Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1OCT98) This issue will report on some methods for reboarding a boat after a capsize. Next issue (about 15OCT) will continue the sail thoughts essays with a new way to make a lug sail from polytarp.







Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254
Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Nobody likes to talk about reboarding after a capsize or falling overboard. Folks who reboard from sailing board boats or from powerboats with boarding ladders make it look easy because it is for them. But for lots of other boats it can be tricky if not impossible. The idea is to keep the reboarding problem in mind, be prepared, and practice if you can.


The size of boat you are trying to reboard makes a difference of course. One reason the Sunfish sailor can hop right back into his craft over the side is that it is so low to the water. Grab the side and it comes down to you. Throwing a leg over the side is easy because it will be awash be now. Scramble back on.

The Sunfish has another thing going for it in the reboarding. It is not a particulary light boat, 150 pounds, I think. It has enough weight to hold still while you scramble on. Some very light boats, like canoes or kayaks or dinghies, don't have that weight. And your weight as you try to scramble aboard completely overwhelms theirs. I can recall one plan of reboarding in a lightweight dink that called for carrying a bucket to tie to the bow. Fill the bucket with water to give some weight there as you try to climb over the stern. It would help but you must be warned that in the conditions that might cause a capsize in the first place, trying to tie a bucket of water to the bow as you float beside the boat won't be possible.

One more thing the Sunfish has going is its deck. It takes on no water even in a 360 degree roll. It has a tiny footwell but that has a drain through the bottom. An open boat of the same size would be a totally different operation in a capsize. The hull would fill. Your best bet would be to empty as much of the water out before trying to reboard. Herreshoff's book THE COMPLETE CRUISER gives guidance here. Shoving the hull forward will cause a lot of the water to flow over the stern as the boat moves forward. This will work to get a few inches of water out of the boat. Next swim along side while bailing the inside. Get as much water out as you can. (I think Lf suggested using a hat to bail but that was way before plastic milk jugs were invented.) The big reason to get most of the water out is that its sloshing can recapsize the boat. Especially when you try to reboard. If you try to come in over the side, the water slowly starts to flow that way as you depress the side. About the time that you are lifting your weight up, here it comes big time, and under goes the rail, reflooding the boat.

Although I've seen lots of small boats reboarded over the side, I recommend reboarding over the stern. For one thing, the fore and aft stability of the hull is much greater than its side to side stability. You are much less likely to reflood the hull. Remeber this picture from last issue showing Herb getting back into his AF3?

Herb has a bracket on the stern which he uses to hold a mast crutch during trailering. And he uses it as a step while reboarding over the stern. Otherwise it is tough to get back into a boat from bow or stern. If you have no lateral support for your feet as you pull yourself up your legs will swing under the boat. Then you are stuck there. A rope or rope ladder is of little help unless it also allows you to brace your feet against the hull in some way. I've been asking around about what folks are using for reboard steps and here are some possibilities:


I did this one myself. The idea is to have a rope loop on the rudder that will act a step, your toes pushing against the rudder as you reboard. The loop is stored on a cleat above the waterline when not needed. I tried this on my old Jinni and it worked in practice at least. So you swim to the stern, uphook the loop from the cleat as you float, pull it down, insert your foot and pull yourself up grasping the aft deck as you push up and against the rudder with your foot. The rudder needs to be over all the way as you do this. The rudder itself and its hardware need to be rugged to support your weight, indeed your soaked body which is probably powered by a bit of fear by now. And you might think twice before you mount a lot of hardware on the aft deck. You will need to climb over it.


Brave old Reed Smith contributed this one. He's been sailing his Piccup in the open ocean off California (Gulp!). It's made of 1/2" plywood and will support his weight. It's kept on the aft deck with its sturdy lanyards already tied to the hull. When needed the ladder is yanked down from the deck over the stern transom. The lanyards need to be just the right length to get the bottom step right. Then up you go pulling the ladder after you.

I had almost tried something like this on my AF4. Trouble was I was thinking in terms af a PVC pipe ladder and I didn't think the plastic and especially its glued joints were reliable enough. It has to be reliable. A ladder that breaks is worse than none at all.


Dave Carnell just cut a hole in his rudder of his $200 sailboat big enough to accept his foot. Then he uses the rudder itself to climb aboard. Again, all the rudder thingies must be rugged enough for your soaked and scared weight.

I guess I was too caught up in performance to think I should just cut a hole in the rudder. But now I think "So what?" What is an eddy or two caused by a hole in the rudder compared to always having your reboarding ladder ready to go. What if the rudder efficiency is reduced? If you had to make your rudder 3" or 4" longer to make up for the slot, would you ever know the difference. Besides, this designer will admit that rudder size is something he guesses at. Nothing scientific about it.

Looks like I may go back through my drawings and at least suggest the Dave's Toe Hold be added to the rudders for sailing boats. For a power boat like my AF4 one of Reed's ladders might be best. (Yes, I know that fine stainless steel folding boarding ladders are sold for about $90.)


I hope to start to explain how I've been making my polytarp lugsails lately.




Someday I may get to put my full catalog on the net. For now I'll put one design in each issue.


This one was out of the catalog for almost two years but I'm going to put it back in for a while at least. I took it out partly because there was more interest in the smaller AF3 but mostly because at the time I was concerned about it's skipper's ability to right the AF2 in a knockdown. But Herb McLeod's experience with righting the AF3 (it was easy) has made me more confident that a solo skipper could right the larger AF2 . Perhaps someday I'll get the original Fiddle up on this page. Here is the AF2 writeup in the current catalog of prototypes:

The AF2 (Alison's Fiddle #2) is the ancestor of both the AF3 and the AF4. It has the sharpie style of both, the general sail layout of the AF3 , and the general size of the AF4.

AF2 is almost 5' longer than AF3, and is 6" wider and deeper. The result is a boat that is a bit more of a cruiser than a day sailor. I should mention that you can't keep building the cabin higher without getting badly bit after a while. Every time you raise the cabin roof, you need to raise the cockpit seats so the skipper can see ahead. Most of us can see over a 3' high cabin if we sit just above the floor. So if you can sit up in your cabin, as with AF2, you can steer from the cockpit sitting on a low seat. If you raise the roof to 4' the skipper will need to sit about 18" above the floor. On a small boat the crew's weight is so significant to the total that elevating the crew weight will require adding ballast down low to compensate. Total weight suddenly goes way up. So adding much more cabin depth to AF2 will probably increase the 600 pound empty weight to 800 or 1000 pounds in a quantum jump. And you get a totally different boat.

AF3 has proven to be self rescuing and AF2 should be also. As with AF3, the cockpit will flood some but the knocked down boat should float high on its side and require a swimmer to place some weight on the leeboard to right the boat. But I would think a boat of this style could eventually reach a size where the swimmer's weight won't be sufficient to right the boat (as with perhaps a Hobie 16) but I'll bet AF2 will right.

The plywood bill looks like six sheets of 1/4", seven sheets of 3/8", and one sheet of 1/2". One might think that AF2 is just a notch larger than AF3 but you see she needs about twice as much material and labor.

I used a gaff rig of 114 square feet on AF2 to avoid a really tall mast.

Plans for the AF2 are $20 until one is built and tested.


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. (If you order a catalog from an internet page you might state that in your letter so I can get an idea of how effective this medium is.) Payment must be in US funds. The banks here won't accept anything else. (I've got a little stash of foreign currancy that I can admire but not spend.) I'm way too small for credit cards.

Usually when a design from the Catalog of Prototypes starts getting built I pull it and replace it with another prototype. So that boat goes into limbo until the builder finishes and sends a test report and a photo.

Here are the prototypes abuilding that I know of:

Sportdory: Word from Dave Burdecki in California was that he had his completed but no word of the launching. You can check out John Bell's Sportdory progress by clicking here .


Nothing new on the Texas IMB. Click here to visit Tim Webber's page and see some photos of the IMB as of a few weeks ago. Then poke around Tim's web page a bit.

Fatcat2: There is an old timer (80 years +) in Minnisota who has completed the hull of a Fatcat2. Fatcat2 is a simple 15' x 6' catboat, gaff rigged and multichined. I think the sail rig will be done this coming winter.

QT Skiff: This one has been popular in the catalog of prototypes for a long time but none were confirmed built. Now a builder in New York has one well along.




Mother of All Boat Links

Cheap Pages

Eldritch Press

Messing About In Boats

Shantyboats (archived copy)

Backyard Boats

The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Sturdee Dory

Bruce Builds Roar

Dave Carnell

Herb builds AF3 (archived copy)

Hullforms Download (archived copy)

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