Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1FEB99) This issue presents lessons learned from a little boat called WeeVee. Next issue (about 15Feb) will be a slight rewrite of last year's 15Feb issue about making bevels and about Toto.

A NEAT WEB SITE....ClickGlenn's Backyard Boat Building Page to see what it's like to work a really big home project, a 45' cutter. Quite a project! See large scale strip construction and pouring a big lead keel weight.







Contact info:


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




I think I built WeeVee in 1993. I still have the original. WeeVee is no longer in my catalog but plans are available for $15 if you find it suits you.


I had done several flat bottomed and multichined boats by the time I was thinking of WeeVee and wanted some first hand experience with a V bottom. I decided to go with a small dink although I'm pretty sure that experiences gained from a tiny boat might not apply to larger boats. I kept the length to 7-1/2' so it would fit on one length of plywood. I kept the beam at 3-1/2' which had worked so well with some previous designs. In order to get any sort of volume of displacement I had to make the V quite deep as you see in the lines. 9" deep, in fact. I had been used to sailing and rowing boats with 3" or 4" of draft where I could usually drive the boat onto the beach and step ashore with dry feet or at worst step into ankle deep water.



But the lines show an advantage to the V bottom. With WeeVee I made the V deep enough that the chines were kept above the water in any normal loading. I thought that would give very good water flow over the bottom. If the boat is kept from sideslipping, the flow lines should never pass over any seams, just from bow to stern over the smooth gentle curve of the bottom panels. I also think there is an advantage in water flow even when heeled in sailing. The V boat will sail with just one chine in the water where a flattie will sail with two (until it heels enough to fly a chine) and hard chines in the flow usually stir up a fuss. That's why I think shallow V sailboats like Y Fliers and Lightenings seem to sail so much better than dead flat boats.


WeeVee was a taped seam project from 1/4" plywood. She has no internal structure at all - no ribs or longitudinal stiffeners or keelson. The arcs in the plywood stiffen the panels.

Although the panels have no stiffeners, they are fastened to a stiff top perimeter. The basis of the stiff perimeter is a wide wale, 3 plies of 3/4" lumber as shown below. The trick of it is to make the outermost ply wide and in effect making a channel or I beam situation of the wale. Most traditional wales would have the wide ply against the skin for looks, but here the wide ply is outside for stiffness. I call this the "Carnell Flange" because Dave Carnell kept after me until I used it. The ends of the hull are plated with 3/4' lumber across the wales tying the whole structure together. The system was a total success even though the stripped boat weighs about 45 pounds!

Carnell Flange

The actual building of WeeVee involved 5 mm lauan underlayment from the lumberyard, seams filleted with automotive Bondo and taped with polyester resin. Then the lumber parts were glued with Weldwood powdered glue. None of these things are supposed to work but WeeVee is still in the shed 5 years later with no repairs and no sign of needing any. Indoor storage surely makes a difference. I really never know what to tell people about materials because of the varied successes and failures that happen. The only thing I can say is that if I start reading somewhere that only one material or method works, I stop reading.


I had the Moby gaff rig in the shed so designing it into WeeVee was pretty easy. I used my usual pivoting leeboard, easily adapted here because the boat had vertical sides and needed only a minimal lower guard. For the top guard I took advantage of the wide Carnell flange wale and simply added one more lumber ply in the area of the leeboard and sawed a slot through the flange.

There were two experiments in the rig for me. One was the use of lashings to secure the mast at the partner. So instead of building up the mast partner board to sufficient width to allow a full hole for the mast, there is just a half width slot for the mast with two 1" diameter pegs right in front of the slot. The idea is to push the mast into the slot and secure it with a rope that belays around and around the pegs and the mast. So there are no metal fittings. I had seen the system work well on Marc Smith's Birdwatcher.

Second, I used a shallow wide rudder of the sort that was becoming common. It had an endplate. The rudder was hung with rope hinges instead of metal ones. The ropes were secured to the inside of the hull, passed through holes in the stern (the lower rope was fastened to the skeg) and then through holes in the front edge of the rudder. They eventually passed out through the rudder sides to cleats. It fastened on pretty quickly.



I took WeeVee out on a windy spring day but was careful to keep it in very sheltered water. The first thing I saw was that the deep V made her hard to get into, at least from a beach. She had to be walked out into 9" deep water before boarding. Usually with a flat bottomed boat you can find a way to get going without getting your feet wet. Later I found that by tilting the boat over about 20 degrees one way or the other you can make it sort of flat bottomed for a while for getting closer to the beach. But if you look at the photo of the boat above you will see there is almost no freeboard in the stern corner when thus tilted and I have to be careful while doing the tilt.

While rowing, with my weight secure in the center, the boat has fine stability. As for a seat, I use a loose board that wedges itself in place from my weight. In fact the usual loose board is the leeboard which would not be used while rowing. Eventually I cut out another loose plywood board that was only used as a seat. You don't want to stand up in a craft like this.

WeeVee is very fast under oars for her length. She'll go 4 mph with good effort in good conditions, about what I'd expect from a 12 foot rowing boat. A case could be made for WeeVee as an exercise boat because she is smooth and fast enough to be interesting and yet is very cheap and takes up so little space. I found there were many small lakes, say a mile or two long but narrow, where the boat was ideal. At 45 pounds it is easy to carry it on a shoulder from the parking lot to the dock and plop it into the water. At a dock the boarding problems that occur while beaching are not problems. Then I can cover the whole lake in an hour.

The boat is actually OK in rough water. It sort of hops over waves. But keep in mind the low freeboard and total lack of flotation. Swamping it means going for a swim with no chance of self rescue.

And WeeVee could hold both me and my wife, say 280 pounds of people. Freeboard or rowing effort were not problems once underway. But getting two folks arranged is more than twice the challenge of one. When the passenger sits in the stern before the skipper, the bow cocks up way high! We were careful and it never took water over the stern.

I just thought of one more small experiment. Instead of buying rowlock sockets, I took advantage of the wide flat wale to make my own and shown below. Essentially they are 1/8" thick aluminum plates bolted top and bottom to the wale. A hole is then drilled for a standard rowlock. The aluminum I used was simply that of a standard aluminum yardstick, about $3 at the lumberyard, the kind meant for drywall work but very handy for everything. These sockets have worked very well with almost no wear. A bit of grease helps, of course. Phil Bolger had done the same thing with one of his fancy rowing boats only he used stainless plates.

Oar Socket


Boy, what can I say!

The mast lashing partner was marginal. It worked well on Birdwatcher and my own Pencilbox design because the step and partner are well apart. But on WeeVee the partner is maybe 10" above the step so the loads there can get quite high because the "couple" is so short. The rope lashings were always strong enough but getting all the slack out of the ropes is about impossible and any small amount of slack in the closely spaced supports made for big defections of the mast. It was always a struggle and I never tried it again.

For essentially the same reason the rope lashings of the rudder were not a success. Now matter how tight the lashings were at the start, after a bit of a sail they loosened and the rudder got floppy.

And this boat pretty well taught me to not use a gaff sail on a cartopper. It takes a while to rig everything, although once rigged you have great control with a rope at each corner. Repeatable simplicity is so important on a small boat. Quick rigging will mean the boat gets used a lot more. And on a boat so small that your weight placement controls the boat, the idea of going forward to tweak the rig is silly.

The deep V made the boat hard to sit it while sailing. My butt always slid to the middle which is always where the deepest puddle was. Eventually I used my new rowing seat board closer to the stern. I'd sit there with my butt to one side and my feet forward in the deep V. Upon tacking, I'd slide my butt to the other side. All this had to be done smoothly and well timed because the V made the boat quite a balancing act under sail.

I've mentioned the problems with the rope hinges in the rudder, but there was another problem. The original shallow broad rudder worked fine close hauled or on a reach, but on a brisk downwind it couldn't hold the boat. She would spin around into the wind. I took to "tacking" downwind and avoided straight downwind runs. I tried wider endplates and an endplate on top of the blade because it was plain to see that water was swirling over the top of the rudder. I gave up on that rudder and made a deep plywood drop rudder like I normally use and hung it with metal fittings. Great improvement! Full control under all conditions.

Well, I can't help but think that WeeVee was not suitable for sailing by anyone except the skateboard crowd. After the first year I parked the sail rig and it has stayed parked.


...into Vireo. Much shallower V, 50% longer, faster and all around easier to use. And I left the sail rig off even though Vireo might get away with it.



We'll look at ways to make bevels.



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

WeeVee also evolved into Vole. This one is right off the drawing board. Vole is a lot less extreme in the deep V department, but more extreme in the beam. In particular Vole should be a lot better as a knockabout sailer. Here are the Vole words in the current catalog:


Vole is a large dink. In particular Vole is short enough to be called a dink but is wide enough to maybe twice as long.

Dinks have a problem carrying weight simply because they are so small. If you weigh 200 pounds and your boat weighs 100 pounds, the total weight will equal about 5 cubic feet of water. It may not sound like a lot but there are very few dinks that could handle it well if they are streamlined at all underwater. The streamlining usually reduces the underwater volume, compared to a square ended prism with the same cross section, by half (the prismatic coefficient). Then if you don't want a flat bottom, thinking it might be slow and clumsy, you can reduce the available volume again by half by using a round or vee bottom. So then when you start sizing the boat by saying it needs an underwater box (equal to draft x beam x waterline) of almost 20 cubic feet to carry that weight. Then a short hull with 7 feet of waterline and 4 feet wide will draw about 9" of water. There is no getting around this type of figuring, al least not on this planet and in water.


So Vole is 5' wide at the top. She has a shallow V bottom which will make her go a lot better than a dead flat bottom in these proportions. The extra width will make her fairly stable and roomy for a dink, but she'll be too big to use as a tender and maybe clunky to cartop. I would expect her to sail pretty well, even with a crew of two. I gave her a sharpie sprit rig which might be the best cheap and simple sail rig. But you have to accept the 16' mast on a 7-1/2' hull. Don't expect to be able to reboard a boat like this in a capsize. There is usually no room for both flotation and crew. Any open boat without substantial flotation that swamps will be about hopeless.

Vole is made from three sheets of 1/4" plywood with taped seams. No jigs, no lofting.

Plans for Vole are $15 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 currency 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 and is close to launch I pull it from the catalog and replace it with another prototype. So that boat often goes into limbo until the builder finishes and sends a test report and a photo.

Here are the prototypes abuilding that I know of:

IMB: Click here to visit Tim Webber's page and see some photos of the Texas IMB under construction. Then poke around Tim's web page a bit. I heard this week from the Texas IMB builder who said, "I want to let you know that IMB is alive and looking good. She is now right side up and sitting on her cradle. Soon this boat and carrier will be mounted on the small trailer I have ready......"

Fatcat2: There is an old timer (80 years +) in Minnesota 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. Not only has he finished the Fatcat2 hull but he has started a....

Twister. The Twister hull is pretty well cut and fitted, ready to tape. Walt lives north of Green Bay, working in an unheated shed. He tells me there will be no more building until things warm up again next year in late Spring. If you live up there and would like to contact Walt, let me know.

Jonsboat: A builder in Florida has started a stretched version of Jonsboat (16' stretched to 19'). This boat was featured in the 15 April issue.




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