Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

1024 Merrill St, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15 April 2018) This issue is about capsize recovery. The 1 May issue will be about scarfing lumber.



is out now, written by me and edited by Garth Battista of Breakaway Books. You might find it at your bookstore. If not check it out at the....

REND LAKE 2018...

...will take place on June 8 and 9, always on the weekend before Father's Day weekend. WE HAVE ALREADY NAILED SITES 25 THROUGH 29 SO THE END OF THE LOOP IS OURS. THANKS TO ALL WHO HELPED NAIL THEM DOWN.


...which can now be found at Duckworks Magazine. You order with a shopping cart set up and pay with credit cards or by Paypal. Then Duckworks sends me an email about the order and then I send the plans right from me to you.


A somewhat rare Vamp, by Bob Arant.



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
1024 Merrill St,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Capsize Lessons


...is an Englishman, now living in Canada, who designs trimarans. But he has extensive dinghy sailing background and is an expert at capsize recovery. During Sail OK 2012 he spent a couple of hours explaining to all of us the process and details of recovery.

I've never gotten too deeply into this subject. I am essentially a non floater, thus a non swimmer, and for me to go overboard without a life jacket is like skydiving without a parachute. So I don't enjoy practicing capsizes and stop doing it long ago. The subject scares people away. But Richard's demonstrations certainly show it can be done reliably with proper preparation. And that is the point I took away from his excellent effort. Most of our boats are sort of prepared for a capsize, provided the designer has designed in the require emergency buoyancy and the builder hasn't compromised it. After that it comes down to nitty gritty details that most of us ignore. Luckily at the demostration Richard rubbed our noses into those details.


...he discussed the best type of life jacket to have. Unfortunately it sort of started with "they don't make this anymore" but I bet they do. You might need a bit of a search. Not supposed to have bulging pockets or straps, anything that will foul as you try to slither your way back into the boat. Richard is holding between his knees the jacket he used in the tests and to me it appears to be what I used to call a kayaker's jacket, many small segments, zippered without straps. The one I had long ago was I think an Omega and it was my all time favorite, for reasons other than capsize recovery, but it died of old age.


...Richard walked down the line of boats at the meet, maybe 20 or 30 there, and one by one discussed the good and bad points of each boat with regard to capsize recovery. It was sort of cruel, although Richard is likeable and jovial. He didn't ask "whose boat is this?" or anything, just lit into each one. He was going to capsize test a boat to demonstrate the details of recovery and was chosing a subject as he did this. But this is when the real knowledge came out as he discussed details that would make a boat better for recovery.

I think right now would be a good time to say what type boats are best for capsize recovery. Not too difficult to guess at this - the board sailing boats of yore, like the Laser and Sunfish, might be the best. They are totally decked so they take on no water, and they are low in the water so the swimmer can simply roll onto the righted hull with little hoisting required. One issue with really small light boats, to me, not sure if Roger discussed this, is that they can be so dominated by the swimmer's weight that reboarding might not be possible. Imagine a 250 pound swimmer trying to get into a 70 pound boat. You might think that as he presses down on the boat's edge to reboard that the boat might simply flop over on top of him. This wasn't demonstrated but I suspect it can be true.

Anyway, down the line of boats we went. Who wants to be Richard's test boat??


OK, LISTEN UP! If there is any message I took away from this it is that your boat must be prepared in detail to allow a routine recovery. Don't leave anything to chance. If anything can go wrong it will! Be prepared! WHEN A REAL CAPSIZE OCCURS IT WILL LIKELY BE IN VERY BAD CONDITIONS. IN VERY BAD CONDITIONS THERE MAY BE NO ONE AROUND TO HELP YOU!

Hope I haven't scared you away.

When your boat goes over don't get trapped beneath the rig if you can. Don't get tangled and Richard advised all carry a knife at the ready, secured and tethered to the life jacket for instant grabbing, with one handed easy blade extention, with which you can cut yourself loose if you do get tangled. I'm not a knife expert but I think he added it should have saw teeth on both edges so you need not worry about its orientation.

Next, give a lot of thought to how to right the hull. Normally you would step on a lateral board of some sort like a keel, but it might not be accessable to you for several reasons. It might be retracted at the time or too high out of the water for grabbing. So you really need something else and he suggested lines tied securely, and to hefty fastenings, on each side of the boat, clipped under the wale, that can be grabbed and used to pull the boat upright. He suggested securing the ropes with clips made of slitted pvc pipe that would secure the rope in normal use, but would easily release the rope when it is tugged. So that is one detail to think about.


...most of us will be faced with the task of getting back in. If you have a very low freeboard boat like a Sunfish you can just lean on one side and grab something and pull yourself back in. Sounds easy but many boats have no detail that allows you to "grab something". So you need to put it there. I think Richard preferred ropes that run along the inside of the side seats or decks that can be reached by the swimmer. Again they need to be stout and well attached. They will take the full weight of a frightened man. Another simple option is a grip lip on the inside of the seat. I suppose there is less chance of snagging that but I think it might require better hand strength than the rope. OK, so that will work with a shallow boat.

Also there should be nothing around to snag the recovering swimmer as he tries to reboard the boat. Richard pointed to external oar lock sockets as a real danger. The reboarding area needs to be slick and free of any brackets.

If you have a boat with a deeper hull that alone won't do. You will need a well planned step of some sort to allow you to reboard. A ROPE LADDER WON'T DO! I was glad Richard pointed that out because I had one once and found it impossible to reboard with one at any time, even after jumping over for a casual dip. As you step into one of these you almost always have you legs swing under the boat's bottom and you can't get up the ladder then. What Richard suggests, and what he used in the demostration, is to rig a stirrup which you can easily get to as you swim. The length of the stirrup needs to be just so and that part wasn't quite clear to me. I think it needs to be such that when you step into it and pull up that your knee is sort of even with the wale, allowing you to get right in. But I'm not sure and there was discussion about it and Richard did rerig the stirrup he rigged in the first demostration before he did the second. All this stuff again needs to be stout and secure enough to take the full weight of a frightened man.

There are other options of course. A real ladder would be great. I've suggested a simple toe slot in the rudder, although I notice no one ever builds a real boat that way. Then the rudder and its fittings need to be stout enough for the weight. I am sure Richard would point out that entering over the rudder, with its tiller and brackets and gear, is an invitation to a snag or sliced skin. A few of the boats at the meet did have a stirrup rigged which is a bit of a surprise.


I guess the big message is don't trust to luck. Have a plan, practice if you can. The details are actually pretty inexpensive. Have a reboarding zone with nothing to snag or cut you on the way up. Have a stirrup or ladder to give a boost up over those high sides, and have good hand grabs for the final pull. Richard also noted that you shouldn't reboard face down into the cockpit, as you would if you simply pulled yourself up and over the side on your belly. Do a bit of a roll in the end so you go over face up. Again, avoid all tangles and snags.


At the time we had a strong onshore wind with whitecaps and no one was boating voluntarily. But Richard pointed out those things were ideal for testing, giving a chance for a real capsize and a fetching up on the launching beach if the recovery failed. It was cold as you see in the photos, no more than 50F, although I'm sure the water was warmer. Richard told of breaking ice in England to give capsize lessons so he was not deterred and no special suits were worn.

He chose Stan Roberts' nice new Family Skiff for the demo, saying it probably had the emergency buoyancy needed and also had the high sides that would make for a good "high sided boat" demonstration to show us the of the special rigging he was suggesting. He removed the mizzen to simplify things a bit. Family Skiff was designed without the mizzen so it would still handle well. Richard pointed out that although the mizzen was a complication on the stern that might need watching in a capsize, it also would provide more strong handholds for reboarding.

The Family Skiff had no motor mounted so the cut down area for the motor was open and Richard immediately rigged a stirrup for reboarding there. So if the outboard had been mounted the reboarding process would have to be rethought. He also rigged a rope running the length of the cockpit as a grab rope to be used when coming over the side, if needed.

Well, I gotta tell you as the designer that I had mixed emotions about having my design be the "winner" of the demo. Most likely Richard didn't know if was mine. But it needs to be done!

After the lecture and rigging of the emergency ropes, off they went into the blow....

A half mile or so out they forced a capsize (pretty easy given the wind)...

It nearly turtled, which surprised me since the lug rigged boats I tested long ago never would turtle because the buoyancy of the wooden yard would hold them sideways. It might have gone full turtle since it was felt the mast had struck bottom preventing that...

They had capsized it with leeboard up high on purpose so that would not be used to right the boat. Richard grabbed the painter (bow line) and held it aft while Stan put his weight on it to lever the boat (slowly, be patient) upright. But a designated line just for this should be secured, with easy access by the swimmer, just for this.

Once upright, Richard swam around to his recovery stirrup and got back in the boat at the stern.

Then I believe he helped pull Stan over the side, I've forgotten (if I ever knew)...

Then they sailed back easily. The whole process seemed fairly reliable and somewhat quick. I was impressed.

Once back on shore we had a peek at the carnage...except there really wasn't any. There was very little water inside and the did no bailing to return.


This time capsizing such that they could reright the boat with the leeboard. Plus Richard had fine tuned his stirrup. Also Stan was instructed to reboard over the side solo, which he did, forgetting to roll as he entered so he went in belly down and got a bit tangled. But the second was a bit faster.

I guess that is about it. I really want to thank Richard Woods for the demo. Pretty sure it was the most significant demonstration I've ever seen at a messabout.




Mayfly16 is large enough to swallow up three men or maybe a family with two kids. She has two benches that are 7' long and there should be plenty of room for all. I would say that her fully loaded maximum weight might be 900 pounds and her empty weight about 350 pounds, leaving 550 pounds for the captain and crew and gear.

At the same time the Mayfly16 can easily be handled solo, although with just the weight of her skipper she will not be as stable as when heavily loaded. The boat also has two large chambers for buoyancy/storage and I can see her used as a solo beach cruiser because the floor space is large enough for a sleep spot. I've made her deep with lots of freeboard.

Mary and George Fulk built the prototype and passed by here with the prototype on their annual migration north for the summer and I had a chance to see and sail in Mayfly16 for a short bit. Weather was hot and the wind light and steady, perfect for testing. She sailed quite well I thought and everything worked as planned. It certainly was roomy and easy to rig and use.

The balanced lug rig sets on short spars and sails very well reefed, in fact can be set up with jiffy reefing. The spars are all easily made and stowed, the mast being but 14' long setting 91 square feet of sail. In addition there are oar ports for those with lots of time and little money and a motor well for those with lots of money and no time. Two horsepower is all that a boat like this can absorb without going crazy.

The motor well is an open self draining well that uses the full width and depth of the stern. It will come in handy for storing wet muddy things you don't want inside the boat, like boots and anchors. I've suggested in the plans that the rudder can be offset to one side a bit to give more room for the motor. We did not use George's little Evinrude since the boat sailed easily in all directions, but George says the sidebyside sharing on the stern of the motor and rudder works fine. There was no interference with the rudder. (As with any outboard on any sailboat, the motor has a desire to grab the sheet with each tack so you usually have to tend the sheet a bit.)

Mayfly16 uses conventional nail and glue construction needing six sheets of 1/4" plywood and two sheets of 1/2" ply.

Plans for Mayfly16 are $35.


Prototype News

Some of you may know that in addition to the one buck catalog which now contains 20 "done" boats, I offer another catalog of 20 unbuilt prototypes. The buck catalog has on its last page a list and brief description of the boats currently in the Catalog of Prototypes. That catalog also contains some articles that I wrote for Messing About In Boats and Boatbuilder magazines. The Catalog of Prototypes costs $3. The both together amount to 50 pages for $4, an offer you may have seen in Woodenboat ads. Payment must be in US funds. The banks here won't accept anything else. (I've got a little stash of foreign currency that I can admire but not spend.) I'm way too small for credit cards.

We have a Picara finished by Ken Giles, past Mayfly16 master, and into its trials. The hull was built by Vincent Lavender in Massachusetts. There have been other Picaras finished in the past but I never got a sailing report for them...

And the Vole in New York is Garth Battista's of www.breakawaybooks.com, printer of my book and Max's old outboard book and many other fine sports books. Beautiful job! Garth is using a small lug rig for sail, not the sharpie sprit sail shown on the plans, so I will continue to carry the design as a prototype boat. But he has used it extensively on his Bahamas trip towed behind his Cormorant. Sort of like having a compact car towed behind an RV.

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

Another prototype Twister is well along:

A brave soul has started a Robbsboat. He has a builder's blog at http://tomsrobbsboat.blogspot.com. (OOPS! He found a mistake in the side bevels of bulkhead5, says 20 degrees but should be 10 degrees.) This boat has been sailed and is being tested. He has found the sail area a bit much for his area and is putting in serious reef points.






1may17, Scarfing Lumber, Blobster

15may17, Rigging Lugsails, QT Skiff

1jun17, Rowing1, Mayfly14

15jun17, Rend Lake 2017, Mixer

1jul17, Rowing2, Viola14

15jul17, Rowing3, Vamp

1aug17, RowingSetup, Oracle

15aug17, Taped Seams, Cormorant

1sep17, OliveOly Capsize Test, OliveOly

15sep17, Plywood Butt Joints, Philsboat

1oct17, Sailing OliveOyl, Larsboat

15oct17, Water Ballast, Jonsboat

1nov17, Water Ballast Details, Piccup Pram

15nov17, Scram Pram Capsize, Harmonica

1dec17, Sail Area Math, Ladybug

15dec17, Cartopping, Sportdory

1jan18, Trailering, Normsboat

15jan18, AF3 Capsize Test, Robote

1feb18, Bulkhead Bevels, Toto

15feb18, Sail Rig Spars, IMB

1mar18, Sail Rig Trim 1, AF4Breve

15mar18, Sail Rig Trim 2, Harmonica

1apr18, Two Totos, River Runner


Mother of All Boat Links

Cheap Pages

Duckworks Magazine

The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Power Skiff

Bruce Builds Roar

Dave Carnell

Rich builds AF2

JB Builds AF4

JB Builds Sportdory

Hullform Download

Puddle Duck Website

Brian builds Roar2

Herb builds AF3

Herb builds RB42

Barry Builds Toto

Table of Contents