F-11

14

F-12

37

13

John Bridges

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Richard Frye

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Ashley Dunkle

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Mike Instone

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Jim Jackson

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Cindy Fisher

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Hull 658

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Tina Dinkle

F-11

F-16

F-12

39

14

Carla Phillips

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

James Farris

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

Rebecca Kanar

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

Kevin Widany

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

Donald Smith

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

Thomas Kocher

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

Ken Andrews

DNC

DNC

DNC

 

 

F means Did Not Finish. DNC means Did Not Compete.

 

 

The highlight of the event for me of the 2012 Worlds, though, was when Ken Sherwood’s youngest daughter Ceci came up and thanked me for letting her sail my boat over to the race. She gave me a hug, and I just melted. That night I called my son Ryan and asked if it would be okay to leave #351 behind. It was hard to pull two boats behind the CRV through the mountains, and besides the boat was beginning to show its age, etc. He seemed a little puzzled, but said it would be okay. Now, Ken’s daughters both have boats and I have an excuse to build another PDRacer when the sail business slows this winter.

 

Ken sent me these photos a couple of months after I had returned to Florida. The photos confirmed that leaving the Z-PDR behind was absolutely the right thing to do.

 

Ken Sherwood steadies the boat while his daughter Ceci gets ready to try out the Z, now renamed the Zeppelin

 Ceci heads out on her own. Well, not quite. Ken was nearby in the PH Dabbler.

Ceci proves to be a fast learner.  Look at that balance!  I wouldn’t be surprised to see her competing in the Worlds in a couple of years.

Dad and daughter head in after a good day of sailing.

 

 

 

 

Hull #351, Z-PDR.   Placed 4th in both the 2009 and 2012 PDRacer Worlds.

Sailed by Ryan Gray in 2009, and by 2010 World Champion Rick Landreville in 2012.

 

For additional history on #351 Z-PDR, click on the links below:

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

 

 

 

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This page updated on 11/5/2012