Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15oct01 ) This issue will present thoughts about the weather. Next issue, 1nov01, will present an essay by a reader about building Piccup Pram.



Breakaway Books will be publishing BOATBUILDING FOR BEGINNERS (AND BEYOND), by Jim Michalak, in June of 2002. They would like pictures of people building and enjoying Michalak designs. Any good photos you have (prints, please) are welcome.

Send them to:

Garth Battista, Publisher, Breakaway Books, P.O. Box 24 / Biruk Road #AT7, Halcottsville, NY 12438

Garth will sort through to see what photos work best in the layout or on the cover, and will give a free copy of the new book to everyone whose photo is used in the book. He promises to return each and every photo to its owner. If you send in photos, include your name and address, the boat design, and any interesting stories or details. (Unbridled exclamations of praise for the designer and his boats are also welcome.) Thanks!"

RB42 Left:

The Strandbergs launch their RB42 in Sweden.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



The Weather


I was watching a fastinating TV show where modern mountain climbers were going up Mt. Everest to look for the remains of Mallory and Irvine, two British climbers who disappeared a very short distance from the peak of Mt. Everest in the early '20's, about 30 years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norkay made it in 1953. The modern climbers marveled at the abilities of the old climbers who nearly made it (may have made it) to the top of Mt. Everest with primitive oxygen gear and no modern materials. But then one of the most experienced, who had been to the Everest summit several times, added that a successful summit attempt depended on good weather more than modern technology.

So it is with boating. A good day at the water will revolve around good weather more than anything! Of course, one man's good weather may not be another man's good weather. A good sailing breeze will drive a fellow paddling a big canoe crazy.

I'm going to try to give some guidance to the beginning boater on what to look for in weather.


Newspapers always have the weather forecast but they are printed a day or so before you have them in hand. They also sometimes have useful stuff like lake and river stages, more important usually to big boats than little ones.

Sometimes newspaper will also have the local water temperatures, especially in fishing articles. Very valuable during certain times of the year. Cold water is very dangerous and you must be very careful about it. Here is a chart that came with the last life jacket I bought:

WATER TEMP:...............UNCONSCIOUSNESS................DEATH

32.5.....................................under 15 min.................................15 to 45 min

32.5 to 40...........................15 to 30 min...................................30 to 90 min

40 to 50..............................30 to 60 min...................................1 to 3 hrs

50 to 60..............................1 to 2 hrs........................................1 to 6 hrs

60 to 70...............................2 to 7 hrs.......................................2 to 40 hrs

70 to 80..............................2 to 12 hrs......................................3 hrs to indefinite

Over 80..............................indefinite........................................indefinite


Get a radio that recieves the 24 hour broadcasts of the NOAA, assuming you live in the US. Where I live they update the forecast and current conditions every hour. Since I got mine about 15 years ago I've never been surprised by any weather.

Keep in mind that a meteorologist has a different outlook on the weather than some of the rest of us. I recall an Air Force weather man telling me his forcasts were 95% accurage which is quite high. But if he said it would rain on Sunday and you canceled your picnic because of that, and it turned out that it didn't rain until late afternoon and you could have had the picnic anyway, you might say that he missed the forecast and he would say he was right on!

The last time I got caught boat camping in the rain was on a "30% chance for thunderstorms" forecast. I had a cuddy cabin sailboat beached in a nook and sat in the cockpit eating supper watching endless lightening to the north. "Far away," I said to myself. A while later I could hear the rumbling of distant thunder. It got closer and closer. I took down the mast and secured everything just as the first blast hit the boat. It rained all night!

(My own experiences with forecasts around here is that they usually predict the arrival of a weather change a few hours before they really get here. Perhaps that is because they are also trying to accommodate the areas west of here, where my local weather usually comes from. I also think it is a policy perhaps, with the idea that fewer folks get upset if you cancel the picnic and the rain comes late than if you have the picnic and the rain comes early and you all get wet!)

There is another grain of salt you must take with the weather forecast. If the weather man forecasts "light winds" and when you get in the middle of the lake in a small light boat and it is blowing 15knots, you might think the weather man missed the forecast as you fight off capsize and white capped waves. But the weather man again would say he was right on.

That is one area where the NOAA broadcast can really help. Just before you leave to go boating you get the forecast and the current conditions. See how they match with yesterday's forecast.


It's always a good idea to look out the window before you go. I live in a rather sheltered spot but I can see if it is indeed looking like rain. More important usually, I can judge the wind since there are lots of big trees around. Look at the leaves on the tops of the trees. If they are still it is calm, a great day for paddling or rowing or powering. If the leaves are twittering but the branches are still, then the wind is very light, probably 5 knots or less. A good day for rowing or paddling or powering a boat and maybe OK for a sail boat with a big sail that is not in any hurry to get anywhere. If the small branches are swaying in the breeze the wind is likely to be about 5 to 10, great for sailing almost any boat with good sail area. But a heavy sail boat may find it boring. A paddler or rowing boat may find it too windy for going long distance. And it is still good for a powerboat. If the large branches are swaying, watch out! This is where a heavy sailboat will take over but all the other craft, including the powerboat, will find it uncomfortable on the lake, if not outright dangerous. It is the result of both the actual force of the wind and the waves that are kicked up by the wind.


I have to drive about 25 miles on rural Midwest road to get to my usual lake. Again, I keep an eye on the vegitation as I drive to judge both the speed and direction of the wind. About 5 miles from the lake I pass a hospital with a wind sock in the open. I think most wind socks stand straight out in a 20 knot wind so I can make a good judgement of velocity and direction again. In the same area is an overpass made from the dirt dug from a nearby pit that now serves as a small lake for some rich peoples' houses. Take a good look at the surface of that lake, judge the wind again. One thing is for sure - if the surface of the little lake is roiled with whitecap waves, then the big open lake I'm heading to will not be boatable today with my little plywood boat. Finally as I near the lake there is a restaurant with flags flying high near its twin arches. One last chance to judge the wind from those flags.


First, NEVER TAKE A SMALL, LIGHT, BOAT OUT INTO WHITE CAPPED WAVES, ESPECIALLY A FLAT BOTTOMED BOAT! I know it is done and it can be done but I can assure you that those guys racing sailboats out there usually have a lot of experience, and they always have a substantial "crash boat" nearby to save them. You may have neither. Such conditions aren't safe or comfortable in the normal sense.

You may think, "I can reef down and take this wind." True in protected waters that don't get rough, but once you are out in the whitecaps there is little you can do to ease the action of your little flat plywood boat. A 2' wave that crashed into the bow of a 3 ton racing sailboat will make a lot of spray and make the skipper wiggle his course, but that same wave that crashed into the side of a 300 pound craft might knock it silly. Even if you can keep the boat upright, you may not be able to maneuver properly, not be able to tack through the wind to a new tack, because the light boat doesn't have the momentum to carry through the waves. And in these cases someone must always be at the tiller. If you are solo there will be no chance to reset a line or bail water.

As I'm writing this it has been a long time, about 15 years, since I capsized a sailboat. Once I had been boat camping in a shelter cove, snug as a bug, with no idea of what was happening out on the big lake. I stuck my nose out to find the wind was blowing maybe 15 knots or more and had been doing so all night, raising whitecaps all over. I was ignorant at the time and sped on to windward, crashing into and through each wave. After about a half hour I thought this was uncomfortable and decided to head back, anticipating a fast enjoyable downhill run through the waves. The boat broached sliding down the face of a wave, which is to say the bow dug in and was caught by the stern, the boat turning sideways on the wave face, and slowly turned over on its side. There was nothing to be done about it but hang on and right the boat. It came up half full of water, rolling very deeply with each additional wave with me thinking it was going over again every time. But it didn't. I was able to bail it out slowly with a one quart container after my fancy pump had failed on the first pull when it swallowed a line. You know, when you capsize in rough water everything goes to hell. Anything not tied down is lost, in this case the anchor, floorboards, oars, etc.. Eventually the boat drifted back in the general direction of the cove and I got it going again on a reach to the cove and the smooth water and the ramp and then home.

There was no one around to help because they weren't as stupid as I was at the time and knew better than to go out in those conditions. And I learned something from that - if you look out on the waters and it seems rough and there is no one else out there, you might consider staying in a cove.

A year later in the same boat I capsized under very different conditions. This day the forecast might have been winds 5 to 15 with gusts. It was mostly quite light but every now and then a big blow would pass, lasting maybe 10 or 20 seconds, and then it would be light to calm again. There were no waves. But I got caught broadside by a big gust with my sheets tied to cleats and not enough speed to give me steerage (your boat needs to be moving a knot or so for the rudder to supply steering). So I couldn't swing the boat into the wind to ease the force on the sail by luffing. I did get to the sheet in time to untie it but being broadside to the wind, the flapping sail had enough drag in the big gust to capsize the boat! Again it went over in slow motion.

In this case once the gust had passed, there was lots of time to deal with the disaster because it was calm again. I righted the boat and gathered up my floating mess. But the rudder had unshipped itself! A nearbly power boater helped gather it up and I went sailing. But if that rudder had fallen off in the first capsize I'm not sure I could have sailed back to the cove. So since then I always wire my rudders in place to keep them from slipping out of the gudgeons. I also make sure the mast can't fall out of its step and try to keep everything tidy and stowed in rough going.

Well, enough of the stories. The point is to be prepared and take the weather seriously.


One reason I watch the signs of the wind closely as I drive to the lake is that I have options I can take which will allow me to go boating even when things aren't perfect.

Here is a cartoon of my local lake:

This is a large shallow lake and whitecaps in winds over about 12 knots. This is in the Midwest and conditions vary a lot around the country. But I'm fairly certain that if you boat on the Gulf Coast or on the Chesapeake that you will have a similar situation. The road I take to the lake arrives near ramp 1 and that is where I can see the flags near the restaurant with the twin arches and make a last judgement on the wind.

Let's say the wind is out of the south or southwest, very common in the summer here. And let's say the small branches by my house are moving pretty briskly and the wind sock at the hospital is nearly straight out. Then I figure the wind is about 15 knots and there will be whitecaps on the lake. But not everywhere. I would figure the lake will be like this:

So I would figure the options for the small boat would be ramps 1, 2, and 4. Ramp 7 might be a possibilty but you could not leave the cove. Same with ramps 2 and 4. You couldn't leave those coves out to the open lake but you might be completely safe inside them - a capsize would be a mess but probably a safe mess.

Launching at ramp 1 presents an interesting situation. You would there have a good wind for reaching back and forth a mile or two across the lake in the lee of the dam where the water is smooth. Most likely all the power boats would be there too since the water skiers also love that smooth water there.

But you must be careful at ramp 1. As you look out over the water from ramp 1 you will see nothing but smooth water in the lee of the dam. The rough water is out there, out of sight. In fact even if you could see out there to the rough stuff you might not recognize it as such since you will be seeing the back faces of the whitecaps. And if you launch there and drift north to the rough water or sail there in ignorance you may not be able to sail back to the ramp!

My favorite story about this lake happened about 1980 when I first got interested in homebuilt boats. I think I had a little Snark Mach2 then, sort of an inexpensive Sunfish. As I drove to the lake I saw all the signs of a brisk south wind and I left my boat in the pick up truck and watched the other sailors. One fellow showed up with his small sailboat and family, launched and headed out into the big lake downwind to the north. I decided he was a much better sailor that I to go out with confidence like that. But he wasn't! An hour or two later he was towed back to ramp 1 with his sails down having found he couldn't beat back to the ramp trough the waves. As he neared the ramp he cast off his tow and got out his oars to row the last little bit. But you can't row a sailboat in high winds! He drifted off downwind again out of control and had to be rescued again! I always refer to this story to illustrate two things: never sail in whitecaps, and never sail in whitecaps with your family! Most likely the man learned his lesson about sailing on rough days, and his family learned they didn't like sailing ever!

So I would launch at ramps 2 or 4 and stay close to home, swimming and watching more than sailing.

Let's look at the lake in a west wind:

All the ramps on the west side are usable since they are on the weather side of the lake, that is to say the wind is blowing away from that shore so that the water is "to the lee" of the shore. The entire west side of the lake should be smooth but once out on the big lake you must be careful to stay near the shore. But if you do that you can get in a lot of sailing. You can reach up and down that shore at high speeds in smooth water, a wonderful situation. If you decide to "do the lake" you might find really hard going on the east shore. You may find once there that you can't get back to the west shore because of the waves. That might be true of any small boat including a power boat.

Ramps 7 and 8 might be usuable if you stay in those coves.

Let's look at the lake in an east wind:

Just the opposite here with all the east shore ramps usable. But note that ramps 2 and 4 on the west side are still in shelter and would also be usable provided you stayed in those coves and didn't venture out on to the main lake.

Finally let's look at the north wind:

Again, ramps 2 and 4 and probably 7 and 8 are sheltered and safe, as are the northern ramps.

One thing worth mentioning is what you might do if you were to get into the rough stuff, finding yourself in a small sailboat without the abiltiy to sail back to the northern ramps and with no one around to help. Your best option is to sail on a close reach I think to the nearest sheltered cove. Usually the close reach allows good control, the ability to turn into the wind to luff the sail to kill its power.

Again, ramps 2 and 4 are totally protected.


Almost no small boat can withstand a thunderstorm. I've told you what can happen in 15 knot winds. The winds in the thunderstorms around here often run at 50 knots.

Don't get the idea that you can keep one in sight and sail safely around its edges. The wind pattern is totally disrupted by the storm and will be changing in direction and intensity by the second. It will blow 50 mph from all directions at once! Even ballasted cabin boats have sunk in storms around here on my cartoon lake. Time to head for ramps 2 and 4 again!


I'll present a reader's essay about building Piccup Pram.





Herb McLeod lives in western Canada and likes to tease the rest of us with photos like the one above. Beautiful! Here is his RB42 out camping with two aboard.

RB42 is a row boat for two! The prototype was built by Herb McLeod of Edmonton, Alberta. Look closely and you will see a lot of my Toto canoe in RB42. I has the same long lean bow and multichines for smoother going in rough water. The stern is wider on top but the lines of these boats at the water always sweep upward and taper to nothing. The stern has a buoyancy/storage volume with a hatch. The bow has another buoyancy/storage area with access through a deck plate in the bulkhead.


Here is another one of Herb's camping photos. You can see some gear lashed to the aft deck and no doubt there is a lot more stuff secured inside that stern locker. The floor of the boat is about 10' long and totally open so one person could sleep there right in the boat. There are no built in seats or frames in the way. A movable rowing seat is used. Here is Herb's version:

row seat

A thinly padded board is mounted to a standard plastic toolbox. The seats shouldn't be too high, I've usually made mine about 9" high but that would vary by person and boat so some experiments are needed on the trial runs. As I recall, Herb's seat has a little trick to it - the seat is actually attached to the bottom of the box. So if the box is turned over, the top is available and it can be used then as a regular tool box.

Although designed to be rowed by two people, this boat might be fine with a solo rower in many conditions. The long waterline should give extra speed over a shorter boat, although it's not all that simple. Frictional area might be increased and windage drag should increase over a shorter boat. But RB42 is a bit lower and sleeker than my other designs so it's hard to tell.


Herb had to tinker a bit with the seating and oarlock locations, something any rowboat builder will likely have to do. In the end he moved the locks aft 1' from what is shown in the first photo. Solo rowing is fine from what is shown above as the original aft location. Seating in almost all my rowboats is on movable boxes that simply rest on the floor so no revisions of seating structure was needed. In addition when the seat boxes are removed, the boat is totally open between the bulkheads. I got the idea a long time ago from reading Bolger, who got the idea from Herreshoff.

RB42 is built with taped seams from six sheets of 1/4" plywood. No lofting or building jigs required. Plans are $20


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.

Here are the prototypes abuilding that I know of:

Family Skiff: A Family Skiff has been started in Virginia.

HC Skiff: One of these has been completed and sailed in Massachusetts. Here is one of the first photos - very pretty boat, I think. The builder has gotten many great comments from other boaters and it occurred to me that this boat was called the "Oystering Skiff, Cape Cod, taken off at Orleans (Massachusetts), Aug 7, 1933" in Howard Chapelle's great book American Small Sailing Craft, where I got the lines. So this is sort of a retro photo with classic boat in its classic Massachusetts setting.

Electron: An Electron has been started in California.

Mayfly: The prototype of the original 14' Mayfly is finished in New York state. Here it gets its lawn trials:





Mother of All Boat Links

Cheap Pages

Messing About In Boats

Duckworks Magazine

The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Power Skiff

Bruce Builds Roar

Dave Carnell

Rich builds AF2

Herb builds AF3 (archived copy)

JB Builds Sportdory

Hullforms Download (archived copy)

Plyboats Demo Download (archived copy)

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