Saturday, February 1, 2014

OD - OY Review: The Duster

In continuing my series on U.S racing/home-built dinghies that were featured in the January issue of the One-Design and Offshore Yachtsman during the 1960's, this post features the 14' Duster, a class originating out of the Riverton Yacht Club, just outside Philadelphia on the Delaware River. A flat-bottom, pram bow dinghy designed to be home built, originally planked and then converted to plywood, the Duster spread throughout New Jersey. It sported a large cat rig, the mainsail even larger than the main on the Finn dinghy.

The beginnings of the Duster sailboat as detailed in the history of the Riverton Yacht Club (from their website);
1933 First Duster Class boat build on third floor of 301 Main street by Jim Merrill and his father Commodore E.K. Merrill. The project was financed by the club, and the Duster could be rented by the hour. John Ayers built the next Duster "Zypher" under the direction of Mr. Merrill. Jim Story and Charlie Knight built "Quacker". As the boat caught on, five more boats were built over the next winter in Mrs. E.W.J. Hunn's cellar at 300 Howard St., under the supervision of Mr. Merrill. The new owners were Bill and Herb Parsons "TOMATER", Bert Shoemaker "COBBLER", Tom Coe "GINGER", Ted Hunn "SNITHER", Lloyde Gladney "SPRINTIN SPLINTER". 40 Dusters were built over the next 10 years. Duster fleet # 1 was chartered, Knute Hunn was the first fleet captain. 1946 September 7th - 8th. The 1st Duster National Championship was held at Riverton Yacht Club. John Knight was the first national champion with Barbara Lippincott as crew. 1947 September 6th - 7th. The 2nd Duster National Championship was help at Riverton Yacht Club. The winners again were John Knight skipper with Barb Lippincott crew.
The Duster became closely associated with the Lippincott family, the famous boat building family out of Riverton N.J. Brothers Bob and Howard Lippincott built world-class wood Stars, Lightnings and Comets with Bob winning the 1950 Star World Championship. I learned all of this because, in a twist of fate, Barb Martin, whose mother was a Lippincott, decided to attend Miami of Ohio University just shortly after Kurt Finnie and I had formed the sailing team. Barb immediately became the lynchpin of our heretofore non-existent Miami of Ohio's women's team, adding such rock-star racing ability that we qualified out of the Midwest for the Women's Collegiate Nationals (our other skipper, now Sue Ronshagen, being a converted crew).

All Lippincott children were brought up sailing Dusters, there was a bunch of them spread out over several families. It came about in the summer of 1971 (if my memory serves, which it sometimes doesn't) there was an extra Duster available for their nationals held at some lake in northern New Jersey - I assume this lake was somewhere near Tillerman's old stomping grounds for his Sunfish sailing. Barb Martin gave me a call offering me the Duster and I jumped at the chance.

The two day nationals turned into a drift-fest. I never got out of the leeward bilge, sailing the whole weekend tilted onto the leeward chine to reduce wetted surface. My memories of the weekend, though considerably faded, were of a great time. I got to meet many of the Lippincott clan, though again, the faces and names are now gone. My impression was they were very down-to-earth, just as you would expect from a boat building family.

My thoughts of the Duster as a sailboat? I always wondered what a Duster would be like to sail in a breeze. The mast is not too far from the bow, the mainsail is huge; I wonder if you would have to hike off the stern when going downwind in a breeze. Certainly with that flat bottom, the planing performance would be a blast.

If  one was looking to build a nice sailing dinghy for the lake one couldn't go very wrong with the Duster. Good light air performance, nice long cockpit to hold two comfortably, three in a squeeze. The added freeboard compared to a Laser or Sunfish makes the Duster more of a sit in rather than a sit on small dinghy. I think plans are available.

In another twist of fate, the father of one of my daughter's good college friends owned two Dusters. The Duster it seemed hadn't completely disappeared, chased into history by the Laser (as had happened to many of the U.S singlehanded classes around during the 1960's). The class has now collected itself at Lake Naomi, an exclusive resort community in the Poconos. According to this father, the "Duster Nationals" are still held every August on Lake Naomi. Two pictures of Dusters sailing on Lake Naomi.

A photo of a start in the 1948 Duster Nationals.


Dieharddinghysailor said...

Interesting class, nice job, unearthing the story....

George A said...

Tom Lippincott sailed a Duster at the first of the two Wooden Boat regattas held at Rock Hall:

The second day of racing it blew pretty good and Tom had to work a bit but he did a great job of keeping that beast flat.

Tillerman said...

Hmmm. I could tell a good story about the sailors from Lake Naomi.

Tweezerman said...


Please do. I know they have a Laser fleet there.

Anonymous said...

I sailed Duster 355 for several years. Now I sail a Hunter 42. I remember sailing against the Lippincotts.

Iggy Nelix said...

Hi. I'm a Duster sailor on Lake Naomi in Pocono Pines and can confirm that we continue to hold Duster Nationals each August. The 2015 Nationals ("70th annual", due to several hiccups entire over the years) were just last weekend in fact! The air was light and shifty as is often the case in mid-day summer sun on small mountain lakes.
My family has 4 Dusters: 2 wood and 2 of the late 60's fiberglass hulls. My father now sails my grand-father's wooden boat (pictured above with an alternate sail#278).
[Upon reading above, i gather that i may be the brother of your mystery source. i am happy to provide additional information as needed. and we do, in fact, have plans and access to molds and even leads on some existing 'dry' boats.]

Iggy Nelix said...

Current Duster Race Schedules are available via the Lake Naomi Sailing Association Organizational calendar

Tweezerman said...


Good to hear from you. I would certainly like to feature more Duster material as you can provide as they are great little boats. I put a comment over in Google Plus for contact information.


Rex Merrill said...

I am the nephew of Owen P. (Jim) Merrill, and recently got Duster plans from the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. I became disconnected from my boat-building heritage in my teens, but would like to build a Duster. I have some experience building a stitch-and-glue kayak and cedar strip canoes, but I don't know where to start with a plywood sailboat. Any advice out there?

-- Rex Merrill

Tweezerman said...


One of the better books out there is the one written by Glen L Witt - the company that sold lots of boat plans way back when.

Boatbuilding with Plywood from Amazon

Can also find used copies on the Internet as well.

Roland Hunn said...

Let me know how that build is working out. Drop me a line @

Anonymous said...

I grew up sailing Duster #259 in Fayson Lakes in Kinnelon, NJ. Fayson Lakes had a robust fleet of Dusters in the 1960's and early '70's. Virtually all were "kit boats" that my dad built along with friends. Hull 259 was built around 1960. Often they would build two or three at a time and then flip a coin to see who would register a boat first. I've often wondered what happened to #259. I remember sailing several times in that boat in the Poconos. Now in NC I try to explain what a Duster is/was to my sailing friends down here. I appreciate the pictures that have been posted so I can show friends what I grew up sailing. I'm glad to hear the fleet is alive -- especially some of the older boats!


George A said...

I have a Merril Classic Moth sail in my collection of Moth Boat junque to good to toss out. Small world. Did that Duster ever get built, Rex?

Rex Merrill said...


My uncle Jim (O.P.) Merrill made your Moth sail. He had a shop in Delanco, NJ. The Duster project hasn't gotten off the ground, looking for an indoor space for winter building in Wisconsin and trying to develop enough confidence to start.