Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15June09)This issue will remember Phil Bolger. The 1 July issue will recap the Rend Lake Messabout.



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.


David Chase and Mrs sail their new Mikesboat in Michigan. It's a big boat, isn't it. Dave had the boat built by Tim Fox of C Fox Wood Boats.




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Remembering Phil Bolger


Might as well start at my beginning, back around 1980 when I had given up flying homebuilt airplanes as too dangerous and had bought half interest in a Hobie 16 ($600) with John Peterson. I knew nothing about sailing then and neither did John. His son was about 20 years old and had some sailing experience. So one day he took me and John out to Carlyle Lake for our only lesson. He got us out of the harbor, announced he had to go to work, dropped himself off at the beach, and left us to figure it out and get home. Well, in the Midwest that is how most of us learn to sail. Each of us has to reinvent it.

The Hobie was I thought too much to sail solo and by season's end I had a Snark Mach2 ($200) which is sort of a cheap styrafoam Sunfish copy but it could be fast. One day I sailed up with it up and down Carlyle Lake full length, about 18 miles total, in 3 hours. Never did that again. Then in September I got caught in a squall, had to get rescued, lost part of the mast and all of the rudder. To repair it I had to become a boat builder. If I knew how to make a mast and a rudder, why not the rest of a boat?

I started with all the usual suspects from Glen L and Clarkcraft. Nice boats and I bought a lot of plans but I didn't see why a boat had to be built of Sitka spruce and aircraft mahogany plywood. John's son said he had a book by a guy named Bolger. He designed boats for lumberyard materials.

I mail ordered a copy of "The Folding Schooner". I devoured it. Reread it many times. Built a Teal from it and used it for a couple of seasons. Then a copy of Bolger's "Small Boats". More devouring. If you've never seen Phil's books, they are collections of essays about individual designs usually with complete plans. He explains the reasons for this and the reasons for that in each essay. I suppose there are about 20 essays in each book with boats ranging from 6 footers to huge. With each book I was learning, learning, learning.

I started thinking about my next boat. I was an engineer at McDonnell Douglas back then, where engineers did maybe 15 hours of useful work a week and the other 25 hours looking busy, exept when the bosses called you in on Saturday to look busy for another ten hours or so. I snuck in a copy of Popular Mechanics and there was an article about homebuilt boats and Phil's Glouchester address was printed there. Normally Phil didn't give out his address back then and had no telephone.

I wrote him saying I was starting to boat camp in Teal and was ready to go larger. I told him Carlyle Lake was a rough place and thought a V bottom was needed. I sent the letter off hoping to get a quote for a design since I had a lot of money back then and could afford it even if I was, am, and always will be a very cheap guy.

No answer, no answer, no answer, for months. I figured he had pitched it and that was that. But then one day I got a packet in the mail. A new design, done and with my name in the title box saying "For Jim Michalak". He said he was hoping to design something like that and was hoping I would build it and if I did I owed him $25. That boat was his design number 426, I think, and I named it Jinni.

Jinni was a 16' sharpie shaped camping boat. Very simple although Phil did not draw his by then usual external chines like I had used on my Teal. A 96 sq ft sharpie sprit sail up front (too large I think now) with a 25 sq ft mizzen so it was a yawl. I suppose it weighed less than 200 pounds. Had Phil's dagger lee board arrangement. But that was the one thing I changed after showing him my idea which was a takeoff of Phil's pivoting leeboards. Not that Phil invented the pivoting leeboard because I know it was standard on the gundalows in Massachusetts a long long time ago. Anyway, the sail rig left the entire middle of the boat free for a 7'x4' cockpit with a flat floor. It had a free flooding anchor well in the tip of the bow, then a large storage/buoyancy chamber, then the big cockpit and then a smaller stern storage/buoyancy chamber. Now if you are familiar with my designs you might think that I copied that layout over and over again, maybe more than Phil did. I stick with a winner.

I sailed Jinni quite a lot and camped in it quite a lot. Went like a bat out of hell in the right conditions. Got pounded around in the Carlyle chop as any light flat boat would do. I capsized it twice (haven't capsized since). I kept it over ten years, rebuilt it into the forerunner of my AF3 design with a slot top cuddy cabin and a single sail. After over a decade of being parked outside beneath a tree it finally rotted to the point of no return. But didn't I learn a lot from that one!

OK, so I'm guessing in maybe 1985 I was going back to western Massachusetts to see my folks and my wife had knocked herself out qualifying for the Boston Marathon and I saw a chance to kill several birds on one trip. An overnight near Boston (nobody can afford to stay overnight inside Boston), then the Marathon, then a night in Glouchester before going back to Agawam. Pea soup fog in Glouchester. Next morning I found Phil's house. He was living in his parent's home then. Jean was too sore to get out of the car. I knocked on his door and there he was. He didn't know who I was but I told him I was the Jinni builder. He let me in. His mom was there. "I'm taking care of my mother and sparing her the indignities of a nursing home." he said.

He led me to his work room, a large sun room with a huge drawing board, maybe a 4'x8' board mounted on concrete blocks and rolls of tracings stuffed everywhere. We talked for an hour or so. I milked him for information about everything and he milked me for information about the Jinni. Then he brought out a sketch of a new idea he had. I've heard that he would do this with guests - try out new ideas on them. It was his Birdwatcher, in the rough, but still well along. I think it had all the features the final boat had except it had a full depth centerboard well. That had to be made out of lexan or plexiglass so the skipper could see through it as he sailed. The visit eventually ended and I felt it real treat.


...was next. But I had some Payson books by then and Payson presented the expanded shapes of the dory's sides, taken from the building mold he used since he was somewhat in production. Well, with the expanded shapes and the mold shapes, couldn't one make a taped seam version of the dory and dispense with the ladder frame mold set up? I did it. I left out all the frames, seats, etc and braced it with a couple of cross stick in bow and stern. Wow, what a boat! Weighed only 65 pounds made from 1/4" AC exterior and seams taped with polyester resin. With such light weight and great speed and rough water ability I cartopped it everywhere. Then in the early 90's it got caught in a tangle of tornado driven wreckage and spread out flat with the stern taping ripped apart. I hoisted the wreck to the rafters thinking I might repair it someday and when I did that it instantly reassembled itself in proper order. All I had to do was retape those seams. Eventually I gave it to Jim Huxford here in town and for all I know it might still be around.


I have a theory about boaters. They will keep building bigger and bigger until they know they've reached their limit. Now, I had been using the Jinni but its ability to flip made me into the weather chicken that I am today (that plus that Snark episode where I had to be rescued). The Birdwatcher idea eventually resurfaced as an essay in Small Boat Journal, a great publication that Phil contributed to each issue. I stayed away from it because to tell you the truth I didn't think it would work. Eventually one was built in Colorado and I talked to the builder (Ron Mueller?). Yes, it worked! He said he would capsize it for the fun of looking at the lake bottom through the side windows! Then let it pop up. I bought plans from Harold Payson and went directly to work over the winter of 1988/1989, working somedays in wicked cold. Cheap lumberyard materials. Weldwood powdered water mix glue and galvanized nails. Bottom only glassed with polyester resin and all painted with latex housepaint.

Then a season of furious use. I was young then. I recall that first year I went boating in it something like 130 days! I still have that Birdwatcher, almost no repairs required. Stored indoors it has its original polyester bottom and original latex paint. But I did prove to myself that the boat builder will eventually find his size limit and Birdwatcher was clearly mine. Customers find they have to drag me screaming to draw a design over 20' long.


I think Harold had built the prototype but mine was probably a close second. About this time I was toying with my own drawings. Piccup evolved, mostly with an eye on Bolger's Cartopper although they are quite different. Next was my Roar, originally sort of shaped like the Payson canoe. And then Toto which was clearly a mod of the Payson canoe. That was early 90's and I still have and use those boats. The Roar eventually got the Toto bow to become Roar2 and my Toto, perhaps the mose useful boat I ever had and my best seller ever, is proving to me now that the life span of that cheap lauan plywood is about 15 years with hard use. "Useful", you ask? I decided long ago that the true measure of a boat is how often it gets used. Nothing else matters. Toto wins hands down for me. I would leave it on the car roof rack all summer, with a dip into any interesting lake, river, or puddle I happened to be passing.


...during those years. I still have the letters here somewhere. I collected all of his books, even his novel (you would be surprised). Phil was a history major, I think, and probably read more widely than anyone I've ever met. And he remembered it all. He was in the occupation army in Japan after WW2. No need to talk about boats with him really.

THEN ABOUT 1994...

... I would guess, I made another trip back but this time he knew I was coming. I rented a car near my dad's house and drove to Glouchester hoping for another hour with Phil and then maybe some sight seeing afterward. Phil had sold the big house by then and was living on his boat Resolution. I found the boatyard OK and then I saw him walking back from the post office. I suppose there followed one of the most interesting and enjoyable of days. Down into his boat.

He showed me around the yard. Some classic boats that were designed a hundred years earlier were stored there. Phil had as I recall his Resolution, his Junebug and a Brick, both served as test beds for his experiments, and a Micro Trawler. His favorite at the time seemed to be a lapstrake version of his Spur rowboat. It had long spoon oars which he said were a total failure until he put counterweights on the handles to balance them. Then they were totally wonderful. His counterweights were just lead chucks held in place with hose clamps. Oh, and there was his beat up Ford Escort, more or less just like what I had at home.

Then down into Resolution for a tour. That huge drawing board was gone. Instead was a miniature, maybe 18" x 24". He had a drawing on it and I got a chance to see how the great man did his work. I could barely see the lines. I suppose he had a 6h drafting pencil carved to a knife edge doing the work. He got out a drawing of a kayak he was doing for Payson. Phil learned his trade in the classic era before computers. Plywood only works when bent 2D, thus those guys knew all about cones and cylinders, sticking them all together in any combination imaginable. So the bow was maybe a twisted cone segment, viewed from some strange angle, that met with a curved triangular section of a cylinder in the middle, etc. I couldn't follow it all but I admired it. "Try it", he said. "You can do it." (But I never did get it and the computer saved me.) Phil at that time did no computer designing and I don't know if he ever did. Computers are wonderful things but they can devour the art of someone like Phil Bolger and I'm glad he didn't get suckered into using one for his drafting. Phil's tracings, done in ink on mylar, have always been works of art on their own, never mind the boat they could build.

Let's see, one his book shelf was a copy of William Green's "Famous Fighters Of The Second World War". I thought perhaps there two copies of it sold in the US. Here was one. The other was on my bookshelf at home. Off to lunch at the local eatery and a discussion of the making of swords in Japan during his tour there. Etc, etc. Back to Resolution, which had settled on the bottom as the tide went out earlier for a discussion of the proper placement of a porta potti in a boat, followed with economic theory followed by lugsail theory. Then a rest with his favorite mixture of tea flavored with Tang. Then to a trip to the large wooden cruiser being built to his design near Resolution. Perhaps it should have been called Resolution 2. I see first hand the work going into a 50' wooden boat, traditional carvel planked, huge as a barn inside. It had a massive tabernacle in the bow for its dipping lug.

We got to talking about airplanes again. He had written a story where the hero had flown a Rutan Varieasy. I helped build one I told him and told him of some of its quirks, one of which was a large nose gear handle that aimed right at the pilot's crotch. "Not in my story," he said. "I may be 60 years old but I'm about to get married and I won't have that handle aimed at my crotch!" he joked. He said it was unfortunate that Susanne was away at the time. He was about twice as old as Susanne. He had met her parents and of course he was their age. But here was raw proof that real love stories aren't written in Hollywood. I was talking to a young man now. He called his lapstrake rowboat "the loveboat" as apparently it was cartopped about by that Escort to many a rendezvous. Great for you Phil!

Phil described to me his flow theory which I have alluded to at times where he visions his hull flowing through a meduim of frozen peas. He designed with it and so do I. Later he mailed to me a copy of it written down. It had been turned down for publication by every magazine. Perhaps I can find it in the Phil pile and reprint it here someday with Susanne's permission.

Anyway, the day flew by and Resolution eventually rose off the bottom as the tide came in, reminding me I was over a hundred miles from home and most of that was driving the Boston area, not the rural interstate that I am used to, and that it was very dark now and starting to rain. Back to the rented Tempo. Better get some gas as the tank is getting low. Stop at a station but I am totally unable to open the gas filler door, no sign of a latch inside the car. But I get it back to the rental place on fumes. "The fuel door release is hidden in the back of the glove box," says the dealer. "Everybody knows that."

I continued to correspond and get his guidance. "Don't lose control of your drawings", he warned me. "You will never be able to retire," he warned. "Selling small boat plans is like having a business in a ghetto," he said. Phil suggested that I concentrate on selling a small number of designs but others told me the exact opposite. He thought the pool of potential plans buyers was quite small and that the plans vendors should band together and promote each other. That never happened.


... gets you to running in different circles and I guess that happened to both of us, certainly happened to me. The corresponding tapered out. The last time I heard from Phil was to get a congratulation at publishing my book and I think he found it at a bookstore with no warning.


... that without Phil you most likely would not be reading this. I would not have designed boats with any idea that anyone else might build to my designs. Phil did not invent "instant" boat construction but I think he invent it in the same way that Columbus "discovered" America. Maybe the Vikings did but they didn't make it popular. Features like the lug sails, pivoting leeboards, etc., were old ideas that Phil reinvented and taught to appreciate. They are simple and they work.

So fare thee well, teacher and friend!




Every now and then I draw up a sailboat with a centerboard. A boat with a centerboard can have a prettier rig sometimes because the rig does not have to be centered over the hull's widest beam, as it does with a leeboard boat. But the sail area still has to be right above the centerboard for the boat to balance well. In Vector's case, the widest hull beam is 10' aft and the centerboard is between 4' and 8' aft. And that is the downside of the centerboard - it takes up some the prime space inside the hull.

Some designs will skimp on the centerboard size in order to take up less prime space but the result of that will always be more leeway when sailing to windward. In round numbers the area of the board that moves through the water needs to be about 4% of the sail area to efficiently counteract the full side force of the sail. Essentially the centerboard "flies" through the water in the same way that an airplane's wing flies through the air. True, water is about 900 as dense as air but things conspire to keep the centerboard from getting 900 times as much force from a given area. First the centerboard cannot develop a really high lift coefficient since it must be symmetric in cross section in order to operate on both tacks, unlike a soft sail which can be shaped with camber to reach a Cl of 1.5 in a good sail and maybe 2.0 in a great sail. Worse yet is the fact that the centerboard will flow through water at a fraction of the wind speed, and if your boat is beating to windward at 3 knots in a 15 knot wind, the 4% rule works out almost exactly. That is the worst case - beating to windward especially in rough water. If your boat were to hit a big wave and slow down below 3 knots, or if the centerboard were undersized to start with, the board will "stall" and develop no more lift no matter how much angle of attack (leeway to a sailor) you demand of it. The only solution would be to "fall off" the wind, pick up more speed, and try again just as an airplane pilot needs to recover airspeed after a stall.

Vector was inspired by the 12' Skat. It will be a much better family boat than Skat because of its greater capacity. Two adults and two kids would do it. There is a huge water tight storage volume behind the cockpit. The transom is quite wide and will take a small motor on a bracket mount, or you might try building in a motor notch to one side.


She's V bottomed as you see. Should be fast and handy, better than a flat bottomed boat although she will be a bit tippier and draw a bit more water than the flat bottomed boat.

There are two prototype Vectors that I know of. The first was by Peter Mohylsky down on the Gulf Coast (hope it is still there).

I never heard much of that boat but the second by Mike Sandell showed up at the 2006 Rend Lake Messabout much to my surprise (I had to ask what it was) and I got to talk to Mike and see it sailing for two days. Mike has a website at http://www.geocities.com/michsand@sbcglobal.net/ (archived copy) where the building is well covered. He was still quite new to the boat but especially on the second day, after he had tweaked the lines on his polytarp sail, he had no trouble sailing and sometimes leading the fleet.

I asked Mike to write a bit about the experience and he responded:

"My Vector was built over a period of five months in 2005, beginning in March of that year. The wood used was AC grade plywood purchased from the Menards home improvement store, with framing purchased both at Menards and Home Depot. The large pieces were cut to shape using a table saw with the blade set to a shallow cut. Small pieces were cut with a sabre saw.

"The glue used in the project was Titebond III, produced by Franklin International. which is an ANSI/HPVA Type I waterproof glue. Clamping of parts on the project was accomplished using a combination of deck screws and PVC clamps.

"Parts were cut in my basement workshop, and assembly was done in the garage. Taping of the seams was accomplished using marine epoxy and fiberglass tape purchased from Chuck Lienweber at Duckworks Boatbuilders. Two layers of tape were applied to both the inside and outside of all seams. Filling was done using both epoxy filled with wood flour, and also polyester auto body filler, depending upon the application.

"The boat was finished using an oil-based alkyd primer and oil-based industrial enamel, also purchased at Menards. Brightwork was various types of moulding pieces, held in place with stainless steel wood screws and stained with a Minwax water-based light oak stain. Final finishing of the brightwork was done using Johnson's Paste Wax.

"Fittings were all purchased from Duckworks. Running rigging is all braided nylon line from the home improvement stores, except for the mainsheet, which is twisted polypropylene, which is easier on the hands than nylon cord. The sail was made using a kit from Polysail International, and was completed in a single day, as advertised. The working lines for the sail are both led to cam cleats on the rear top end of the centerboard box. The mainsheet goes through a traveller mounted on the rear deck, and from there through turning blocks on the underside of the boom and finally to a block on the back of the centerboard box. The rig includes a boom vang, and the boom sets on the mast about fifteen inches above the deck when the sail is properly set.

"My boat includes four minor departures from the plans. The first is centerboard box. The plans call for cutting the bottom of the box to fit the curve of the hull bottom, setting the box on top of the hull, and then glassing it in place. I didn't see any way that I would successfully cut the box to precisely match that curve, so instead I cut the bottom slot wide enough to fit the centerboard box through it. I then glassed it in place from the inside, carved and sanded the protruding end of the centerboard box to match the outside curve of the hull, and then glassed the outside edges to finish the installation.

"The second change was in the seats. I'm a fairly big guy, and found that changing sides during a tack or jibe was difficult due in part to the limited foot space between the seats. The original seats were fourteen inches wide, and I replaced these with twelve-inch wide seats. The extra four inches made a huge difference for me.

"The third change was in the jaws for the boom. On a windy day last summer (before I had installed the boom vang) I broke the jaws while running downwind. Rather than build a new, long set of jaws, I cut off the broken set short, and then just used a longer cord to wrap around the boom. The cord is waxed to help ease movement, and does not carry any parrell beads. This has worked fine for me since then.

"Lastly, I did not construct my gaff and boom from laminated lumber as specified in the plans. Both are banister rail pieces purchased at Home Depot. The piece used for the gaff felt stiff and heavy, and was used as-is. The piece for the boom felt less robust to me, and got another piece of wood laminated to the flat surface on the bottom. I think I cut that one a bit too low, however, and it still worried me a bit. I plan on making a new boom this winter, which will have a deeper piece glued to the bottom of the railing to produce a "keyhole" shaped boom, similar to the T-booms seen on other small wooden boats.

"My Vector was named "Valkyrie", in homage to my Swedish ancestry on my father's side. Because of the gaff rig, it takes a bit more tweaking of the sail to get things just right than on simpler rigs. But once set, she really screams. "Valkyrie" accelerates very quickly on reach, and will point nearly as high as a sloop rig. But if the sail is not set properly, she'll flutter and stall in a heartbeat. Really keeps me on my toes! The only additional change I feel the boat needs is a longer tiller for single-handed sailing. Other than that, she is a joy to sail, and was worth every last minute put into her creation.

Taped seam construction. She needs four sheets of 1/2" plywood and six sheets of 1/4" plywood.

Plans for Vector 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 a new Down Under Blobster, now rightside up for final finish. Looks like another beautiful job....

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.

And a Family Skiff seen here at Rend Lake, report soon:

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

And a Fatcat2 seen here at Rend Lake, report soon:





Mother of All Boat Links

Cheap Pages

Duckworks Magazine

The Boatbuilding Community

Kilburn's Power Skiff

Bruce Builds Roar

Dave Carnell

Rich builds AF2

JB Builds AF4

JB Builds Sportdory

Hullforms Download (archived copy)

Plyboats Demo Download (archived copy)

Brokeboats (archived copy)

Brian builds Roar2 (archived copy)

Herb builds AF3 (archived copy)

Herb builds RB42 (archived copy)

Barry Builds Toto

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