messing about in boats


Puff is a Puffin Pioneer and my first boat, given to me when I was still a kid to mess around in and she did me proud.

Built by Polycell in the 70s to help market their products, she’s around 10 feet long, has very little sail area, even fewer sail controls and some rather fetching plywood foils. Still, I thought I was in Swallows & Amazons, so that’s all that mattered.

She’s constructed entirely from a single piece expanded polystyrene moulding with wooden fittings for the seats, thwart, transom, rowlocks and mast support, with metal running strips on the bottom of the hull to protect her in a beaching. This does make her very light, but unfortunately expanded polystyrene is not a closed cell foam, so she really needed to be kept in the dry or she’d soak up water quickly if the paint wasn’t very good. We reinforced her with some chopped strand mat glass on the floor and a little glass tape around the gunwales to protect from knocks.

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

Puffin Pioneer Dinghy

I sold Puff to a kid who was learning to sail and become a boat builder in Summer 2009.


9 Responses

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  1. Duncan Allison said, on July 16, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Also had the pleasure of owning one of these fine boats. Sailed all over the continent with her, no wind too strong great memories.
    Upgraded to 11ft 3in polystyrene boat think it was called a Topper anyone remmember, still have the boat.

  2. William said, on October 29, 2013 at 7:31 pm

    My first boat. Still have the mast and sails. Loved the spoon bow. Sheathed it in grp . The “unsinkable” became the “unstoppable” due to the extra weight of the resin. Sailed much better though in light airs. I sail a skipper 17 now but still like the idea of a car topper like this.

  3. Jonathan Crowe said, on September 23, 2015 at 9:58 am

    I also started in a Puffin Pioneer. Loved it! Short mast meant you could sail under lots of bridges on River Thames. Kept going with the sport and my wife and I have just finished a world circumnavigation in an Oyster 45.

  4. slackwaterbloop said, on April 30, 2016 at 6:11 am

    Yes I loved mine, it got damaged by petrol floating on the water, but it was the most fun of all our boats, ever.

  5. Richard Stott said, on July 2, 2016 at 5:15 am

    Learned to sail in one. We had an outboard as well as sailing and rowing it. Many happy hours on rivers, canals lakes and even the sea in uk, France and Spain.
    Having a petrol outboard on a polystyrene boat always seemed a bit risky but there was a plastic transom tray to catch spills and stop the hull dissolving. I always imagined the boat disappearing if we hit an oil slick on the canal.
    I moved on to building my own mirror at age 14. Rest of the family went for Waterski boats an eventually windsurfing.

  6. bill taylder said, on July 7, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    Hi was my first boat as well loved when we used to go to the lake district

  7. William Massey said, on July 7, 2016 at 8:29 pm

    It’s not unlike the fairey duckling

  8. William Massey said, on July 7, 2016 at 9:10 pm

    Not unlike the Fairey Duckling

  9. […] When I was young, my dad had a dinghy made from expanded polystyrene. It was called a puffin pioneer, it had a glass fibre coating which was dark blue and had red and white sails with a puffin on. I don’t know any specifics but I do know it was not very big and similar to this one […]

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