Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1Jun05) This issue will rerun the essay about setting up a new rowing boat. The 15 June issue will continue the series about designing Bobsboat.



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.

THE 16TH MIDWEST HOMEBUILT BOAT MESSABOUT will take place at Rend Lake in Southern Illinois on the weekend of June 11 and 12. Remember that lots of folks come on Friday and leave early Sunday. Take I-57 to exit 77W and then follow the signs to the Gun Creek Recreation Area. Camping at this Corps of Engineers facility is $10/night and that includes the ramp fee. There is no schedule of events except a pot luck dinner in the campground on Saturday evening - we wing it. This year some of us have reserved the campsites on the water of the two middle camping loops so look for us there if we aren't at the boat ramp.


Pete Mohylsky takes his new Vector out for a spin.



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




I've been showing photos of Max Wawzyniak's Oracle prototype for the past few month. The project was done a while back but we were frozen in until about the first week of March. Then it all burst out then and we had a day in the 70'sF and it was time to launch. That particular day the wind was gusting to 30 and no testing was going to get done but it was a good day to take photos and also to set the boat up in the way I like to see it done.

We went to Washington County lake here in Illinois which is about a mile long and with many arms, steep hills around and a shallow launch ramp in a protected area. A very nice rowing lake.

The first thing I must say to those who are finishing a new rowing boat is to not install the rowlocks in the shop! I usually show a rowlock location on the drawing but that is just my best guess at the time I drew the boat. If you have a little patience you can get it just right the first time by following this essay.

Max unloaded his new Oracle and showed me his gear. He had made a low rowing seat, 3-1/2" high, and had some nice 8' oars. The seat looks low but you will usually have a cushion on top and this is a low sided boat. This seat turned out to be just right for Oracle.

Next the boat was placed in the water tied loosely to the dock. Max climbed in and we looked for the seating position that would provided a level boat.

Here he is too far forward and you can see that the bow is down and the stern is up. I might add that it really takes two people to get this just right - one to be the skipper, and another to watch for the correct trim since seeing the trim from inside the boat can be difficult.

Here he is too far aft. The bow is up and the stern is down:

Here he is with his weight located properly for a level boat. At this time he marked the seat location on the bottom of the boat so he could easily repeat the location in the future.

Sitting in the properly trimmed boat Max holds the oars comfortably and notes where they cross the wale.

At those points he places a large C clamp in position to simulate the rowlocks.

Now for a test row using those C clamps as thole pins. If the clamps are large enough you might pass the oar through the opening or you might tie the oars to the clamps. In this case Max was just careful to keep the oars against the clamps.

At this point you can shift things around. Once you find the best place for the oarlocks, note the position and install the lock sockets. In this case Max used common sockets mounted outside the wale. He screwed them into position for now, to replace the screws with small bolts in the future. (Screws have a bad habit of working loose at the worst time.) Sockets mounted outside the wale instead of inside? They function a lot better outside with no chafing on the wale but if you are using the boat as a tender then inside the wale might be better because there will be no metal to gouge the mothership.

Not quite done yet. A good rowing setup will also have cleats inside the hull against which you can brace your feet. It's not a big deal in calm conditions but for rowing hard, and in some conditions all rowing will be hard, the cleats will make a huge difference in the amount of force you can deliver to the oar.

Max didn't install his on his test day but the cleats can be about 3/4" square and 6" long and mounted in a comfortable position. Many rowing boats will have several cleats spaced maybe 3" apart to allow for different sizes of oarsmen. Here is a photo of the cleat in my old Roar2. It was meant to be a temporary fit and was plopped in place with a blob of Bondo. Still temporary after 12 years!

Perhaps just as good as a cleat is the arrangement that Rob Rohde-Szudy made for his Piccup Pram with a rope loop to the seat that captures a bracing bar that rests on the floor of the boat:

NEXT TIME: We'll make a cardboard model of Bobsboat.




Sowsear was presented as a prototype design in the recent 1May issue but I knew a prototype had been built a couple of years back. Then I got a set of photos and a full report from Erwin Roux about the prototype directly afterward and I present it pretty much as he wrote it:

"Dear Jim,

Sowsear was my seventh boat so it went together pretty quickly. It took me about two weeks of evenings to get it to the stage in the photo where the hull is overturned and the bottom is glassed and painted. After that I had less time available and it took another two months to complete. Only two glitches occurred during the assembly. On sheet 2 of the blueprints the bow transom reads 9" and it is really 12". I should have used my scale instead of using what is written. The other thing was that I built the stern transom to short shaft dimensions and later found a good deal on a long shaft motor. Both problems were easily remedied. The boat was built using AC exterior Douglas Fir from Home Depot, epoxy for all joints, and was painted with latex paint. It has held up well with just a tarp over it.

The PA Fish and Boat Commission rated it at 65 HP and five person capacity. I put a 25 hp on it with remote controls and that is plenty. The boat planes at about 2/3 throttle as I recall is traveling in the upper teens for mph on the gps. I have run it at full throttle a few times but don't know top speed. I am not comfortable at all running the boat up on plane. I used a lot of epoxy and screws in assembly so I know it will hold up, but the drumming noise on the big flat bottom makes me anxious and that's not why I'm in a boat so I usually run at far lesser speeds. Seven to ten mph seems good to me. At that speed with two adults on board the boat trims better if one person heads up front. When encountering another boat's wake it is best to throttle way down and turn the side toward the wake and endure the rocking. Otherwise you'll get a nice big splash of water over the bow. This boat requires a lot of attention to the helm when the wind picks up, it gets blown all over which can make it tricky maneuvering into a canal lock. I once had it out in a dammed portion of the Susquehanna River here in Pennsylvania when the wind really picked up. Whitecaps formed and I had to quarter to the waves, which I would estimate at one foot, all the way back to the boat ramp. It was not a situation I want to be in again. The local Fish and Boat Commission patrol boat passed me on the way and they didn't seem too concerned so I guess I looked safe enough, but it certainly wasn't fun.

Sowsear is, of course, at its best when used for camping. It makes a good camper on the trailer at a campsite, although climbing in and out is tricky. I've had it on four trims of three or four days on the Erie Canal in New York. The photos show three different summers. The first summer I went by myself and just threw a tarp overthe top to camp. You can see it is very bare bones in the first photos. The next year I put running lights on, and made a cockpit softtop out of polytarp and poles. This didn't work so well so in the third year I made a hardtop with which I am very satisfied. It also fits nicely lowered down over that big cockpit and keeps the rain out when trailering and storing. On the last trip I added the side curtains and windows so it can be run in the rain. Although I have been using a polytarp cover for the walkway hatch I intend to make some sort of segmented hardtop for the walkway and doors for the bow and cockpit access. Although the bow of Sowsear is good for a beach landing, the boat is tricky to et in and out of when tied to a dock, which is basically all you do on the canal.

My son Noah, ages 5 and 6 in the photos, loves the boat. Plenty of room for lounging at his age. My nephew Kevin, also pictured at age 16, has been coming along. They slept in the cabin on air mattresses: I slept in the cockpit on a beach chair laid flat which fits from corner to corner. On my last trip my wife, son and 3 year old daughter came and we all comfortably coexisted although we heard lots of comments like "They've got two little kids in that boat, can you believe it?" We didn't get a single photo on that last trip, although enjoyable, much of it was gloomy weather and we were occupied with the kids.

Sowsear elicits either delight or derision from people who see it. Teenagers tend to point and laugh, I once got a lot of hoots and stares when I drove it down to a launch area with a lot of sparkly bass boats heading out for a tournament, and my father-in-law thinks it is the ugliest boat he has ever seen. But the vast majority of people love this boat. It is almost impossible to get in or out of a parking lot without someone asking about it. I once stopped at a scenic waterfall along the Finger Lakes and a guy who where there to renew his wedding vows came running over in his tuxedo to see it. One guy saw me from a bridge over a river and drove down to the launch area to wait for me to come in. You'll have company for hours if you decide to park it in a campsite somewhere. All along the Erie Canal people wave and smile. Docked at a canal port lots of folks will stop to ask questions. One canal worker told me people all along the canal were talking about my boat. I've always told people that you are the designer, although I am embarrased to say I just discovered I have been mispronouncing your name.


Thanks much to Erwin for his great letter and photos!

Sowsear plans. now updated per the above letter, are $35.


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:

Garth has the big Cormorant to the point where his kids have taken it over and he can't get it back.

The out West Picara has its roof and some major sail rig bits done:

The down South Picara is getting its innards done.

This long and lean project is a 19' version of Toon2. I don't have the drawings done yet. The builder is working from preliminary drawings and is about to pass me up. MDO plywood looks like cardboard now but it isn't.

We have an experienced builder building a Mayfly16:

This is a slightly modified Veep14. I'm told the sheer is raised a bit and the stern given a bit of flare but the bottom is per the plans. Waiting for a test:

A Vector builder is keeping a website of the project at http://www.geocities.com/michsand@sbcglobal.net/ but in the meantime I got photos of a Vector completed by Pete Mohylsky in Florida. Here he is fussing with his sail. Hopefully a report soon:

And a Polepunt is nearing completion in Poland, of course:





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