Duck Boats Race Out Of Barnegat Bay’s Past

Some of the duck boats ready to be judged the night before the race at Mantoloking Yacht Club. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  BRICK – In this age of lightweight fiberglass boats, there is still one sailboat race a year where junior sailors get to experience the challenges of racing an old-style wooden sailboat.

  The annual duck boat race, held on the last Friday in August at Mantoloking Yacht Club, has grown from about a dozen boats to more than 70 entries over the past 20 years resulting from the efforts of local retired businessman, yachtsman and philanthropist, Peter Kellogg.

  Kellogg told the yacht clubs on Barnegat Bay that he would make a donation to their junior sailing programs if they would restore a duck boat and race it during the annual regatta.

  The duck boat had fallen out of favor since it is heavy, tends to leak, and is difficult to sail, but that didn’t stop people from restoring dilapidated and forgotten duck boats that were found in backyards, garages and boatyards.

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Children and adults raced 67 duck boats. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  Within two years, most of the 13 yacht clubs on Barnegat Bay had salvaged, restored and raced at least one duck boat. Then Kellogg upped the ante, offering $5,000 to a charity of their choice for anyone who entered a new or restored duck boat, and $1,000 for a charity each time the boat was re-entered in the regatta. Entries expanded to beyond the yacht clubs.

  Tom Beaton, owner of David Beaton and Sons Boatyard in Brick, is in charge of judging the duck boats on the evening before the race.

  Boats are supposed to be restored to “bristol,” or perfect, condition to get the full $1,000 (or $5,000 if the boat is newly restored or newly built), but Beaton said he just checks to make sure there has been an effort.

  “Some of them started in really rough shape. One of the duck boats was being used as a flower pot somewhere,” said Beaton, clipboard in hand as he moved from boat to boat. “We just want to make sure that the maintenance has been kept up.”

  Beaton estimates that his grandfather built about 150 of the 12-foot-long, 300-pound duck boats – made of mahogany, oak or cedar planks that are steamed to bend the wood – when he ran the marina in the 1950s through the 1980s.

  “The duck boat is indigenous to Barnegat Bay,” he said. “They were a good junior sailing boat, and they have produced America’s Cup winners and Olympic sailors.”

  Kellogg, who facilitates the maintenance of about 30 wooden boats, attended the judging event and said he supports the charity regatta because he wants kids to understand what it means to care for, restore and race a wooden sailboat.

  “Wood needs to be maintained by hand, it has to be caulked and sanded,” he said. “And doesn’t everyone love wooden boats?” Kellogg asked.

Tom Beaton judges the duck boats, accompanied by Duck Boat Committee member Donna Burslem from Shore Acres Yacht Club. (Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn)

  The two Brick yacht clubs – Shore Acres and Metedeconk – entered several duck boats each.

  A dedicated duck boat committee at Shore Acres Yacht Club stores the boats in members’ garages or in storage areas under their homes during the winter, while the boats at Metedeconk are kept at the club.

  Shore Acres Yacht Club Duck Boat Committee member Brian Harris said that each year when the boats are taken out of storage to prepare for the race, they typically need touch-up paint, or sometimes a whole new paint job as a result of the previous year’s race.

  “The boats have to be ‘swelled,’ or filled with water for about a week before the race because the planks dry out while in storage – that way they don’t leak as badly,” Harris said. “But they still leak,” he added.

  The competitive sailors have made an adaptation to their duck boats by installing hand pump bailers, he said.

  “This year, the boats were racing in the pouring rain, and it was a spectacle – it was really cool being on the bay with all these duck boats,” Harris said. “It was a neat experience.”

Photo by Judy Smestad-Nunn

  George Francis, now in his 60s, has been a member at Metedeconk Yacht Club all his life, and learned to sail there as a child. He has built two new duck boats for the club over the years.

  “We had sunfish when we were junior sailors, while Bay Head and Metedeconk [yacht clubs] used duck boats,” he said.

  “They were the original Barnegat Bay trainer, but they were challenging,” Francis said. “Sunfish were easier to sail and maintain since they were made of fiberglass – you didn’t have to bail and pump them out like with duck boats, which always needed maintenance,” he said.

  Today’s sailboats are “faster, better and lighter,” but by sailing the duck boat, kids are exposed to traditional sailing equipment and methods, Francis said.

  Many of the restored boats have been given clever duck-related names, such as “Quick Quack,” “Quackers,” “Quack AtTack,” “Fowl Play,” “Duck Soup,” “Fire Quacker,” “Mighty Duck,” “Duck Soup,” “Lucky Duck,” “Duck Tape,” and “Butt Quack.”

  A mix of children and adults competed in a total of 67 duck boats in the “World Duck Championship Regatta,” a tongue-in-cheek moniker because this style of boat is only found on Barnegat Bay.