Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15Aug09)This issue will talk about designing for the beach. The 1 September issue will repeat the taped seam 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.


Organizer John McDaniel writes...

"Check the messabout website: http://pwp.att.net/p/pwp-mwmess for the latest event news, photos of last year's happening, maps, and accomodation information. September is a busy month in the Lake Monroe area, so if your a hotel person rather than a camping type, you might want to book your hotel now."


Another new Mikesboat, this one with Peter Simmons and co.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Beach Designs


... I was reminded that what I am about to discuss was called "Beach Cruisers" back thirty years ago when I was getting started. Even then I think the term was used by L Francis Herreshoff in his many books. I think his favorite beach cruiser was a molded wood kayak, with a bulged deck large enough to hold his dog and also large enough for him to crawl under for shelter (I suppose the dog got stuck outside then), but he also discussed small sailing boats that could be easily hauled up on a beach, tented over quickly, and then slept in. It was a very good way to go in good weather he said and don't forget he made a good living designing huge yachts for the very very rich. Phil Bolger did a lot of them and that is where I came in. The idea of real Beach Cruising is not as practical as it sounds since it seems not legal in most public places and rich land owners will run you off even if you might lay claim to the high water mark. But even if you don't really beach cruise the resulting beach boats can be quite nice to have. They will be small, light, and handy to tow, stow, and use. They can go anywere with water a few inches deep and Phil Bolger would remind us that all the interesting places are near the shore anyway. The down side to these good features is that they will not be good sea boats so you must watch your weather and be ready to spurt for shore and stay there when rough stuff approaches.

I've lost photos of my Bolger Jinni, the first real beach cruiser I built. I used it for ten years or so, used it pretty hard in the first five. It was a light plywood sharpie of the simplist sort with a sharpie sprit yawl rig that was way too big for its weight. It could be a pretty sight on a light wind day but a real handful in a blow. The only boat I ever capsized. Twice. I could tent it over quickly and overnight in obscure hidey holes around the big lakes and learned first hand to beach camp on a budget.

But we always advance to larger boats, don't we, at least until we learn our limit. So then I went to a Bolger Birdwatcher. Here is an old photo, although I still have her, now twenty years old and still in very good shape:

You see she is pulled out of the water about 1/3 of her length and that is quite easy to do. She is 24' long and about 1000 pounds ready to go but only has about 2 or 3" draft thusly. Now, here is the gist of this story. This basic hull is 24" deep to the wale so maybe a 30" step to the top of the bow and then down into the boat. A little care is in order since there are cleats, etc. up there too, but I can still do it. Smaller people have to climb a bit though.

As I started designing I wondered if the boarding situation could be improved. You remember the landing craft of WW2. Fully armed troops running off the lowered boarding ramp, barely getting their feet wet (at times). Hey, I had an old friend Leon around here a while back. "Were you in the Big War?" asks I. "Yes," says he, "Joined the Navy like any prairie 18 year old would do. Had never seen the ocean. Became an landing craft driver. Trained in New Jersey. Shipped over to Cherbourg when it was still all blown to hell. Then loaded the boats on big trucks and overland to the Rhine. Then into the Rhine with a load of troops and ferried across the river with lots of shooting going on. Hit the shore, dropped the door, the guys ran out into the fire and I felt sorry for them." "What happened then," asks I. "Slammed it into reverse and got the hell out of there!" says he. Point is, no one had to crawl down out of the boat.

So back around 1990 I was in my idealist boat design stage. I did a few that had the Bolger theory scow shape where the side and bottom are bent to the same curve. The idea is that the water pressure on side and bottom then would be the same so there would be no nasty curling vortex at the chine. The resulting boats go quite well as long and the water isn't too rough but the result is always a very swept up bow that a lot of folks don't like. Into most of these I put a small well in the bow to take your muddy shoes and anchors but I also gave it a low front shelf so you might use it as an easy step to the bow deck. One of these was Deansbox and here is a photo of a new one by Josh Clover, the photo taken at the Texas200 which he completed:

You can see how easy it would be to step aboard although it wouldn't be too hard with the 15 footer anyway.

Another more ambitious project was Jewelbox, the prototype built by Karl James. Jewelbox was my idea of a Birdwatcher made easy to use. It had about the same interior volume as BW although it was 5' shorter. The ends were snubbed such that I could put the step well in the bow, a motor well in the stern, and I got away from the rudder linkage required by the BW double ended hull. I never said it was prettier than Birdwatcher.

Karl used the boat for about ten years before designing his own replacement. He took it everywhere including driving up to Rend Lake one messabout so I got a chance to see and use it a bit. It was quite clear to be equal in room to BW but much easier to use. You could get into the cabin in about two steps. And there was another advantage of this bow that may not notice right off in that these are very easy to launch from a beach. You simply stand with one foot in the step well and the other on the shore and push off, then saunter to the stern to run the ship.

Eventually Jewelbox Jr got built and again with the step well. No one complained.

It became pretty clear though that not everyone liked a step well. Pete James, Karl's brother didn't want one on his own scow. Scram Pram was designed with one but the prototype builder thought different. I put one on Sowsear and the builder put it there but at that time at least he was canal cruising with it and never used it. So I stopped being an idealist.

Later I got to see a pair of IMB's in Texas. Here is Jerry Scott's:

IMB has a short bow deck at about 2' high and is not hard to board from the shore, especially if you sit on the deck first and swing you legs around and slide into the cabin. (Remember that IMB, Jewelbox and Scram all have offset masts which allow you to go directly inside.) Hmmmm? One issue I was faced with was that folks wanted pointy boats more than square boats and you can't put a step well in a pointy bow. A low bow deck like IMB's would help.

IMB eventually evolved into Philsboat with a pointy bow. No step well, although it has an anchor well. Chris Feller brought one to Rend Lake and I got to sail in it. Again, no problem with boarding by sitting on the low (approx 2' high) bow deck, swinging legs around and into the cabin.

This works because usually the bow of the beached boat is so far on shore that you can board without getting your feet wet. Philsboat is so shallow that Chris would beach it stern first like this. I don't know if L Francis ever thought of a boat like this but I think it is getting close to the ideal beach cruiser since it has shown itself to be self righting from a full knockover without anybody getting wet inside (although things may tumble about).

But I still try to put step wells into a square bow boat. Here is Miles Bore's new Blobster, still without sail rig but who cares? Take it out boating as Miles is doing. You can imagine how easy this thing is to get in and out of.


I say this easy boarding thing is pretty vital. You might say I'm a big strong man and can easily hoist myself on to the bow deck of a commercial glass cruiser. But you wife and kids can't. So you will end up boating without your family for the most part. Too bad because it doesn't have to be that way. Some of you will be better off accepting the compromises of the step well scow and enjoy good weather with your home crew. Marinas are full of fancy sailboats that don't get used because the skipper has to go solo.

I suppose I should demonstrate with my own data point. My AF4 is a bit of a grunt to get into even though I gave it a step in the bow. It is about 3' up to the bow deck.

Getting aboard meant either scaling the bow and then dropping down into the cabin slot, or, just as often, wading to the stern and climbing aboard via the motor well. As you may recall I rebuilt the boat a bit last year and added a door in the bow and a step through slot through the first bulkhead so I can actually make a giant step with one leg into the cabin with the other foot still on the ground. Then into the cabin with a "Look Ma! No Hands!" Here is the door (shown here "beached" in a flooded farm field):

Made all the difference in the world, more to my wife than to me. But she has been along every AF4 boat trip this year and that never happened before. So, a word to the wise.......




Cormorant is the largest boat I've ever designed. I always warn folks to think twice and three times before building a big boat because you can buy a good used glass boat for less, maybe a lot less. But a homebuilt boat can have features that aren't available in a production boat and so it is with Cormorant. This one is really a 20% enlargement of Caprice.

Straight enlargements rarely work perfectly and so it was with Cormarant from Caprice. (Don't forget that Caprice was an enlargement of Frolic2, etc., etc., right on down to my Toto canoe.) In this case I narrowed it from a straight enlargement to keep the width within simple towing limits since this large boat is supposed to live on its trailer most of the time. The layout is quite similar. The idea is that the adults sleep in the center cabin and the kids sleep in the forward room.

Like Caprice, Cormorant has water ballast, over 1000 pounds of it. Total floating weight with family is going to be up to 4500 pounds. You don't tow a boat this large behind a compact car but I think towing this sort of weight is common today, all done with expensive large trucks I'm afraid.

The sail rig looks pretty modest with a 207 sq foot main. I'll bet it is enought since this shape is easily driven. I don't think you can go any larger and still hope to handle it without extra crew and gear.Tthe lug sail shown is similar in size to Bolger sharpies and they seem to get by OK. Experience will show if it is too big/too little.

Constuction is taped seam, with no jigs or lofting. Unlike smaller designs this one does not come with a plywood panel layout drawing. Over the years I've learned two things about the ply layout page. First is that almost no one uses it. Second is that with a larger boat the work of finding and drawing and fitting all the pieces to the boat on scale plywood sheets overwhelms all the other work. So part of the deal with doing the design was that there would be no plywood layout drawing. However this is still a true "instant boat" in that all of the parts that define the boat are drawn in detail and you can scale them up on plywood, cut it out and fasten together with no need for lofting or a building form.

Garth Battista, who is a book publisher at Breakaway Books where he publishes sporting books including my Boatbuilding For Beginners (And Beyond), is a true boat nut and has worked himself up from dinghies and canoes to the big Cormorant. He took it initially on a quick shakedown run on a lake near his home and shortly later to Long Island Sound for a week with his family. Here are his comments:

"We had an amazing time living aboard Cormorant (christened "Sea Fever") in Provincetown harbor for 5 days. The tide there was rising and falling about 12 feet a day with the full moon. We'd be high and dry up on the beach for breakfast, swimming off the boat at lunchtime, walking the flats again by dinner. It was a blissful time for me and my wife and two girls. We moved around, took little sails here and there across the harbor (West End to Long Point, then to the lighthouse, then to the East End, etc.) anchoring here and there, usually just running it aground as the tide allowed and staying for a while. Many shells were collected, and tidal pools investigated. Of all the harbors I've ever seen, it is the most alive. It's a couple of miles across and fresh sea water flushes the whole place twice a day. The number of snails, clams, crabs, fish of all sizes, mussels, eelgrass, etc. was just mind-boggling. On high tides I'd go spearfishing (many attempts, no luck) where at low tide I'd been walking around.

We rigged a 8' x 15' white tarp with tent poles running crosswise as a canopy over our cockpit and hatch, supported along the mast folded down in the tabernacle, so we could escape the mid-day sun. Most days were hot and humid and mild, with only gentle winds. We rode out a nighttime thunderstorm with no trouble, just stayed up and watched the lightning. We attended a few wedding-related events, just walking ashore for one party, and for the wedding itself we returned late at night and rowed our dinghy out to the boat, our sleepy children just awake enough to get themselves aboard.

For our last two days we gave up the shallow-water life and sailed from P-town down to Wellfleet, about 7 miles, surfing along on gentle 3-foot waves with a following wind. We beached the boat at Great Island, walked the beach, had a picnic dinner, swam and played, spent the night, and left the next morning at 6 a.m. to beat the falling tide. Our weather radio mysteriously quit working that morning, so all we had was the prior day's forecast of 10-15 knot winds from the SW.

The wind had shifted into the west during the night, so we had to beat out of the harbor, and once we turned north to return to Provincetown, huge rollers were coming in off the bay, more or less directly into our port side, lifting us, rolling us, occasionally breaking and spraying water into the boat. We stayed well offshore to avoid the breakers in by the beach -- but with the falling tide it seemed that we needed to be nearly a mile out. It went from exhilarating to worrisome to mildly terrifying as we neared P-town and the wind kept picking up, past 20 knots to 25 and higher in gusts, and the waves just kept growing. The swells were in the 8-10 foot range, with a high percentage of them breaking at their tops, whitecaps everywhere.

But bless this boat! With its 1000 lbs. of water ballast, and the leeboard mostly up, we were able to bob and roll and slide over nearly all the swells. The worst of them were very steep and threw us sideways, maybe tilting us to 40 or 45 degrees briefly. We had two reefs in the main and the mizzen rolled down to about half-size, and still we blasted along on this nasty rollercoaster of a beam reach. It was the sort of trip that would be scary fun if it was just you and a buddy, but it's awful when you have your loved ones aboard, and you wonder who might get thrown overboard, and how you'd managed a rescue in the rough conditions.

Anyway -- the white knuckles got to relax as we finally made it past the P-town breakwater, and with great relief ran her aground out on the flats. The gale (or near-gale) continued to blow all day, kicking up 3 and 4-foot waves even in the protected areas of the harbor. The only boats we saw going out were an 80-foot schooner and a big whale-watch boat. A lobsterman we talked to later said he'd stayed in as it was too rough to check his traps.

We had a hell of a time taking the boat out and getting her on her trailer for the trip home -- but all worked out in the end, with the assistance of some very kind strangers; and I'm left with the memories of incredibly happy days. -- And an incredible boat.

All best, Garth

P.S. Jim -- I should also mention that on Sunday afternoon as we turned the corner from our run down to Wellfleet to the close reach upwind toward the inner harbor, the boat just drove perfectly. It seemed we made 40 degrees off the wind. That maybe wishful thinking, but it was an angle far better than I'd imagined a lugsail could manage. It was a joy to sail, in all conditions. My hat is off to you.

P.P.S. The number of people who came over to admire the boat and exclaim at its uniqueness, its coolness, its obvious functionality -- well, they were beyond count. "

One more thing, Garth sent me this photo of himself working hard on his new sports book:

Plans for Cormorant are $60 when ordered directly from me.


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 a new Down Under Blobster is off cruising under outboard power as it waits for its sailrig.

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

And here is another making I think its maider voyage in the Texas 200. (I'm told the Chinese rig will be replaced by the blueprint rig.)

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.

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

And another builder tried a half sized Laguna as a proof of concept thing and claims he ain't gonna sail it!





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