by John H Wright - Bastrop, Texas - USA

Life's journey is not to 

Arrive at the grave safely 
In a well preserved body, 
But rather to skid in sideways, 
Totally worn out, shouting 
'...holy sh*t ...what a ride!'
      -George Carlin

Three of us “wackos” suspended reason for the Carlin approach to life and sailed the Texas 200.  Jason Nabors, Andrew Linn and I made the almost 200 mile journey in three versions of the PDRacer.  You will quickly notice that an 8’ boat is not, the ideal craft for such a journey.  The following is a description of my adaptations and subsequent modifications of the Puddle Duck Racer “Tricia” into the X (expedition) version, for the Texas 200.


The three PDRacers approaching the finish line of the Texas 200

click images to enlarge or play

A Texas 200 boat should have, at least, these following qualities:

  • Rugged enough to survive wind and rough water for five days.
  • The sail plan to allow for high wind and also have enough size for the possible light wind.
  • Ample dry storage for supplies.
  • Able to sail in shallow water but also sail close to the wind for the occasional beat into the wind.
  • Adequate space for sleeping in the boat as an alternative to tent camping.
  • Protection from mosquitoes and rain.
  • Shade while sailing….and not.
  • Self bailing or a large bucket for quick de watering and a sponge to keep it dry. 
  • Inherent floatation adequate for self rescuing in rough water.
  • Easy (proven) way of getting “you” back in the boat.
  • A working and proper pair of oars.
  • A proper anchor with at least 50’ of (preferably) nylon rode (rope) attached securely to the boat.    
  • The last but not least important, a COMFORTABLE seat.

The above, is, a lot to ask of an 8’ foot boat.
With good weather and luck, none of the above may be necessary. 
With bad weather and bad luck all of the above may be necessary.

Tricia and I at Camp 3 (Paul's Mott) This was a lot to ask of an 8 foot boat.

Anything can happen especially with a boat that is untested in all the possible conditions. I also brought a complete sail including mast and boom and a polytarp sail. One of the oars would just drop in an oar lock installed on the stern as a steering oar. The mast was a telescoping 12' aluminum push pole and the boom was a telescoping extension pole for a paint roller. Yes, I like a belt and suspenders (braces) when you will be 50 miles from civilization. Chuck acted as the sweep for the duckworks flock but I did not know that he would provide that service, so well.

The gear, charts and equipment that one should have will not be covered here.  The space to store it, will be.

The bottom 10” of the PDR hull is a required size and shape.  The first question is how much freeboard should be required above that.  I would recommend a minimum 16” overall height.  The chop in San Antonio Bay made me appreciate ever inch of Tricia’s 16” a few times.  This boat is a “Loaner”.

It has roller boom furling balanced lug sail with a maximum of 88 SF that can be quickly reefed in any increment down to 0 SF. It has a four square foot (off)centerboard that swings in a case on the inside of the starboard floatation chamber.  The board (weighted) has a double purchase lanyard to raise and lower.  Both the centerboard and rudder are weighted.

Above are two pictures of the roller reefing system I made. Below are two video clips - the first demonstrates raising the sail and the second shows how to reef it.

Note that the halyard is only used to raise and lower the sail.  The roller boom is used to tension the luff because of the mechanical advantage that it provides.  Luff tension is essential to the performance of a lug sail.  A non stretch halyard is very helpful.

Another interesting 8’ Expedition Boat:
Just consider claustrophobia and South Texas heat?

Other than the boating and camping gear some food and particularly water must be carried. How much?  I carried five one gallon jugs in the bow storage, intending for it to last the entire voyage.  (5 gal. x 8 lbs = 40 lbs.)  I refilled two gallons at “Fin and Feather” (+ a couple of adult beverages) at Aransas Pass. Why? My plan was to bathe with salt water and then rinse off with fresh.  I forgot that normal bar soap will not work in salt water.  It will not lather.  I found that it is hard for the crew to bathe with less than a gallon of fresh water.

Storage at the bow and Inspection Ports at the side air tank storage.

Note that the forward storage is not waterproof, just secure.  A knockdown will only submerge about 6” of the side tank and most of the bow storage will…or rather, might, stay dry.   The air tank storage is water proof in a knockdown. I have not included a picture of the many little pockets that were hanging on one side of the cockpit. Those pockets and my PFD pockets were all used to keep all of the little things like snacks, tooth brush, duct tape, small tools, sun screen, flashlight, small cord, and many other things that is convenient to keep handy.  It was really a clip-on intended for a plastic bucket that I just screwed on the side air box. The 8” inspection ports allow great access to get ones hand a long way up and down the air tank to retrieve dry gear.

The inspection port on top allows you to “see” what you want and where to reach it.   

Tricia's Rudder

The rudder survived but showed a lot of bending stress in the cheek plate.  I chose to laminate plywood to the side of the cheek plate, to eliminate that bending.  Note the up haul (or) down haul run to a jam cleat.  That helps to adjust the “feel” or balance of the rudder.   The rudder also had a basic flaw, that frightened me.  The first morning, provided a lot of wind.  I had way too much sail up and with a following sea, the boat was surfing down the waves.  It was fun and scary at the same time.  I was not yet comfortable in those conditions with this boat.  Then I noticed that the boat had about an inch of water in it!  I quickly bailed it out, dry, with a sponge.  I could see little was splashing in but not enough to justify that much water.  Where was it coming from?  Was a seam opening up?  I then decided to reef the sail a bit since we were way over powered. The wind picked up again and the waves got larger with the longer fetch and…..the water was back?  Yikes!  I was sitting right at the stern.  Facing forward, I could see the entire boat except for the transom I was sitting on.  Then I saw it!  When surfing down the waves, at the top speed, the rudder was shooting a ½” stream of water over the transom into the boat.  I figured out how to tie a Crock (the shoe) to catch the water and deflect it back into the bay.

The first morning of the Texas 200 - there was a lot of wind.

Steering the boat for +- ten hours a day makes the tiller device your focus with a virtual shackle around your wrist.  With the tiller in one hand and the main sheet in the other it is very difficult to make a cup of coffee or sandwich.  Even if you can cleat the sheet is difficult.  I will have a wind vane steering device on the next Texas 200.
Protection from the sun is right up there and above a good seat. This canopy (Bimini?) was made of some white polytarp, a drop off from the sail and three 6’ white ¼” solid fiberglass poles that are simply pushed into holes in the chine log on the side of the side air boxes.  Note that the front and back poles are tensioned and at an angle to keep the tarp taught.  The tarp can be slipped to one side or the other depending on where the sun is on a particular tack.  The picture shows it in the “sailing” position.  The “rowing” position puts the fiberglass poles in the holes in the inside of the side air boxs which raises the canopy enough to sit on the plastic bailing bucket which is my rowing seat.

My shade canopy or 'bimini'

I brought, but fortunately did not need, a mosquito net intended for hanging, suspended, over a cot.  It would just fit over the canopy. I can use the lug sail to cover the cockpit if it rains.

Would I make any other changes?   Good question!
I can’t think of anything, yet.  I have thought that it would be nice to have a mizzen sail on a cruising boat, but, not on a PDR.  There is just not enough boat or reason to justify the added complexity.  This Lug allows one sail to fit the widely varied wind conditions.  The only sail I would consider adding would be a down wind sail in the “unlikely” light wind under 8 mph.  We must try to keep up with the fleet. 

You will find my “one” moment of glory described by Kevin O’Neill here:  -  After declining a tow from Chuck Lineweber I sailed into the Padre Island Yacht Club:  “John W in the lugsailed puddleduck had a fine entry, tacking up the channel most adroitly and coming about each time about a foot from the wall or the mud bank.  Very impressive.”. I think, I heard applause but likely, not.

My one moment of glory - tacking into the Padre Island Yacht Club. Did I hear applause?

John Wright

For more information about PDRacers:

More about the Texas 200:

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