Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

1024 Merrill St, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1 March 2017) This issue will capsize a Normsboat for real! The 15 March issue will continue the shape discussion.



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....


...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.


Normsboat in calm times...



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
1024 Merrill St,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Norms Capsize


........Over She Went!

By John Zohlen

We were rolling badly in squally, gusty winds and confused seas, first to port and then to starboard. Finally there was one long roll to port and then.. over she went!

This is the story of the start of a sailboat race on the Miles River of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The race was part of the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival (MASCF) XXXVI in St. Michaels MD. The race was the first weekend of October.

The Facts

Boat: Piilu is a Normsboat, in fact, the very first one. She is a balanced lug rigged (mast offset to port), double 3/8” plywood layer, flat bottom, unballasted, eighteen foot box with a slot top and a single (offset to starboard) centerboard. Jim Michalak designed her and Richard Cullison professionally built her in 2003 with help from her owner, Norm. Piilu is a veteran of many, many cruises.. from the Chesapeake Bay watershed to the North Channel. She is also a very fast sailor and has been competitive in many sailboat races. She finished tenth out of forty boats in the 2014 MASCF race, placing first in the “Beach Cruiser” class.

There were four souls onboard Piilu when she capsized. They have over 150 combined years of experience (no kidding!) in small boat cruising and racing. Norm, the captain/owner was standing in the after end of the cabin slot top serving as the tactician. Brian was sitting on the port cockpit seat with the main sheet in hand. Dean initially was sitting on the starboard cockpit seat at the tiller. I was sitting on top of a milk crate on the bottom of the boat with just my head sticking out of the forward end of the cabin slot top serving as lookout and time keeper. We all were wearing foul weather gear over layered, warm clothes. All four of us were wearing life preservers.

Situation Prior to Capsize: The weather was unsettled. Air temperature was in the low 50’s. The seas were confused. We were sailing in intermittent squalls and gusty, swirling winds about 200 yards from the western end of the starting line. The last squall had just cleared and we were rolling back and forth heading towards the starting line. I felt like a kid in the lead car of a roller coaster ride. My shoulders were first pushed against one side of the slot top and then the other. I remember calling out “six minutes to start”. Then Piilu began to roll to port and did not stop. Over she went on her port side.

Situation after Capsize: I was now lying on my side in the water. My concern was that Piilu would continue to roll over and trap me inside of the cabin. With a mighty push on the bottom I propelled myself out of the boat like a torpedo. As I turned around I saw Norm in the water at the stern of the boat and swimming towards the mast to unfasten the main halyard. Piilu was floating high on her port side with the mast and spars floating on top of the water. I swam back to the boat but decided not to enter into the slot top for fear that I might pull the boat over on me. Instead, I pulled myself around the bow to the starboard side. Brian and Dean were there trying to reach the leeboard. The off-set leeboard was still down but it was so high up in the air that only a porpoise could have reached it. Piilu, like most Michalak and Bolger designed boats, has external chine logs. I had never liked them.. up to now that is. I thought internal chine logs gave a slicker underwater body to a boat and caused less turbulence at the chine. We would have had a very difficult time righting Piilu if she had been built with internal chine logs. The leeboard was over our heads and out of reach. As it was, Dean, Brian and I grabbed the external log at the bow and stern and pulled down. With little effort Piilu rolled smartly upright. As she came upright the gaff on the lug sail slowly dropped to the deck. This was important because we did not have to lift the sail with water holding it down. We all swan to the stern, formed a queue and with some effort re-boarded over the transom using the unfolded boarding ladder. Two persons in a small Boston Whaler, part of the race committee, came up and stood off to ensure our safe boarding. We discovered about 3-4 gallons of water in Piilu’s non-self-bailing cockpit and about a gallon in the cabin. Piilu did float high on her side when capsized. The four of us were standing in the cockpit debating whether to continue participating in the race when we heard the starting gun go off. We had capsized the boat and dumped four persons into the water, righted the boat and all re-boarded in less than six minutes! And, all wanted to continue racing!! Norm, the captain, made the common sense decision to retire for the day. He was absolutely right. We were warm from the adrenalin rush but soon would be getting cold if we had sat down and tried to continue racing the boat. We accepted a quick ten minute tow from the Boston Whaler back to Fogg Cove, threw off the tow line and paddled back to the museum dock. We walked up from the waterfront back to our camp site. There was no hiding from the shore bound MASCF participants what had happened to us. With a change into dry clothes and some coffee we were disappointed but none the worse for wear. We all thought we could have won first place in the Beach Cruiser class again! Well, next year!!

My (John's) Opinions:

External chine logs may not be the most hydraulically efficient boat construction method but they certainly are a life saver for a sailor in the water trying to right a capsized boat. Norm requested Jim Michalak design and Richard Cullison build Piilu with a bridge deck aft of the cabin companionway. I believe this contributed significantly to the little water that entered the boat. Michalak routinely designs his boats with a large, sealed compartment (lazerette) in the stern. This adds buoyancy to the stern and keeps the crew from sitting so far aft causing the transom to drag. Piilu floated high on her side. All small sailboats should have an easy way to re-enter them from the water. Not only is some means for elevating your body out of the water necessary, there should also be some additional hand holds (railings, Sampson posts, etc.) to help you pull your torso forward into the cockpit. The time to test your re-entry capability and ability is in controlled (warm weather, warm water) conditions. We all were wearing life jackets. That made it so much easier to focus on how to right and re-enter the boat. I did not have to think about shedding foul weather jacket and bib overalls. We could use both hands to “right the ship”. Boarding over the transom with the ladder was harder than I had anticipated with all the wet clothes. Fortunately Piilu had Sampson posts and other things to grab to help pull my upper body over the transom. Common sense beats pride every time. Initially all of us wanted to continue racing. Call it pride! Fortunately, the captain was thinking further ahead. We could have continued racing but the risk of hypothermia for all four souls, all over 60 years old, was real! It was a good call. Thanks Captain! Later that evening we talked about possible causes for the capsize. I did not see it coming because I was facing forward. The others back aft could not identify an obvious cause accept perhaps that Dean had shifted his weight to the windward side to help balance the boat against a gust and then the wind suddenly slammed us from the opposite direction. We actually capsized to leeward. The main sheet was not made fast. We finally concluded the swirling wind suddenly back winded the sail and with most of the cockpit crew’s weight on the wrong side, over she went! MY wallet and Honda car key fob both worked well after the submerging, as did the media card in Brian’s digital camera. The digital camera, unfortunately, was not water-proof and died of a water logged brain.erl

MY (Jim's) TAKE...

...I guess it is a bad luck/good luck sort of thing. If the crew had not been so experienced it might have been a disaster. Then again a weather chicken like myself would have stayed on shore. You can't tempt the weather god forever - eventually you are gonna lose and then it is only a question of how bad.

At first I thought they were maybe overloaded but now I think not so looking at the waterline. But aside from the weight, which should steady the boat, there might be an issue with just not enough room for everyone in there, especially if they need to jump about quickly as was the case here. But I would say now that it was the weather that got them, the result with say two or three on board instead of four might well have been the same.

I would say they were very smart in the capsize. John was correct I think that applying weight to the slot area might swamp the boat. There isn't much room for error. Here is an old photo of Norm and Normsboat with a practice capsize in calm weather...

Just imagine this now in really rough going.

The comment about the external chine logs is right on the mark. You can say something similar about bottom skids. Long ago I capsize my old Bolger Jinni, which had internal chine logs, and righted the hull by climbing along a bottom skid. By the way, in Bolger's first book he says he was never convinced the external log is bad for drag.

By the way, I was pleased that the boat righted with so little water inside. I will bet Norm had the cockpit seats built in watertight. In olden times I avoided that with the theory that watertight volume down low was not good in a capsize. But now, at least for seats, I think making that seat volume watertight is good in that the cockpit flooding is much reduced. I learned this when the Family Skiff test capsize boat at Sail OK returned with so little water in the huge cockpit that no bailing was needed. That particular Family Skiff had watertight volume under the seats.

Norm's releasing the halyard is important in several ways I think. It prevents the sail from filling with water which would make the righting a lot more difficult or maybe impossible. It reduces the nightmare of the boat sailing off without you once righted.

Norms' boarding ladder could save a life...

Looks like the usual collapsing ladder with special brackets for support on the bottom. It takes a stiff ladder, a rope ladder won't do it. Thus Norm and crew could quickly reboard. Otherwise your boat is up there beyond reach and you can't reboard.

Well, Norm was prepared and practiced. Now on to the second 150 years of experience....




Bruce Given of Virginia Beach, Virginia, did a perfect job on the AF4B prototype shown above. He said he didn't have the shop space to build the 18' AF4 and when I saw the photo of him working I believed him. So I scrunched the 18' AF4 down to 15.5'. I took 1' out of the cabin shortening it to 7', 1' out of the cockpit shortening it to 5', and 6" out of the motor well. I'm pretty sure everything is still acceptable, although the longer AF4 might still be preferred if you can live with the length. The width and depth of the cabin and transom are tha same as AF4's.

To a certain extent you could build the shorter boat without new plans by scrunching up the length dimensions. That method would be a lot more reliable for a simple flat iron skiff like this one. For more complex shapes where all the panels are expansions, including sides, bottom and bilge panels, it would not be so reliable. Bill Wainright built the original Smoar rowboat by scrunching up the Roar2 drawings but he is a sculptor and did the job with a model. Later I drew Smoar from scratch. Also the bevels shown on the long boat drawings will not be correct. That might be no problem with a taped seam hull.


So AF4B is a totally new set of drawings. There are two changes made besides the scrunching. I made the bottom 1/2" thick instead of 3/8" as I built into my AF4. Most folks would prefer the extra stiffness. On AF4 I think of the bottom flexing only when running hard into chop. The extra thickness finds its way into a lot of other parts since they are made from the off fall of the bottom panels. You could make the bottom from 3/8" ply and save about 50 pounds on the total weight. The second change adds a bottom to the bow well which lifts the well bottom up about 18". It is more complex to build but the original deeper well is hard to reach all the way into. The area below the new well is accessible from the cabin for an iota more storage.

Still suggesting 10 horse power max.


AF4B is simple nail and glue construction with four sheets of 1/4" plywood and four sheets of 1/2" plywood.

Plans for AF4B are $30.


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:

The first Jukebox3 is on the (cold) water. The mast is a bit too short - always make your mast too long. A bit more testing will be nice...

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.






15mar16, Bulkhead Bevels, Frolic2

1apr16, Capsize Lessons, RiverRunner

15apr16, Wood Vs Aluminum Spars, Mayfly16

1may16, Scarfing Wood, Blobster

15may16, Prismatic Coefficient, Roar2

1jun16, Figuring Displacement, Mayfly14

15jun16, Rend Lake 2016, Mixer

1jul16, Ballast Calculations 1, Dorado

15jul16, Ballast Calculations 2, Robbsboat

1aug16, Ballast Calculations 3, AF4

15aug16, Taped Seams, Cormorant

1sep16, Butt Joints, Vireo

15sep16, Old Outboards, Philsboat

1oct16, D'Arcy Ballast, Larsboat

15oct16, D'Arcy Ballast 2, Jonsboat

1nov16, D'Arcy Ballast 3, Piccup Pram

1dec16, Sail Area Math, Ladybug

15dec16, D'Arcy Thoughts, Sportdory

1jan17, AF3 Capsize, Normsboat

15jan17, The Weather, Robote

1feb17, Aspect Ratio, Jewelbox Jr

15feb17, Aspect Ratio 2, IMB


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