Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1Oct04) This issue will be about the size of boats. The 15Oct04 issue will rerun the capsize recovery essay.



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.


Another fine AF3, this one by Chris Feller in Illinois with a balanced lug sail.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



The Size Of Boats


I suppose if you were a boat salesman turned car salesman your ads would look like that. You wouldn't take that seriously and you shouldn't take a similar boat ad seriously either. Boats can be large or small and everything in between. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.


Little boats like an 8 foot dinghy can have their advantages. The tiny dinghy weighs about 60 pounds and is easily cartopped and handled by one person. You can usually row two in it, but sailing two adults is probably not a good idea on a regular basis. However if you want to sail two adults once or twice a year you can get away with assuming you are not really trying to get anywhere. These are cheap easy projects, very good for beginners. I alway encourage a new builder to get started on a small project. You can practice with techniques and materials you might want for your larger dream. The small first project will almost never be wasted - even after you go to a larger boat you will use the tiny one again and again.

About at the same level of effort and cost are small canoes like Piragua and Toto. The boating in a pirogue or canoe will be a lot different than boating in a dinghy. Piragua will paddle (some training required) perhaps 30 percent faster than a dinghy will row and Toto even faster. But it will be wetter and you will need to be more nimble to use it. (In fact if you aren't nimble you might avoid smaller boats all together since they react very quickly to your movements and then you have to react quickly to the boat's movements.) You couldn't use it as a dink for a larger boat because you can't climb into it safely from a larger boat, you seldom can take anyone large with you, and there is little room for the dog and groceries.

I really haven't designed any elaborate kayaks because there are already so many good ones out there. They can be very fast and seaworthy in the right hands, but I'm pretty sure it takes real training to develop the right hands. Me, I'm a poor swimmer and never had the desire to learn how to roll a capsized kayak, nor the desire to be trapped under one. So I kept my small paddle boats open enough to fall out if they went over. Remember: any small open boat is useless when swamped - you can't rescue the boat without help. Stay close to shore. Or build enough flotation to make self rescue possible, and practice self rescue all the time because it takes both practice and planning.


Let's now move up to a larger boat like a 12 foot row/sailboat shown here.

This boat is easily used solo and yet will handle two medium sized adults. Two big adults will max it out. A boat like this stripped will weigh about 100 pounds and that is about the most you can cartop. You lift it on the cartop one end at a time so you never lift more that about fifty pounds. It's sort of interesting that when I draw something like this I have the weight limit always in mind: and it seems like the customers seldom have that in mind. If you overbuild a boat like this and add 50 pounds (easy to do by say using 3/8" ply instead of 1/4" ply) I think you have negated the main reason for building it - that it's light enough to cartop easily.

I've done quite a few boats in this size. It usually takes about four sheets of 1/4" plywood to make one. It's about twice the building effort of the dinghy or pirogue, but this is a lot more boat. In fact, to me this is so much more useful than a dink that I would suggest the dink only to someone with a problem storing a 12 foot boat. And boats like this can have serious emergency flotation boxes that double as storage (provided the hatches are small and don't leak much) and self rescue is possible.

It's a stretch to do a cartop power boat like this. The boat can be made light enough but where to put the motor with it's fuel, smells and leaks while you cartop the hull? In the trunk?

Rowing boats often can be cartopped very easily indeed because they can be built long and light. The same four sheets of plywood that make the 12 foot sailboat will make a 16 foot rowboat that weighs less than 100 pounds. You need to tie the ends of the boat to the car, especially at the bow, and be aware of what high winds and passing semi trucks will do the the big boat on top of the little car.


I will argue that once you've decided to go over 100 pounds you should not make a 12' boat. You will find the heavy boat a real pain to cartop and you will either get a trailer or stop boating. Once you get a trailer you should think about going to a 15 foot boat. Almost any car will pull an unballasted 15 foot boat on a trailer. The larger boat may cost 50 percent more than the 12 footer but it will usually be twice as much boat - a good bargain. A 15 foot boat will usually take three adults with ease, or two adults and two kids. And yet it will be totally manageable by a solo skipper. This size is a good choice for a family boat. The parents and kids can have a wonderful day sailing together - or one adult can happily singlehand it - or the kids can learn to sail in it and take it out themselves.

This is also the smallest size where you might get a cabin suitable for sleeping but don't expect to sleep more than one and expect to be cramped. Yes, there are exceptions. By the way, I think this is one area where folks can expect a lot more out of a boat that can be delivered, as with the compact car that sleeps three. Or the four man tent that will only take two. If you have a concept of how many folks you want to take with you and how much gear they will need, before you order boat plans take a piece of chalk out to the driveway and draw the sleeping figures full size and leave room for the gear. Then draw a hull around it a measure it. It will always be larger than you think. Boats like my AF3 may look like little cruisers but they are only for one person and only if he travels light.


Here is the 20 foot AF2. Most likely it can sleep another adult or two compared to the 15' AF3. It takes 14 sheets of plywood compared to AF3's 8. It can still be operated totally by one person with one warning. Smaller boats like AF3 can be recovered from a capsize when the solo skipper puts his weight on the leeboard. Somewhere in the size and weight range for a 20 footer the skipper's weight won't be sufficient to bring the capsized boat upright, and that is why an unballasted boat in this size can be a bit of a risk.

One solution has been to use the Bolger Birdwatcher system where the sides of the boat are built high, with Plexiglass windows all around, and everyone including the skipper sits low on the floor. The high sides and low crew weight make for great righting moment. Plus the bottoms are usually heavily built for more weight down low. These boats are for the most part self righting without ballast. Here is a small one of mine, the IMB, just 13' long but with a cabin that has seated five adults, pulled over 90 degrees with the skipper still inside. When let go it self righted in a second.


I don't design boats over 20 feet anymore except as a specialty. My advice to anyone who wants a conventional boat over 20 feet long is to look hard at the used factory boat market.

Unless you like wild daysailing and have lots of friends who like going fast and getting wet, any sailboat in this range should be ballasted. There have been so many good designs in this range built in fiberglass factories over the past decades that good used ones can be got for a song. Catalina 22's in good condition can sell for $5000 or less complete with trailer and motor. You could never build anything like it for that. A lot of these were sold in the boating boom 20 years ago, used a few times, and then placed in storage. Fiberglass boats aren't affected much by weather and usually these oldies only need some new cushions and a scrubbing. The sun chalked surface is mostly a cosmetic thing.

I do think there are two good reasons to build a boat in this range - reasons production builders didn't really address. First is very shallow draft. The production boats that I can think of that featured really shallow draft might be the "Hen" series from Florida and Eddy and Duff's "Shearwater" and "Dovekie". Some of the others feature fairly shallow draft but I can assure you that a boat that draws 6" of water is more versatile than one that draws 16", at least where I live.

The second reason to build a boat in this range is for ease of stepping the sail rig to make a true solo trailer boat. Here again the Hen and Eddy & Duff boats are the only larger boats I can think of that also meet this requirement. Some of the common trailer sailers like the MacGregors actually have light stayed masts which look doable by a solo skipper but the Catalina is not. I know the vendors of production boats would say something like "You can rig the boat in an hour on the trailer. Isn't that great!" The answer is "No!" If you can't pull you boat off the road and be sailing in 15 minutes you will miss any chance of great impulse boating. You will end up in a different kind of boating, either stuck with busy weekends or keeping your boat at a marina.

Here are two designs of mine in this larger size. Both have features that aren't found in factory boats. First is Pete James' Petesboat:

Rigs in maybe ten minutes and draws maybe 5" of water with the board up. A 24' sailing scow with a Birdwatcher cabin. No ballast. Big outboard will push it about 20 mph if you can afford the gas.

And here is Caprice built by Chuck Leinweber. 24' long with water ballast. He towed it from Texas to our Midwest Messabout a few years back behind a four cylinder pickup truck. As with Petesboat it rigs in a jiffy but one must spend a few minutes flooding the ballast tanks. And there is another, Cormorant, now being built in New York that is a 20% enlargement of Caprice.


...I think you will reach a size of boat that you will leave you saying "It's just too big to be fun." I reached that myself with the 24' Birdwatcher in 1988. I learned my lesson.


...We'll right a capsized boat.




Larsboat was built by Lars Hasselgren to replace a Folboat that had finally met its end. Lars wanted capacity for two, plus decking, as with his old boat.

I took Toto and lengthened it with a 30" plug in the middle to gain capacity. But lengthening a hull with a straight plug like this usually improves a boat in almost every way and Larsboat should be faster than Toto in good conditions. In this case the plug meant I didn't have to refigure the shape of the twisted bow panels as I would if I'd lengthened Toto with an overall stretch. (I can figure twisted panels pretty reliably now, but not back when Toto and Larsboat were drawn.)

The decking was quite simple because even the original Toto could take a forward deck of flat sheets with a center peak. I should add that I feel the decking is very optional. This prototype weighs 61 pounds and deleting the deck might cut another 10 pounds or so. The undecked boat also would have a better cartopping shape. I'd keep the stern chamber. It will ease your mind about taking a big wave over the stern.

This would be a preferred project for someonw who intends to do a lot of cruising and camping. In the Toto camping I've done the sleeping room has been OK, but the storage is limited. Larsboat would be better both because of increased capacity and because there is dry storage under the bow deck.


The basic hull is taped seam construction needing four sheets of 1/4" plywood for the decked version and three sheets for the undecked version. No jigs or lofting required. Plans are two blueprints with keyed instructions for $20.

The photo above is of Bob Smithson's Larsboat. He customized the decking a bit. I think he also built the boat of 1/8" ply to save weight. I've forgotten what his boat weighed but he did say it was sufficiently rigid for him.

Bob Hoyle built this one without a deck down in Florida:

Paul Moffitt built this one. You can see this is a much better two person boat than the shorter Toto:

And remember Garth Battista's vertical Larsboat?

And the old outboard motor guru Max Wawrzniak often goes for a paddle in his Larsboat:

I also drew up a trimaran sailing rig for Larsboat called "Trilars" which is sold separately for $10.


It is pretty much a clamp on rig except for the small mast step and partner. Down in Texas Charles Nichols built a model of it:

Then he built what they call down there a "Charlars" shown here with me behind the wheel at the Conroe, Texas messabout in 2002:

It's different from the Trilars. The main hull is per the Larsboat blueprint but built without the deck. I thought the rudder and leeboard were just like the Trilars print. The sail is a large balanced lug instead of a sharpie sprit. The floats are triangular in cross section instead of flat bottomed as on the Trilars, and I'm pretty sure the Charlars is wider than the Trilars which I drew narrow enough to trailer without disassembly. There wasn't much wind that day but I got a little sailing in with the Charlars and it seemed fine with the potential of being wicked fast. My only thought was that it was fast and stable enough (it was stable as a dock) that in rough water it might spear a wave and ought to have the fuller deck, something I think the paddling Larsboat can get by without in most cases.

And finally Jeff Blunk built a Trilars in Colorado. Haven't gotten a sailing report yet:

Larsboat plans are $20 and the add on trilars plans are still $10 for now.


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.

The AF4G is done and launched. Writeup after testing:

The 30' Cormorant has been flipped! Bottom totally painted so there should be no upside down work to do. Read about the flipping at www.breakawaybooks.com/Flipping_Cormorant.htm

The out West Picara is rightside up now waiting for its roof:

The down South Picara is getting its innards done.





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