Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15Dec08)This issue will rerun the capsize issue. The 1 January issue will continue the topic.



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.


Thomas Willey goes for a sail in his Piccup.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Knockdown Recovery


This is a rerun of the 15sep99 issue which featured a capsize test done by Herb McLeod on his then new AF3. I want to keep this one up front because it demonstrates what you need to do when you capsize a sailboat which is not self righting, but rather is self rescuing. That is you can get it back upright and going again if you are properly prepared and if the boat, like AF3, has ample built in flotation or airboxes to keep it floating high on its side as you recover. A few things I'd like to point out. 1) Herb's tests were done in very benign conditions and if you capsize in really bad conditions recovery could be a lot more difficult or impossible. 2) If you tinker with a design such that you remove flotation or airboxes or enlarge hatches or move them off centerline, etc., the recovery system may not work and the boat may swamp to the point where you cannot recover. 3) If you have a design with no flotation or airboxes at all, such as most any traditional open boat, recovery is about impossible because the boat will swamp completely and be unstable even if it doesn't sink.

And now on to our story...


Herb McLeod has been sending me some great scans and also some results of capsizing his AF3, both intentional and unintentional. Early this summer he wrote:

"Hi Jim:

I now have 14 days of sailing in on the AF3. Alas, no pictures yet of it sailing on the water for the same reason as ever, no one else around to take a picture. Most days I am the only boat on the lake. Had one sail where we traveled 20 miles in one day. We did a 6.5 mile section that day in 1 hour 10 minutes with the small sail (69 square feet) on a beam to broad reach (lots of wind). Also managed to turn the AF3 on its side that same day. The AF3 floated well was easily uprighted, boarded and bailed out. Everything in the cuddy stayed dry and we managed to not lose any of our gear. But that is not what I am writing about....."

That whetted my appetite and I emailed for more info about the capsize.

"I'd like to hear a bit more about the AF3 capsize. In particular: About what angle did it go over?"

"I do not know because we were not sailing it at the time. We were both standing on the cuddy deck fiddeling with the sail in a good blow and it went over real fast. We have regularly sailed the hull at up to 20 degrees of heel and it does not feel unstable although I like it best at 10 degrees of heal. I have an inclinometer on the boat(overkill I know) so I know that the angle of heel is a real measurement not a guess. When sailing I had one puff that almost caused a knockdown because I had accidently cleated the main sheet. What happened is he boat healed over dramatically and the sail depowered enough that equilibrium was reached and I was able to uncleat the sheet in time to prevent a capsize. Unfortuantly I did not look at the inclinometer, but I was busy at the time.

" How did you right the boat? (Did you use the leeboard?)"

"Gord the fellow I was sailing with uprighted the boat while I swam off after our cooler that was quickly blowing away. The water was shallow so he was standing on the bottom. His comment after was that he was amazed at how easily the boat came back up. The second set of plans for the AF3 that I purchased was for Gord as after that experience he was convinced that he wanted to build himself an AF3 this winter. We will see..."

"How did you reboard the boat?"

"I climbed on from the stern. I have a small step on the stern that also doubles as a support for my mast cradle. Iput my hands on the stern deck and placed my foot on the step and climbed on board. I must take a photo of this step and send it to you. With the step it was easy to reboard and I could walk around in the cockpit with the water in it and bail it out. Gord then reboarded over the side, which was much more difficult and his choice not mine."

"What I will have to do the next time I am out sailing will be to dump the boat in deep water while watching the inclinometer and get you an answer. The water should be warm this week as it is again over 30C today. Unreal for us as it is usually cool, no one has air conditioning here. We were at a folk festival today but came home as it was too hot.

At summer's end he wrote:

"Hello Jim:

I was glad that I caught you in the other night. It was good to talk to you after so many emails.

I did get out "sailing" this Sunday. I rolled the AF3 solo both ways in deep water. The AF3 seemed stable to well over 30 degrees and I had the distinct feeling that I could have pushed it back upright until the point was reached that the water started to come over the combing of the cockpit. I had my large sail on the boat at the time of the test (103 square feet, 24-foot mast). Winds were almost non-existent. When it was rolled with the leeboard down in the water righting the boat was an easy task as all I had to do was put light pressure on the board. When the leeboard was up out of the water I "walked" with my hands along the chine log (it makes a good grip) to the leeboard and then pulled on the board to pop the boat upright. The comment from the yacht club spectators on the dock was that it came up too easy. They wanted to see me struggle for a while. When righted the boat had 6" on water in the cockpit against the center bulkhead. I pulled myself on board via the stern. I found it easiest to board directly in the middle of the stern because the boat would tend to wallow with the water in the cockpit if I was off to one side or the other. I found turning the rudder 90 degrees and using it as a hand hold helped to reboard. For those with limited arm strength a step on the rudder or a rope step on the stern near the midline would be a great help for reboarding. My son was taking photos I hope some of them turned out. Also asked another boat to take a few photos while sailing maybe we will get you a picture of the AF3 sailing.

I am now off for a week to Jasper Alberta with my son for some hiking and canoeing.



Herb McLeod seems to be the most energetic and organized person I've met.

The scenery of his sailing lake is certainly picture book beautiful. He has warned me that the mosquitoes don't show in the photos.

The capsize with two men on the cuddy deck is no surprise. The boat was not designed for that. In fact the idea behind the slot top cabin is to do all sail handling from inside the slot. You can do that if the snotter attachment is kept within reach of a person with his feet on the boat's bottom. I suspect the high snotter attachment Herb is using is to gain more sail efficiciency. That is true enough but after having snotter tackles fail in one way or another I learned to keep the them well within reach.

Actually the AF3 capsize seems very similar to my experiences with capsizing my old Jinni. Both boats capsize well before they take water over the side. Jinni had less flotation and I think took on more water. I was able to reboard Jinni over the side. It had lower sides and there seemed to be a trick to rolling over the side just as the boat was rolling upright. Then I had to be very careful to not recapsize the boat because of the sloshing cockpit water. And like AF3, Jinni couldn't quite roll upright until I put some weight on the leeboard. The Jinni had three skid/stiffeners on its bottom which I used as a toehold to regain the capsized boat in the same way that Herb used the AF3 external chines as a finger hold. I may add some similar skids to the AF3 drawings.

Herb looks to have gone through all his tests without disturbing any gear because he had it well stowed. Very important.


...More capsize stuff.




Norm Wolfe built his Normsboat to my design so we were acquainted. He visits the Baltic countries regularly and had participated in a "Raid" in Finland and was going to make it a regular thing, maybe with his own boat. A Raid is a pseudo race with boats that row and sail, over a fairly long course taking several days. But the racers don't sleep in their boats. Instead they do a stage each day, sleeping and partying on shore in nice prearranged places each night. So the "racers" need carry no gear except what they need during the day and a rescue boat is always nearby. I think each boat must have at least two crew. So what sort of boat do you take? A true sailboat will be helpless in calm and a true rowboat will get left behind in a breeze. Norm wanted something that would row well but convert quickly to sailing and even do hitches with oars and sails together at the same time. He wanted four oarsmen.

I sat with him at McDonald's one day and we sketched this:

The idea was a boat long enough to take four at the oars, with a folding rig that could be left up while rowing or quickly taken down and up again as the winds advised. I suggested a V bottom as it would row the best and beaching was not going to be a problem. The lugsail was lifted from the Normsboat. (I see we were thinking at the time of offset oarsmen each with a single long oar but it was first rowed with pairs of oars. I have been told that rowing with single long oars is preferred in rough water but that way you will always need an even number of oarsmen.)

The plan was to build in Europe and leave the boat there, so the drawings had to be in metric dimensions. I had never done metric because I found when I first started that metric tapes and scales were not commonly available in the US, still aren't, so I stuck with English measures. But I did draw this one in metric and was always worried about real goofs going unnoticed by me. I don't know if there were any. The boat was built in Estonia, I think, in the back of a car repair garage by a non boatbuilder. But that is OK. My boats are designed to be done that way. I never heard from the builder concerning any mistakes although I suspect he is the type of guy who forges ahead regardless and gets it done. I thought he did a fine job and I should say that there are some major twists in the panels in the bow area to deal with. I can see small changes from the plans but nothing I might not have done myself. He has a slotted gunnel. And he used a modified flag pole to replace the wooden one shown on the drawings. I should mention here that I am pretty sure a buoyant wooden sailrig is a safety factor for a sailboat in that it will prevent a capsized boat from turning turtle by my experience. I still say wood is the best material for a small sailboat. But if you have the proper flagpole at hand......

I used my usual pivoted leeboards, with one hitch to the usual. I thought she needed two, one on each side, to have enough lateral board area in a tough slog to windward. In the photos you can see the guards on the gunnel.

The Raider was finished in time for the 2008 Finnish Raid. Norm jetted over a bit early to sort it out or at least get used to it. He took along his Normsboat sail. The race was apparently its first time in the water, more or less. Here it is being paddled out for a sail:

And here it is with some of its rowing crew:

Norm assures me these are hardy men, Vikings all! That is Norm, I think, in the bow seat with no oars urging them on. Can't you hear him yelling, "Come on! Pull! Pull! Break your backs!", just like in Moby Dick. Looking at the photo I thought they might do better by sitting a little higher on say a flotation cushion and maybe with longer oars, but you never know. I gave each man a meter of space as I recall and that looks to be enough. You can see the folded rig is OK. Norm thought he might revise it to fold a bit lower.

Well, I can't tell you how Norm and crew did cuz I don't know. But they did it!

Raider is a taped seam boat, needing ten sheets of 3/8" plywood.

Plans for Raider are $40.


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.

I think David Hahn's Out West Picara is the winner of the Picara race. Shown here on its first sail except there was no wind. Hopefully more later. (Not sure if a polytarp sail is suitable for a boat this heavy.

Here is a Musicbox2 I heard about through the grapevine.

This is Ted Arkey's Jukebox2 down in Sydney. Shown with the "ketchooner" rig, featuring his own polytarp sails, that is shown on the plans. Should have a sailing report soon.

And the Vole in New York is Garth Batista's of www.breakawaybooks.com, printer of my book and Max's book and many other fine sports books. Boat is done, shown here off Cape Cod with mothership Cormorant in background, Garth's girls are one year older. Beautiful job! I think Garth is using a small lug rig for sail, not the sharpie sprit sail shown on the plans, so I will continue to carry the design as a prototype boat.

And the Leinweber's make another prototype! This one by Sandra, an Imresboat shown here on its first outing. They are taking it on a "cruise" so more about it later.

And a new Down Under Blobster, now upside down....

A view of the Caroline prototype showing a lot of the inside, crew on fore deck. Beautiful color:

I gotta tell you that on the Caroline bilge panels I made an error in layout and they are about 1" too narrow in places on the prototype plans. I have them corrected but it always pays, even with a proven design, to cut those oversized and check for fit before final cutting.





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