Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1dec02) This issue will rerun an issue about rigging a balanced lugsail. The 15dec02 issue will mess around with motors.



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....


... 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.


Ari Haberberg's Mayfly14 in New York.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.





This applies to any sort of sail rig. For proper sailing the sail rig forces need to balance around the hull forces.

Look closely at Figure1 and see that the center of the sail area is placed right above the center of the leeboard's area. For boats like mine with shallow underbodies and deep narrow boards this is the way it has to be. You can't tinker very much with this if at all.

Here is what happens. In general you can think of the force of the wind as a giant finger pushing at the sail's center. Opposing that force is a giant finger pointing the other way at the center of the leeboard. The hull tends to rotate about that deep narrow board. So if those two forces are in vertical line the boat will not try to rotate and will in general maintain its heading.

If the center of sail area is moved aft of the leeboard, the boat will rotate into the wind if left on its own. To keep the boat on course the skipper needs to tug on the tiller as shown in the top of Figure 2. This is called "weather helm". Weather helm reduces the load on the leeboard and should result in a faster boat. If the skipper falls overboard the boat should rotate into the wind and stall and with luck wait for the skipper. A light weather helm is considered to be ideal.

Now take the case of the builder who modifies the rig so that the sail area centers forward of the leeboard. This might be by changing to a rig style with a jib, or perhaps by relocating the mast forward. Now the two opposing giant fingers on sail and leeboard are not in a vertical line and the boat will want to rotate around the leeboard bow going downwind. To hold the bow on course the skipper must correct by pushing the tiller as in the bottom of Figure 2. This is called "lee helm". Lee helm will increase the reaction load on the leeboard. If the skipper falls overboard the boat will turn downwind and take off without him. Lee helm is usually not considered to be good.

So the way I like to approach it is to keep the center of the sail area directly above the aft half of the leeboard. You might find lots of variations on the rules that hope to provide proper helm feel. Try them if you wish. But keep in mind that if you build the boat and it has lee helm, you need to move the sail area aft. If you have excessive weather helm, the sail area needs to be moved forward.



I greatly prefer individual ties through the grommets although lacing looks neat. But the individual ties allow for last ditch sail shaping. If you think you needed more round in the head of the sail for example, you could make the ties in the center of the yard tighter than those on the ends. Also, a failure of a tie or two is of little consequence where a failure of a lacing line will be total.

One important note. The ties in the corners take most of the load. They should be tied as shown in the figure in two directions.


Let's look at the sail and halyard attachment in Figure 1:

As you see, the balanced lug sail pivots around the mast. I guess all sails do. But the balanced lug has the mast running through its middle somewhere, as do other Lugsails, junk sails and lateens. While the mast may interfere somewhat with the aerodynamics of the sail, great benefit is gained in proper "balance" of the sail areas that are in front of the mast. In particular if things are properly placed, the sail will twist less than similar sails that use the mast as a leading edge. As a result the lug is a low tech sail that can be more efficient to windward than you might expect.

One trick to rigging these efficiently is to get the "balance" correct. By my experience the yard should be hoisted about 40% aft on the yard. If you hoist farther forward than that you will get harmful sail twist when sailing to windward. Hoisting too far aft can make the sail uncontrollable. I have often seen in the older literature the advice to hoist at 33% aft. That will work OK but it has been my experience that all the stretches and sags in the system conspire to pull the sail aft with respect to the mast. So if you tie the halyard to the yard at 40%, in use the sail swings aft very close to that 33% value.

(You see the designer has little choice of mast placement once the sail has been chosen. The leeboard can only go at the hulls widest beam. The sail area must center right above it. The mast must cross the yard at a certain point. )

We need to rig the halyard so the sail stays near that 40% position by binding it somehow to the mast. This is especially important while reefed or while in rough water that will force the yard to pump back and forth on the mast. I know of three suggestions.

First for small simple boats that won't be reefed the best solution is to run the halyard through a simple hole in the top of the mast, tie it to the 40% position on the yard, and hoist solidly to the top of the mast. There must be a small amount of slack at the masthead of course to allow the yard to swing but that will appear automatically when you tension the sail with the tack line.

Second you can try the tightening noose system shown in Figure 3. Here the halyard runs in a loose loop around the mast before going to the masthead. It will stay loose until the yard is hauled up all the way. Then additional tension in the halyard constricts the noose (until it hits the stopper knot) and secures the yard to the mast. You will need rollers on the noose to keep the halyard from binding on the mast. I have a feeling that this is the most reliable system.

Third method works well with round and slippery masts. A loose slippery ring is simply dropped over the halyard and mast. I use this system on my Piccup Pram using a section of large PVC pipe as a ring.


Figure 5 shows the tack arrangement I prefer. As with the yard, the boom must be secured to the mast to prevent pumping in rough water. The actual location of the tack on the yard is not too important. In fact if it were at the very front of the boom you would have a standing lug. The standing lug is probably easier to rig and reef than the balanced lug but in my experience lacks the great manners of the balanced lug in sailing downwind.

The boom has a small cleat on it with a lanyard that wraps around the mast to locate the boom fore and aft. That loop should be fairly loose to allow easy up and down motion of the boom. This loop needs to be set up before the yard is hoisted to prevent the sail from blowing around and making a spectacular and dangerous kite during hoisting.

The actual tack line I prefer is a simple line that runs from the mast step over the boom and down to a cleat at the step. So with the boom loop attached, the yard is hoisted, then the tack line is passed over the boom, pulled very very tight, and cleated. In effect you have now a two to one tackle. All sail tensioning is done with the short and handy tack line and not with the halyard. On my Piccup I run the tack line through a cam cleat to allow for quick adjustment although I don't consider that to be as secure as the good old jamb cleat. In my opinion the tack should always secure to the hull and not to the mast. Securing the tack to the hull will secure the entire mast and rig to the hull in event of a capsize.

Here is some advice about how much to tension the tack line. It varies with wind strength. Look at the sail as you do it. See Figure 6. As you tension the sail with the force of the wind in the sail, stress folds called girts will appear in the sail. If the girt runs from throat to clew you need more tension. If the girt runs from head to tack you either have it right or can reduce the tension. A perfect setting will have no girts. Usually at the initial setup I put in a good girt from peak to tack. Then I watch it while sailing to see if that girt disappears. Then when convenient I trim as required. Remember that changing sailing conditions will change the tension requirements.


Nothing fancy needed here. Almost anything will work. Because the sail is balance already to a great degree the sheet forces are less than with other sail types. Because the tack is pulling down in the middle of the boom, the boom has less tendency to lift so downward pull of the sheet on the boom is of less importance. The location and lead directions of the sheet are of little importance also. It's another advantage of the balanced boom. By the was, if the boom is omitted to make the sail boomless, the sheet location is very critical and its needs change all the time. I think the boom is a great invention! The boom on a balanced lug can be quite light and still work.


Watch the leading edge of the sail for luffing, as with about any sail. You should be able to tack through about 100 degrees effectively, although if you are really interested in getting somewhere you might sail it more freely, say up to 120 degrees between tacks, especially if the wind is unsteady. While reaching or running a balanced lug sail, even a cheap polytarp one, will keep up with any conventional sail.

Also it should be mentioned that one of the most effective ways to trim the boat, helm-wise, is to rake the mast as required to move the sail are fore or aft. You can see that a small amount of rake will move the mast head quite a bit and the entire sail will go with the masthead. Old time boats had adjustable mast steps or partners. On my designs you can usually shim the mast partner on the bulkhead. It's one place where tinkering pays off. Making a mast a bit longer than shown on the plans is also almost always a good idea as it allows for this tinkering not to mention real life stretch of the rigging.


We'll mess with motors.



Piccup Pram


Piccup Pram was the first boat of my design to get built, back in 1990, I think. I still have the prototype and use it regularly. I designed it to be the best sail/row boat I could put in the back of my short bed pick up truck. But I found it to be a good cartopper, too. It has capacity and abilities I had previously thought impossible in a 90 pound cartopper. The photo above shows the original 55 square foot sail on Pensacola bay a long time ago. Piccup is a taped seam multichine hull which can take a fair amount of rough water.

Piccup continues to be one of my most popular designs and I get nice photos from builders. Here is one of Richard Donovan hoping for more wind up in Massachusetts.


Richard's Piccup has the larger 70 square foot sail that prefer myself. It's the same as the original but is 2' taller. This balanced lug sail sets on a 12' mast and rolls up easily for storage on its 9' yard and boom. The idea was to be able to store the rig easily in the boat during rowing and it works. There is a pivoting leeboard and kickup rudder on the boat and they can be left in place raised while rowing. Converting to full sail takes a couple of minutes as you step the short mast, clip on the halyard and tack lines, hoist the sail, lower the boards, and off you go. And the balanced lug sail reefs very well although reefing any small boat is best done on shore.

Here is a Piccup by Vince Mansolillo in Rhode Island, a nice father/son project. Piccup will be large enough to hold both of them. You can see the large open frameless cockpit, large enough for sleeping. And you see the buoyancy/storage boxes on the end.


But Piccup will take two adults as seen in the photo of Jim Hudson's boat. Jim's boat has a polytarp sail as does my own Piccup.


These boats have proven to be good for sail rig tinkerers (be sure to read and apply the Sail Area Math essay before starting). Here I am in Piccup with a polytarp sharpie sprit sail. The rig is different from the originals but the hull here is totally unchanged (except for paint) from the original shown on the beach at Pensacola.


I think my own Piccup has had about six rigs of different sorts and was always the test bed for the polytarp sail experiments. But, hey!, that's nothing compared to the tinkering Reed Smith did with his out in California. Here is his Piccup rigged as a sharpie sprit yawl!


Here is Rob Rhode-Szudy's yawl rig Piccup that was featured in his essays about building Piccup that you can access through the old issue links.

Here is another by Doug Bell:

Piccup Pram uses taped seam construction from five sheets of 1/4" plywood. Plans for Piccup are still $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:

An Australian builder has started a Dorado which is a power version of Frolic2. At the point of looking like a boat....

The Australian Twang builder looks about done to me:

The Oracle builder in St. Louis has his hull basically done except for finish, hard to do in the winter.





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