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by Dave Gray – Port St. Lucie, Florida - USA

Part One - Part Two - Part Three

I started building 4’ x 8’ scows not long after I built my first Cartopper in 1996. In this photo essay, I have attempted to capture why I am so intrigued with these little boats and the seemingly endless variations that are possible.  As of this writing, I have had a hand in constructing 18 of these small scows for myself and as a mentor for others. Hopefully some of these photos and comments about these 18 builds will encourage others to try their hands at building one of these easily-constructed and inexpensive small craft on their own or with friends. Perhaps, like me, they will find boatbuilding to be a lifelong hobby and an entry to the worlds of sailing, fishing, cruising, exploring, and/or just messing about in boats.

The first two scows I constructed I modeled roughly after the Bolger/Payson Skimmer that was featured in Dynamite Payson’s book, Build the New Instant Boats. The photo that sold me showed the Skimmer powered by a 9.9 hp Merc zipping across a lake throwing triple rooster tails from her full-length skids. According to Dynamite, Phil Bolger claimed these three skids provided considerable lift to the little boat while keeping the little scow from going airborne and doing a slow somersault every time she encountered a good-sized wave. I used the study plans in Dynamite’s book to build hull #1, seen below with an electric motor at one of the early Lake Monroe, IN messabouts.

There was at least one sharpie and a 16’ wooden runabout restoration before the next little scow was constructed. I decided to build scow #2 from Styrofoam to make it easier for me to throw a boat in the bed of my pickup and go fishing in thin waters. By this time I had started to deviate from the Skimmer design with narrower hulls, different transom angles, and wider twin skids. But these designs, which I called Hot Tubs, were all basically little fishing boats for small Indiana lakes, rivers, and back waters. You can read more details about these boats at

Hot Tub #1 at Lake Monroe, IN. A conservation officer informed me that I needed to register my trolling-motor powered “tub.”
This Styrofoam box became Hot Tub #2 with the help of a little polyurethane glue, some bamboo skewers, fiberglass, and duct tape to hold things in place until the glue set.
#2 was a lightweight at a finished weight of about 45 lb. With its thin lauan covering over foam, it appeared to be heavily built, and spectators at the ramps were often amazed to see me launch it by tossing it several feet into the water.
Hot Tub #4 had removable wheels and was only 40” wide. I couldn’t find a photo of  the original #3 which I built for my niece to use on her familiy’s farm pond.
#4 got a workout at a Michigan messabout from a tunnel hull builder who tried her with a couple of his engines. With a 5 hp she could get up on a plane and really fly.
#4 also was the first Hot Tub to be tried with a sail. With no rocker aft, she wasn’t much of a sailboat.
Hot Tub #5  was the 4’ x 8’ version of a racing Chris Craft.  Built from good luaun, she had an inner shell of Styrofoam, go-cart steering components, and a swiveling adjustable plastic seat.
I was a Tony Stuart fan back when he was racing for Home Depot at the Brickyard, so this boat took on his NASCAR theme.
She looks pretty impressive with the 5 hp Briggs hanging off the transom, but I never did test her with that engine.  Read more about this little scow here:

Sometime before I built Hot Tub #5 and a couple of other boats, I became interested in David “Shorty” Routh’s PDRacer, a sailing version of a 4’ x 8’ scow.  I still had the mast, boom, sail, and foils from my Cartopper, the first boat I ever built and the platform for my first experiments with PolySails back in 1996, and the PDRacer seemed like a natural for the small lake behind our new house purchased in 2003. Built in 2004, Lame Duck became hull #100 to be registered in this developmental class, and the first of many more of these little sailing scows to follow. Lame Duck’s construction followed the plywood on frame model of my earlier scows and was not particularly innovative except for her 60 sq. ft. leg o’ mutton PolySail which had the leech and luff reversed for a lower Center of Effort. Her excellent handling encouraged me to build another, and another, and another, etc.

My son Ryan was home on leave from the Navy when this photo was taken as he piloted Lame Duck around Lake Vista, the small lake behind our home in Fishers, IN.
Lame Duck handles some rough water at the Midwest Messabout at Rend Lake, Illinois. Lame Duck was the sixth 4’ x 8’ scow I built.
Crewed by two novice sailors from Japan, Lame Duck rounds a mark in the 2008 Hoosier Regatta. Hot Tub V is the committee boat in the background.
John Nystrom and Andy Cougill, a couple of new boat buddies from Peru, IN, work on their PDRacers in my garage. I cut parts and served as their mentor for assembly.
John and Andy got snowed in and spent the night. The next day, we decided to test Lame Duck as a sled. We rigged a safety line in case the ice was too thin.
John takes his completed John Duck for a sail on Lake Vista. John was a state cop and ex-military, so he built his boat like a tank and chose a lug sail to power it.

To be continued next month...

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