Life from the center of the Channel - Puddle Ducks don't need windBy Thomas Mauer #537 "Water Dancer" (2ea 2ad 12ar)
This spring we built a sailboat, and discovered that good sailing days near where we live are sometimes hard to come by. However the boat we built was a Puddle Duck Racer, and ducks are meant to swim! The beauty of our little boat is that it doesn't have to be sailed to be used and where I grew up on the shores of the Mississippi River just south of St. Louis we didn't sail much anyway. Where I grew up most of our boating was done on narrow rivers and small lakes, and we were steeped in the stories of Mark Twain and how his characters lived life looking at it from the center channel
So we have a little racing scow and little wind to sail it with. In my mind this isn't a problem I live about 20 minutes from a public boat ramp on the Schuylkill river right at Valley Forge. Like Tom and Huck, Vaughan and I put our boat into the river and set out for adventure. We stepped the mast, hung our sail (rolled around the spars) against the port side, broke out the oars and started to row upriver. We did this four or five times over the summer and we learned a little of what Samuel Clements tried to tell us in his stories, that life is more interesting when viewed from the shallows and channels of the river. We would row a mile or two up river and then let the current bring us home. Sometimes, if the wind was right, we might raise the sail and let the wind help us also to the delight of paddlers sharing the river and the occasional hiker or fisherman along the banks.
In all of our river journeys we never saw another sailboat, and so we've become a regular novelty on our little stretch of the river. The coast guard volunteer at the boat ramp doesn't known my name but he knows our boat, as does a couple of regular weekend fishermen and the park rangers who patrol with their gas powered john boat. Vaughan, Dancer and I have become a part of more than a few photo albums of vacationers who spied us while visiting Valley forge.
We learned a lot this summer and high on the list is that ducks don't need wind. All a duck really needs is a couple of inches of water and crew ready for exploration and adventure. Ducks are great rowboats and seem to almost be made for exploring a narrow river. Because we only draw a couple of inches of water we can go where other boats fear to tread. We built Dancer with a heavy bottom because we thought we would be fishing in lakes and that heavy bottom thumped a sunken log and a rock or two with no problem and then gently made her way onward. The front deck of a duck is makes an excellent picnic spot, and the mast sleeve doubles as an umbrella stand. Even on the hottest days we have shade thanks to our umbrella or our sail.
We found all kinds of adventure thanks to our duck. We explored catfish island and found live freshwater mussels, and that you can walk from one bank to the other at this point with the water only coming up to your chest, fording the river just like the men of Gen. Washington's continental army did when our country was young. We found a sunken boat and tried (unsuccessfully) to salvage a cleat from it (but we plan to try again). We fished, caught frogs, minnows, crayfish (crawdads where I grew up), and tadpoles. We found the best swimming spots and met lots of interesting people along the way.
I'm glad we didn't limit ourselves to good sailing days to use our boat. Floating down river with a fishing line trailing over the transom we saw deer, hawks, ducks, geese, cranes, and turtles. Life from the center of the channel… it's the way summers were meant to be lived.