Launching Six Puddle Ducks at Yellow Creek Lake, Pennsylvania USA

fleet of puddle duck racer sailboats

On July 3rd, we launched 6 new PuddleDucks at Yellow Creek Lake in Indiana County, Pennsylvania. This was the culmination of a group build that took place in Februrary and March, sponsored by the Friends of Yellow Creek, as support organization for our local state park. We built six hulls and leg-o-mutton sails together. John Bridges wrote about the Moraine Sailing Club Puddle Duck Hatch & Boat Build

Launch day invovled a certain amount of excitement and confusion. Despite the early winter start, some of the finish work happened in the last few days. We had some soft paint and sticky varnish. After the basic building, the builders were encouraged to claim their hulls from our generous garage-donor! So this was the first time all the boats were back together. Should the U-bolts face inward or outward? How do you rig that snotter again? The boom extends past the mast?

In a way, this was a picnic first and a boat launch second. We not only invited friends and family who helped build the PDRs, but anyone else we thought might have fun around our fun boats. The Independence Day gathering at Yellow Creek began a few years ago, when we'd invite water-minded friends to come out sail, paddle, and swim. So we had a crowd of perhaps 60 folks bringing food to share and ready to enjoy the perfect weather. I think this not only made the event more festive, but it introduced a lot of potential "future duckers" to our project.

Our "principle builders" mostly took the tiller for their first sails. But the conditions were calm enough that they soon had confidence to bring out family members and kids. Soon a few former sailors cued up to take their turn at the helm. "Maybe I should build one of these.... It's not too hard? And you store it upright in your garage?"

If we have a launch again next year, there are a few things we might change. First, it would be a good idea to check and standarize the rigging before launch day. It was an unhappy discovery for one ducker to find the stock he had claimed for his sprit boom from the garage wood pile was 2' short.

puddle duck rudder

Another change worth thinking about is how to best encourage first-time sailors. After our rush to rig the boats, I sat down with the new sailors and drew a diagram of the points of sail, talked them through tacking, jybing, and coming out of irons. This "information" seemed pretty helpful, and was probably as much "instruction" as you'd want at an Independence Day picnic. Obviously, the kind of DIY spirit of puddle ducking means that our novice sailors are not looking for US Sailing certification classes. At the same time, I now think it would have been a good idea to break out the sketch pad a few weeks earlier, while we were waiting for the paint to dry and enjoying a beer. One of the great things about getting into sailing by build your own PDR, is that under normal weather conditions, it's an extremely safe platform for figuring out how to sail. At the same time, finding yourself swept downwind of the picnic and not quite able to make it upwind ... in front of 60 onlookers, can make the day a little less relaxing than it should be. I've seen this too at other PDR events, where a novice ducker will shout -- "How come I'm paddling while you're able to sail back towards shore?"

It's been four years now since I began sailing again, mostly teaching myself on Yellow Creek. Many afternoons, my boat was the only one on the lake sporting a sail. So when another sail showed up, I'd make it a point to "gam" with my fellow sailor. Almost all the sailors I met, whether they trailered in their own boat or rented from the park concession, told how they learned to sail at Yellow Creek "back in the day" when there was a university sailing base active on the north shore. For those of us who sail, it's such great fun as an activity that we can't imagine why everyone doesn't sail. But it can take a little practice, perhaps some lessons, to feel comfortable; and it takes access to a boat! I'm really pleased that, inspired by the Moraine Sailing Club at nearby Lake Arthur, with the help of John Bridges, we've been able to open a few people to the fun of sailing on our local lake and doing it with friends.

All in all, I have the sense that the new duckers experienced something of wonder we all experience when the boat we've made actually floats, when the sail fills and begins to urge the boat into motion. Personally, I still feel a surge of pleasure when I pull up my new computer wallpaper -- the image of Yellow Creek dotted with sails. All the better that these boats are wooden, and that I had a hand in helping many of their owners make them.