The Mersea Duck Punt – TTG

Sometime before Christmas, I happened upon a marvelous, yet unassuming little boat called the Mersea duck punt for where they sail or the Milgate duck punt for the man who developed the plans. This craft was originally designed for water fowlers to stealthily sneak up to massive flocks of ducks and geese and down as many birds as they could with a single blast of an oversized, muzzle loaded shotgun firing a pound of four gauge shot from a two inch bored barrel. Those hunts must have been quite the experience.

These modern punts dispense with the punt guns but the boat design remains the same. In the States, we would call it a pirogue. It has a flat bottom, no rudder and a 35 or so square foot sail. You steer it with an oar held over the leeward gunwale and shifting body weight fore and aft. Upwind sailing is accomplished by setting the leeward hard chine deeper into the water to gain the necessary lateral resistance. Sailing a duckpunt is different, but simple. Here’s how Dylan Winter of the “Keep Turning Left” describes his experience with the Mersea duck punt. And here’s the link to a video of that experience.

“I took the Duck punt up to the Norfolk Salt Marshes and had three wonderful days sailing it through the labyrinths. I lived on the slug and spent every tide sailing around. I had enjoyed sailing the punt on the Thames for the shake-downs but this is the sort of environment it is designed for. Sailing with the tide and defying the stream by seeking out the shallow bits. It was like chess on water – working out how to keep going – where to head for next – trying to work out where I am by taking a along a print out from google earth. It was bloody wonderful.”

“I have always been keen on shallow sailing – this is ubershallow sailing. Apologies for the stuff about birds if they are of no interest to you but laying in the duck punt, sailing with one hand while the migratory geese wheel overhead… and all in a boat that is so quick and easy to build. This was an utter revelation to me. Exploring the world in an entirely new way.” (Dylan Winter)

This isn’t something I would take on the Everglades Challenge or out in the open Chesapeake, but it would be perfect for my home waters of the Potomac and her many creeks and marshes. When the wind dies, as it often does here, it can be rowed quite handily. It’s big enough and open enough to stretch out and nap or even spend the night in our nearby heron rookery. What a grand experience that would be. I can’t do that in my kayak. The plans are free and It can be built with plywood from Lowes or Home Depot. Hmmm. Too bad I have to resurface the stairs and beadboard some walls in the next weeks… just in time to lay some sod.

Here’s a link to a FaceBook page dedicated to the Mersea duck punts and the men who mess about in them. And another link to an excellent “Small Boats Monthly” magazine article on the Milgate Duck Punt. That should give you your fill on the subject.


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11 Responses to The Mersea Duck Punt – TTG

  1. Pat Lang says:


    Congratulations. First post on “turcopolier.”

  2. Escarlata says:

    TTG, it´s you?
    Super funny there managing the sail while rowing at the same time with the other hand…
    It´s clear you are an orchest man…already clear with all those bricolage challenges you take….

    Only, take care not get tangled in the rope and falling or injuring yourself …

    • The Twisted Genius says:

      No, that’s not me. That’s one of the Mersea duck punters in southwest England. There are precious few photos of me anywhere and even fewer on the internet. Holding a sail sheet (the rope line) and a tiller (or oar in the case of the duck punts) is standard practice for single handed sailing. The punters just happen to hold both in the same hand. There are some videos of this on that FaceBook page.

  3. Escarlata says:

    Loving these avatars too…this mine is a cangejo, I guess…

  4. Tidewater says:

    Have you ever read Henry M. Plummer’s classic The Boy, Me and the Cat? If not, I think I can say with great confidence that this account of a journey down the American East coast in 1912-13 on what would later become the ICW is your cup of tea!

    Thank you for your essay. You know, that Keep Turning Left blog is interesting. So is Mersea Island, where Anthony Bailey lived. He wrote Inside Passage, a book about the ICW , which mentions Plummer. That reminded me.

    • The Twisted Genius says:

      Tidewater, I haven’t read that one, but I’ve heard it mentioned several times. I just read a few preview pages on Amazon. It’s immensely interesting and readable. I like his reliance on a barometer for weather predictions and hit or miss cooking adventures. That’s life on the edge. Sure beats the electronics aided sailing of today. I’ll definitely get it now.

      I have read “A Thousand Miles in a Rob Roy Canoe” by John MacGregor about journey on the lakes and rivers of Europe on a sailing canoe/kayak. You might like that.

      • Tidewater says:

        Thanks. I will look for it. I want to add that Anthony Bailey, who is not well known, is a very interesting writer. He was a great sailor, and wrote several books about cruising New England waters. He also wrote a book about Stonington, Connecticut, one on the Outer Banks and of course the one I mentioned about the ICW. He also made a long hike through Wales and told about that. The one that fascinated me, was a journey , walking and by car, which stemmed from his curiosity about the Iron Curtain. He travelled the whole thing. This one is called “Along the Edge of the Forest.” It is said to be insightful about how Germans coped with the Divide. (And got across.) I am curious now to see what he said about Berlin. I had not gotten there back when this book came out and I wasn’t that interested in what he said when I hadn’t actually seen it.

        So given Bailey’s apparent interest in what I might dub ‘the fens’ and the life of the’ fen people’–I suppose that would include Cambridge–which is the world of the marshes, very high tides, and the big sky, like the marshes of Glynn in Georgia, or the ones I know in SC –it intrigues me that Bailey then brought out a series of books about some of the ARTISTS who painted this watery world he knew so well. On the coast of East Anglia there is a saying that on a very low tide you can walk to Holland. So it is not surprising that he also brought out two books about the Netherlands, one a guide book and one a history. Vermeer, Rembrandt and the English Turner are some of the painters he wrote about, as I remember. It seems to me that it might be quite interesting to learn what he recognizes as true insights these denizens of the fens, as it were, had into that world. In the watercolors of Alice Huger Smith which seem to show scenes from the Waccamaw region of South Carolina, I have noticed she catches the smoke on a still winter’s morning rising absolutely straight up from, say, the chimbley of a sharecropper’s dwelling. Or the many shades of brown in the low country piney woods…

  5. Martin Oline says:

    This looks interesting. I always wanted a sea kayak but since, moving to Florida, the occasional plague of red tide and algae has deterred me from buying one. The desire is still there to get out on the water.

    • The Twisted Genius says:

      Martin, That red tide and blue-green algae is getting to be a serious problem in Florida. Still, it not everywhere and not all the time. Go for that kayak. With a sprayskirt and some paddle practice, they are quite seaworthy.

      When I came back from Germany, I thought I would be windsurfing all the time on the nearby Potomac River. Once I saw how nasty the river was around DC, the idea of windsurfing in the river no longer appealed to me. Kayaking is fine. I don’t end up in the water doing that.

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