History of the Puddle Duck Racer

David Shorty Routh at the helm

My Sailing History

When I was 6 months old, my mother put me in a laundry basket, and took me aboard my grandfather's sailboat, and I have been sailing ever since. Growing up, I helped my grandfather work on his boats and every summer my sister and I would go on long cruises with him on the great lakes.

After moving out on my own, I developed a bit of an obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to sailboats, I have owned over 100 of them in all sizes and shapes, and to this day have never seen a sailboat that I didn't like. I have pulled many boats from the trash and restored them, and have even salvaged a sunken boat.

International Moth Class - Major Inspiration

The Moth class has been around for a long time, it was started in 1929. They all use the same sail, but allow members to build any type of mono hull up to 11 feet long. They have developed and evolved some fascinating concepts of hull shapes in their efforts to win on the race course, especially in the early days. Some shapes were really good for a certain weather condition, and horrible in others, while some hulls tried to be a compromise to perform good in all weather conditions - the compromise being the extreme hulls could beat them when the weather was extreme.

The modern day moths are fairly similar looking to each other, and they seem to have split into 2 groups: one that allows hydrofoils (lifting foils), and the other that prohibits them. I considered starting a local fleet of moths, but the modern moths are very expensive, and to stay competitive you need to purchase hulls and a lot of gear. I have always been a cheap, do it yourself kind of guy so I never tried, but have always liked the ideas of their class, and they were a huge inspiration for the concept of our class.
International Moth Class Association

Jim Mickalak's "Secret Guide To Plywood Boat Design"

Jim Michalak is a retired missle design engineer, and also a world famous plywood boat designer. To learn about designing boats, I started by reading his book: The Secret Guide To Plywood Boat Design. I swear, I am not joking -- back in the day, Jim used to sell a manual about how to design boats, and that was the title. That manual explained everything (in plain english) of how to design boats from scratch, and it taught me enough that I could read and understand other more complicated boat design books.

I then went on a spree of getting and reading as many boat design books as I could find. Some were complicated, some easy to read, some were just a bunch of fluff or data that was not usable for what I was interested in building and sailing. Jim's design manual is no longer available, but Jim currently sells a book that has extensive instructions on how to build any type of plywood boat. For more info, see:
Sailboat and Boat Building Books

Mouseboat Group

The Mouseboat group was created by Gavin Atkin who has a definition of what is considered a "mouse". Back when he was writing that definition, I had the luck of being a sounding board for him, and we talked about various aspects of what would fit inside or outside the parameters of what would be considered a mouseboat. The final definition Gavin decided on in pretty neat, it is loose enough that you can create a large variety of hull shapes, but definitive enough that when you look at a boat, you can immediately tell if it would fit and be called a "mouseboat".

Gavin also produced many free plans for different types of mice, so you can build to the plans, or use them as the basis to create your own version of a mouse. I belonged to the group and created a version called the Flats Rat Kayak. Many of the mouse boats designs are included in Gavin's book. See: Sailboat and Boat Building Books

With Gavin's permission, I tried promoting the idea of racing mice, but the idea flopped. Gavin also let me know that earlier he had proposed the same thing, and it didn't take off then either. The group is mostly focused on building a variety of mouse variations, attending messabouts, and they have no interest in racing.

The $50 Sailboat Race

I used to help run Tim Webber's messabout at Lake Conroe, near Houston Texas and dreamed up the $50 Sailboat Race. The sailboat you bring, needs to be built with materials that total $50 or less, and you can't use anything from a real sailboat. The race is run by towing all the boats up wind to an anchored boat, where everyone holds onto a line. Start the race with everyone letting go, and the first to sail (or drift) back to the starting beach wins. We talked about it months in advance, taunting each other on who would be the fastest, who would sink first, hinting at what secret designs we were building.

Nine boats showed up on race day, and we finally saw what the others had created. Some where fast designs, some where slow, some where built from only free materials. I made my boat from a junk hot tub shell that I found at the dump. When the race started, I threw water balloons at everyone before they could sail away from me. (my boat was so slow, I eventually had to be towed in). I brought trophies for every place, and after they were passed out, we all yearned for more.

Having another race was sort of pointless because the results would have been the same - we each built the designs we were excited about, but their performance was so different that they would predictably sail back in the same order again. Pandora's box had been opened: this was incredibly fun in that we could build interesting stuff really cheaply, go play with it on the water together and have a fun time in the form of a light hearted sailboat race.

This new club needs to be created

I have belonged to a number of yacht & conventional sailboat racing clubs and never really fit in very well. I like building boats, going to and organizing messabouts, but enjoy racing too, and really wanted to combine them. Racing gives purpose to get together, and to continually work and improve boats. To keep it fun and light hearted, the boats need to be cheap and easy to build. I had looked and a club like that simply did not exist. I realized that if I didn't do it, then it just wasn't going to happen. So I created the PDRacer club, exactly like the type of club I want to belong to.

Launching the class

When creating a new sailboat class, there are a lot of possibilities for the types of hull shapes that can be used. After a lot of thought, a box boat type hull was clearly the best solution. For more info, see designing the PDRacer. In July 2002, I built the flats rat and spent a year a testing it out. For the rat, instead of using the mouseboat rocker, I used design concepts presented in the Moth class to create my own hybrid rocker shape. Later this same rocker shape would be used for the PDRacer. In July of 2003, I released the rocker for the Puddle Duck and the first set of rules, of which there were only 4:

1 - All boats must use the above section for the sides
2 - All boats must be atleast 48" wide across the bottom
3 - All boats must have enough emergency flotation to be self rescued
4 - All boats must have flat parallel sides

First Racing Season

I was still deep in other boat projects, and was going to build the first pdracer, right after finishing a previous boat which was almost done.

My friend Doug Day decided he couldn't wait, and built the first PD and announced it was 3D on Jan 8, 2004. I was still finishing up the other boat, tempted to stop and build a PD, but just wanted to finish up the other project first.

Ken Abrahams, another one of my friends, saw that Doug built a PD and so built one also, announcing it went 3D on Jan 14, 2004.

Kicking myself for not building the first one, and even missing the 2nd hull number, I dropped everything and built hull #3, which went 3D on Feb 5th, 2004.

On Feb 28th, 2004 we had our first puddle duck race at Lake Woodlands Texas, just North of the Lake Woodlands Dr. bridge. The three of us met and our friend Wayne Yeargin brought another boat to act as the committee boat. Starting the race, we happened to cross in the order that the hulls were built. Doug was able to start first, the home page picture (with the big duck on the side of the boat) was taken just as Ken in #2 was crossing the start line. You can just barely see a white spot ahead of the luff of his sail, that is a chlorox bottle. That bottle and Wayne's anchored boat made the start line.

Hearing about the fun we were having, others started building pdracers both locally and long distances away. We had a total of 7 duckers participate locally in that first racing series and held our first world championship at the end of the season which was won by Ken Abrahams, who built hull #2.

At the time of our first championship, a total of 16 pdracers had been built, most of them were in Texas or Louisiana, but the 16th was built in Ireland making us an international club. Since then duckers have been building our boats around the world and spreading the fun & joy of what we do.

Plans For the Future

The class rules are a simple explanation that defines what our concept is, so we have something that voluntarily binds us together to create fair competitions and pursue our motto. As you can see from above, there were only 4 original rules and today we have more. I have made changes along the way, but if you read our current rules and compare with the original 4 above, hopefully you will agree with me that they mean the same thing. I have added or re-worded rules to clarify what they mean and resolve issues (like the rocker shape cheating) to further protect the original hull shape and concept of our class.

For the direction of the class, my hope is that the compromise of rules that we currently have will accomodate both highly competitive serious competition PLUS accomodate simple / cheap / easy competitions & events at the same time. Most other sailboat classes evolve into expensive and restrictive type clubs, we will avoid this problem because we are different: arms race

There is never going to be a rules committee. A committee would only mess with the rules, change things based on their whim of the day and create restrictions on how we are allowed to play with our boats. I have proven over time that I am very stubborn, hate change and would like to keep our current concept indefinately. When I die, my kid is ready to pickup and carry on the task of defending the rules & simple concept of our class.

My personal goals, I would really like to see our membership rise to 10,000+ hulls with matching sailing events and fun activities everywhere. The Sunfish and Laser have passed those numbers, so it is attainable, just a matter of figuring out how to get there. I'd like to keep it a free club & free membership concept like it is today, the challenge is funding the maintenance cost of operating the club plus trying to get additional funds to promote the class. The way I raise funds is by selling HIN plates.

Lets Make The Future Happen

Together we can spread the joy of designing, building, then sailing & racing a boat you build yourself, and then getting friends to do the same and come join you. I could write thousands of words to try and describe what an incredible feeling it is to accomplish this, but no matter what I write, it would not accurately convey what it feels like. It is something that can only be experienced first hand. With your help, together we can make these incredibly fun times happen.

David "Shorty" Routh