Indiana, PA - Indiana County

PUDDLE DUCK RACERS: Boats growing in popularity

by RANDY WELLS rwells@indianagazette.net on July 01, 2012 12:00 AM

PENN RUN -- There's an old maxim that a boat is a hole in the water you pour money into.

But that's not the case with one particular class of sailboat that is growing in popularity and numbers around Indiana.

Puddle duck racers are homemade boats that require little money and time to build, but provide lots of opportunity for creativity and do-it-yourself satisfaction.

PDRs are basically rectangular box boats built primarily of plywood. They're 8 feet long, 4 feet wide and about 16 inches tall. At roughly 70 pounds they're portable enough to slide into the back of a pickup truck or even a van.

The materials to build them are available at most home supply stores, and someone with basic carpentry skills can assemble one in a couple of weekends.

"They're the cheapest way to get in the water. Somewhere between $150 and $250 and you have yourself a sailboat," said Ken Sherwood, co-chairman of the Friends of Yellow Creek, a group that promotes outdoor recreation at Yellow Creek State Park. Sherwood is also the faculty adviser for a new sailing club at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

PDRs are billed as the easiest sailboat on earth to build, and hundreds of them are in use around the world. Locally they're going to get a boost in publicity because Moraine State Park, Butler County, in August will host the world championships of PDR racing on the park's Lake Arthur. Some Indiana County PDR owners plan to compete in the world championships, and one Indiana Area Junior High student may be the youngest sailor in the races.

Their low cost, ease of construction, portability and stability on the water make these boats a popular option for many would-be sailors.

"And some people just like to take on a project," Sherwood said.

There's not a lot of additional expense once the boat is built. Owners can sail their PDRs at Yellow Creek by getting a $10 launch permit good for a whole season or a one- to seven-day permit for $5.

The Friends of Yellow Creek sponsored a hatch -- a get-together where several aspiring sailors build multiple PDRs together -- last winter, and there are now 13 PDRs around Indiana in various stages of construction, Sherwood said. The group plans to launch several of the newest boats on the Fourth of July at the lake.

Boy Scout Ean Villemain, of Indiana, built two PDRs for Friends of Yellow Creek as his Eagle Scout project, and another Scout, Luke Hamilton, who works at the Yellow Creek boat rental, built a storage rack for PDRs at the park as part of his Eagle Scout project.

Sixteen PDRs competed in races last fall at the Septemberfest at Yellow Creek State Park, and more racing is planned for this autumn's Septemberfest.

The Friends group is also working with Yellow Creek State Park to plan some "Get Outdoors PA" learn-to-sail-activities, and has created a community sailing program to allow members without boats to join in sailing the shared PDRs.

Sherwood and some IUP students are also building two PDRs for the university sailing club.

And Sherwood and his daughter, Clara, 12, who will be a seventh-grader at Indiana Area Junior High School, built a PDR for her to race at this summer's world championships.

Clara has been sailing for three years and already has a U.S. Sailing Small Boat Sailor certification.

She plans to paint teeth on the front of her PDR and name it "The Piranha" -- after her YMCA swim team.

Anyone interested in experiencing sailing in a PDR may contact the Yellow Creek park office or email friendsof yellowcreek@gmail.com.

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