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.