Building a West Mersea Duck Punt Variation of a Sawfish Kayak – Part One

By Mark Frost - Norwood Young America, Minnesota - USA

I wanted to build a boat ever since I was about 10 years old. My Grandfather had an old boat building book on his bookshelf and I can remember a wooden pram style duck boat leaning up against the garage. When I approached my Grandfather, who was quite a wizard with wood, about building a boat, he said, “Ask your parents” who, of course thought I was much too young.

In my 20s I was able to sail an O’Day Swift wet sailor, by trial and error, after only reading about tacking. I was hooked for life on sailing.

In my 30s, living in New England, fortune smiled on me when I was able to take a few day trips with a friend that had a Contessa.

Now I’m retired, pushing 69, and finally got my wife’s permission to build a boat! I live in Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes, where it is almost a crime NOT to have a boat.

Designs have been researched and sketched for years, but at my age I wanted something I could car-top easily, and it had to sail and double as a fishing platform; it would be a bonus if I could paddle kayak style as well.

Found Dylan Winter’s website Keep Turning Left with wonderful information on West Mersea Duck Punts.

Duck Punts are small sailing boats, from the marshy areas of England, most often it seems, West Mersea. A small boat with a single sail, most commonly from an Optimist sailboat.

They have no center board or dagger board, and no rudder, instead they rely on the square edge of the hull heeled over to form a keel, and a paddle for steering. They are usually sailed lying or sitting in the bottom of the boat.

A utility boat from centuries of history, Duck Punts are considered the equivalent of a floating wheelbarrow, a way to get to market, haul your catch or produce to market, sneak up on ducks and geese for hunting, or to just get between islands in the marsh; only recently have they become a club and racing type of boat.

They are considered to be able to sail on very thin water, and are relatively fast for such a small sail. While sailing is what they are more known for, Duck Punts also are paddled or rowed as required.

Having previously researched teardrop trailers (stay with me here), I found the website Teardrops & Tiny Travel Trailers and information on lightweight foam construction. Within that site was a member posting as Rowerwet who mentioned that he was going to build a boat with the foam technique. He created an Instructable about building his design for a foam kayak named Sawfish.

The wonderfully versatile Sawfish design allowed me to create, with a few modifications, a foam version of the West Mersea Duck Punt. This article details my progress on the boat and the points that are different from the Sawfish Kayak.


Designing a Foam Duck Punt

Dylan Winter’s web site has downloadable plans for the traditional wood West Mersea Duck Punt; using the dimensions from these plans and after reviewing Rowerwet’s Sawfish building technique, I used my graphics program to lay out a foam duck punt design. I spent months trying different approaches and more months tweaking the design. This was all just design daydreaming because I had no idea if my wife would allow a “major” project since we live in a townhouse with a small double garage.

The drawings show the concept and the construction and cutting drawings, which I will endeavor to make available to those who may want to follow in my wake!

The photos show the stages of construction. I will not attempt to duplicate Rowerwet’s fine Instructable, because that will provide you with step by step construction techniques. I will make comments when I have modified items that may be different from Sawfish.

Building a Foam Duck Punt

In laying out the points for the hull curves, I first marked my centerline on the two 4′ x 8′ sheets of 2″ thick xps foam. Because I have a drywall square, I was able to mark the sheets with a Sharpie pen before joining them with Rowerwet’s Butterfly Scarf Joint, avoiding a chalk line that might disappear at the wrong time! I marked my stations per the measurements I found for the Duck Punt and used to create my design (after converting from metric to inches).

I also marked bulkheads and the point at which the rocker of the boat would be at its lowest.

Rowerwet’s instructions show marking the curve with bricks to hold a piece of pvc pipe. I used kabob skewers on either side of an 8′ piece of 1/4″ pvc lattice trim, which gave me a square edge to trace against. I simply moved the lattice between the skewers to get the full length. Note: since the lattice is 1/4″ thick, decide ahead of time which side you intend to trace.

Dustless cutting can be accomplished with a knife edge jigsaw blade made for cutting foam. I found Bosch and some other brands of blades on Amazon. I bought 4″ blades thinking that would be adequate for 2″ material. I believe 6″ blades would have worked better because the stroke of my jigsaw actually pulled the tip of the blade up into the foam, which I think caused it to wander and not cut square. I am not positive if a 6″ blade would cure the problem, but if I built another boat I would buy 6″ (they were almost the same price as 4″).

Rough stacked the pieces after cutting. It even looked like a boat at this point!

All foam to foam gluing was with Gorilla Glue. Glued the layers of the side pieces on to the trimmed out bottom of the hull. I had to buy “gravity clamps” (bricks) for about 40¢ a piece. I estimated I would need 56. Worked in the garage in humid weather because Gorilla Glue, Great Stuff and PL Premium 3X (PLP3X) adhesives all like humidity!

The rocker for the bottom of the hull was set using a piece of lumber 1-1/2″ high for the stern and two pieces at a total of 3″ high for the bow. The Duck Punt plans are a little vague on this so I went by measurements off the drawings as close as I could get using standard 2x lumber. As the layers get glued the curve locks into place.

Seven layers makes the foam punt 14″ high. The English Duck Punt is closer to 12″ but with a 2″ floor I wanted the inside of the boat to have the same depth as the original. Note that the aft deck extends out beyond the curve of the lower hull; the area under the deck sides will have a sculpted flare. If you do not want the flared sides or the transom, the boat can be constructed as a “double ender” similar to a canoe; the build would be much simpler this way, but I like the lines of the original duck punt.

The flare parts snug up to the aft deck and the transom. Because I wanted this boat to double as a small fishing craft, I made provisions for a board to mount a sturdy transom; if you are not interested in powering the boat (besides wind!), the top two or three layers of foam can be angled out like Rowerwet does with the aft of Sawfish.

Click HERE to download drawings for the Foam Duck Punt

Part One – Part Two – Part Three – Part Four


  1. Mark:

    Please pass on to SWMBO, for the good of the order: Thanks for approving the project. We’re all the richer for it. Love your renderings. I’m afraid you take more care, and show more patience over a small foam spit kit than we here at Frankenwerke probably demonstrate on any five trailerables we build. Good on ya’.


  2. Thank you for the note on dustless cutting. That has kept me from trying a Sawfish. I had envisioned clouds of pink dust blowing around the neighborhood.

  3. HI
    If you have read my posts and replies, You know that I am not a kayak guy. My biggest problem with them is the thin construction of the hulls. The plastic ones can’t be more than a few millimeters thick and the wooden ones are way beyond my ability. Buttttt……
    Your foam one has really peaked my interest. I like the fact that foam is unsinkable, not like me!, and easy to work with. I assume that since you used 4×8 ft foam, the boat is no more than 8 ft long. All you are really doing is building a big toy boat, right?
    Even dumb ole me can do that. I’ve used gorilla glue for many things and find it to have super holding power. Now the bottom of the hull will be flat or do you contour it too? And those rectangular blocks of foam in the boat,,, seats? You have a pointy front end and a flat back?
    Do you put wood in the back to be able to mount a very small motor? I live in Central Florida, so the humidity thing works for me and just off the gulf so there is plenty of “skinny water” to play in.
    I just need something as light as possible so my 68 year old butt can carry it.
    I really like your pictures. Just the pics are as good if not better than detailed plans. And everything use seem to be using, I can get at home depot. How many sheets did you use?
    Gee now you may make this old “stinkpot” into a kayaker yet.

  4. Hi,
    Its me again.
    After looking at your pics again, I have to ask,,,, why didn’t you make it 4 ft wide? It just seems to me that using the full width of the foam would make the boat much more stable.
    How wide are the strips of foam used to make the sides? Does it matter?
    Did you sand the whole boat and paint it?
    Or cover it with some kind of fabric?
    I was thinking that denim soaked in waterproof glue would be neat.
    Or even a nice print.
    Just wondering.
    I’ve never built anything like this before but being retired {and bored} this sounds way cool!

    • I think your questions will all be answered by the time Duckworks publishes all four parts. The boat is 14′ 9″ long and just shy of 36″ wide; 48″ would be more stable but I was copying an existing design and dimensions. I used four 4 x 8 sheets of 2″ foam. Check out Rowerwet’s Instructable or search Duckworks for Sawfish kayak, that will answer more of your construction questions.

  5. Looking forward to seeing how latteral resistance was installed for sailing. Don’t see a daggerboard trunk or leeboards. I am thinking of putting a sail on my foam boat but don’t know how the foam would stand up under the twisting stress of a sail.

    • If you search for “West Mersea Duck Punt” you will find that the lateral resistance is supplied by the hard chime. When the boat heels over the flat side and flat bottom become a “V” keel. Rather than a rudder it is steered with an oar or paddle over the Lee side. It’s unusual but it works.

      • A look back into the early Duckworks archives might show the Dogskiff, a 15x3x1 plywood version of a duck hunting skiff (they were used in the new world as well) and the daggerboard trunk which I fitted in it’s second season. That one made leeway without the board.

        In answer to one of the other questions, the width of the bottom is part of the length-to-beam ratio which determines hull efficiency. A wider bottom would be a slower boat.

  6. Bill:

    My first purpose-made sailboat was a molded (unsheathed) Styrofoam hull. It pre-dated later versions like the Snark, and a stablemate that Cool cigarettes marketed, that came with Kydex or acrylic coverings. It even pre-dated the AMC marketed fiberglass sunfish and sailfish. This must have been about 1959-60ish. That boat came with molded-in mast tube and another thinwalled tube that carried the original rudder mount. She had an unstayed lateen rig similar to the sunfish. The reason I mention this, is that as an untutored 7th grader I doubled the rig to about 16 feet and doubled the rudder and daggerboard significantly with materials at hand (probably 1/2″ plywood. All this stuff was anchored with hardware store ring bolts drilled through the hull sides and cinched with fender washers and nuts. These were the chainplates, mooring cleats, and so forth. As I recall, now almost 60 years later, I may have added a piece of pine lath along each side to carry some of that rigging stress. At any event, I sailed that boat in some pretty gnarly conditions, and was dismasted at least once. But, the hull stayed together. The last time I saw that hull, it was tied to a dock and still floating–ten or twelve years later. Styrofoam is some pretty remarkable stuff. Just keep matches and gasoline away from it.


    • My neighbour had one called Topper, a styrofoam sit-on-top sailer with a top hat on the sail. I’ve also seen in Duckeworks lately the built up styrofoam boats covered with fibreglass, pretty rugged-looking, essentially foam core fibreglass boats.

  7. From comments made by Mr. Michalak, I believe the problem with wide Kayaks is that they are hard to paddle. If one wanted to spin around and row, however ….

  8. If you search the “Archives” on the Duckworks Magazine Home Page for “Sawfish 12”, you will find parts One & Two of an article which was published on these pages about building a foam boat, which answers many of the questions posted above, and describes actual experience following Rowerwet’s excellent Instructable.
    Jim Brown, Sweetwater TN
    Have a great time

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