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.
From an email from Rob Hulit:
"I had the pleasure of owning Duster # D-126. Built in 1949. I bought it as 14 year old kid in 1968 for $ 50.00 (included a trailer) from the Kelly Family on Long Beach Island NJ . Spent the summer sanding & painting and replaced the old cotton sail with Dacron made by Merrill Sails Delanco NJ. They would race them at the Brant Beach Yacht Club back in the early days. The Kelly`s taught me to sail, so I owe them a huge thank you. The boat would fly. Sailed it for about 15 years down at Brant Beach and she finally dry rotted badly and had to let her go. I'll always remember those endless summer days sailing that Duster from Sun up to Sun Down !