Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1Mar09)This issue will take a look at mizzen sails. The 15 March issue will rerun the lugsail rigging aritcle.



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.


Over the river and through the woods.....Abe Noe uses his Smoar (a 12' version of Roar2) to harvest maple sap in Vermont!




Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




Mizzen Thoughts


...which was on my old Bolger Jinni, my second homemade boat. That back about 1982 or so, before digital pictures and when I was still a young man, sort of. I kept it for about ten years before it finally rotted out due to rainwater as it sat outside on the trailer but eventually it inspired AF3 which is about the same size and keeps the Jinni mainsail. But Jinni was a small open beach cruiser, 16' x 4' with an open central cockpit that was long enough to sleep in, sleeps two if you are good friends. It had the buoyancy/storage boxes fore and aft and a leeboard. Sound familiar? It is a formula that worked so well I copied it over and over in many new designs, probably more than Bolger did.

The Jinni had a small mizzen making it a yawl. I learned a lot from it. The sail area totaled about 120 sq ft, huge for a 200 pound hull that was 4'wide max. Of course you could sail in a whiff of a breeze but it probably would have been better overall with a bit less. I think the mizzen was about 25 sq ft and it is probably still out in the shop.


Before the Jinni my experiences were first in a Hobie 16, then a Snark Mach 2, and then in a Bolger Teal. All had a single main (even the Hobie went through its first season without a jib). When Bolger drew up the Jinni he put the mizzen on it with no input from me. But mizzens were a very common feature on Bolger designs. Mizzens allow one a new bag of tricks...


....that is the mizzen will act like a tailfeather on an anchored boat. It is especially important I think with the usual keelless daysailor or beach boat which has almost no resistance to lateral motion except for a board dropped down underwater such as a leeboard. Without the mizzen stabilizer they will skitter across the water swaying from side to side which does nothing for your night's sleep or your anchor set for that matter. But while I'm talking about this you might try such a boat anchored with and without the board down. I had a theory that with the board down the boat will skitter less but given the right shift in wind a light boat might start moving forward and that will add to your problems. So try it both ways.


....is a huge feature of the mizzen. It usually only works well while sailing on a reach, which is handy. To work the main is sheeted for fast going and then the mizzen is sheeted in to trim the helm, the force you feel on the tiller, to zero. At that point you should be able to let go of the tiller and she will forge ahead on course. In theory the system has enough stability that small shifts in course will be corrected by the mizzen. My experience was that with the light Jinni, which was very quick to turn and responsive to the tiller, not to mention wave bumps and wind shifts, it didn't work so well. Strapping the tiller down seemed important. Otherwise any wave would cause the tiller to twitch and the boat would follow it quickly. I once tried raising the rudder out of the water while self steering with the mizzen and thought it went just as well as far as self steering was concerned. But later, when I finished the much longer and steadier Birdwatcher, I found the Birdwatcher with no mizzen would self steer as well as the Jinni with a mizzen as long as the tiller was strapped into position. On boats with long deep keels I would think the mizzen system would be much more effective.


...OK, here is where the mizzen on the little JInni really payed off. Let's say you are out solo sailing a small light boat in a rising wind that is starting to give you a scare. You want to reef. How are you gonna do it??? You must go forward to drop the main but you can't leave the tiller for a second. If you do she turns sideways and over you go. Even Bolger would say to stick with it and worry your way to shelter, beach and reef. But I found the Jinni would heave to safe with its head to the wind in anything as long as the mizzen is sheeted in tight and the main sheeted loose. Then you can raise the rudder (to keep the boat from swapping ends since it will drift in reverse), go forward to drop the sail, secure a reef, then back to lower the rudder, ease the mizzen and let the boat swing a bit sideways before sheeting in the main and get moving forward. I don't think it could be done any other way. Bolger said it could indeed be a life saver.


...If you keep the above idea in mind and imagine that the shelter you seek is downwind from your current position and you aren't too keen on turning downwind with a 200 pound boat with 100 square feet of sail set on a 12' boom while your hull is but 4' wide. If the boat rolls enough for your boomed out sail to dip into the water you will capsize. And perhaps you have no desire to risk a jybe with that long boom, or for that matter to take off downwind in a big blow because after all you can't depower the thing once you get going without risking a knockdown. I found I could leave the main down or flapping and just go in reverse with the mizzen sheeted tight. You can't really steer it but the Jinni would drift in a stable reverse at about 2mph. When I finished drifting past my shelter I would ease the mizzen, sheet in the main and sail to the shelter on a reach. I think the reach is the safest sailing point because you can depower the main quickly and keep moving but I could be wrong.


...in a really big blow you can actually often sail on a reach or to windward on mizzen alone. You would think the boat's balance would be all messed up but Bolger pointed out that the furled main has enough drag to keep the boat from constantly heading upwind and stalling. I only did short hops with the Jinni this way but I see Chuck Leinweber apparently took long legs this way, and with good speed, with his Caprice in the windy Texas 200.


... I capsized the Jinni twice and in both cases the mizzen may have been to blame. I was still young and stupid (now I'm just stupid) and thought I and the boat were bulletproof. So out I went into a big blow pounding upwind on a big shallow lake. After a couple miles of that I turned downwind sheeting the main out with the mizzen still pretty tight. She got sideways on a wave front, rolled and broached. (Was the sheeted mizzen the last straw that day??) There were no other young and stupid boaters around so no one around to help (it would not have been safe) but I got it righted, bailed out. By the time I got it all sorted out and ready to sail again I was abeam my original launch point so there is where I discovered I could drift backward with the mizzen sheeting in tight and then sail on a reach to shelter instead of trying run downwind in a big blow.

The second capsize was in totally different conditions. A spring day with almost no wind, everything sheeted in tight. Then a big quick blow, maybe a dustdevil in Texas, hit. I got the main unsheeted and flapping but couldn't get to the mizzen sheet fast enough and over she went on windpower alone. Then it was calm again. My rudder unshipped but in the calm conditions I could gather it up along with my other gear, learning that you need to keep your rudder secured, don't rely on gravity which won't work when you are upside down.

So about then I decided that little boats don't need mizzens while daysailing. The boat becomes easier to build, setup and sail. I rebuilt the Jinni, had to as it was rotting quickly, and added a cuddy cabin and moved the main aft and left off the mizzen. It was then reborn as the AF3 on my drawing board.


I continued to draw mizzens on the larger boats. They are much more likely to go cruising, much less daysailing, and the mizzen is almost mandatory. Here is Sandra Leinweber relaxing at the tiller of Caprice:

On a bigger boat the ability to trim the tiller force is more important. Here is Garth Battista at the helm of his Cormorant, clearly the mizzen is putting in power and the tiller load is very mild:


Gary Blankenship had been sailing Frolic2 in Florida. He is quite experienced and was getting involved with the Everglades Challenge, 300 miles of press on regardless. He wanted a mizzen for all the above reasons. Now there is a subtle design point involved here involving "sail area math". Normally the center of all the sail areas on the boat is placed directly above (or slightly aft of) the boat's underwater area, which on all my boats is centered on the leeboard. If the sail area goes forward then the boat will have lee helm, the bow will blow off downwind, and sailing to windward will be terrible and sometimes no even possible. If the sail area is too far aft then the boat may head up into the wind more than you want. On the larger boats I fudged it so the total area, including the mizzen's, is a bit aft of the leeboard. There is a general feeling that the aft sails are blanketed a bit by the fore sails, thus have less force than one might expect. I have seen where some designers might draw the sail balance using only half of the mizzen area. So there is guesswork involved. So you might think when you add a mizzen you would need to move the main forward a bit to maintain balance.

But Gary was just gonna add the mizzen and leave the main as is. Why not? If the mizzen throws the balance off why not just ease its sheet. You can still use it to heave to and anchor, which are its main advantages. So Gary just did it:

IT WORKED... He finished fourth overall in the big race with this rig.

So, with that in mind, I started adding mizzens to smaller boats by designing the basic layout to balance without the mizzen. Then add a small mizzen which would be totally optional in use, when you go cruising. I think Bill Moffitt's Mikesboat, modified to have a big lugsail and the tiny mizzen, was the first I drew that way. Here he is in the Texas200, on the boat's first time afloat, flying along with no problems (that I was told about).

Shortly afterward I drew up the Caroline design with the same plan. But Caroline's mizzen sail was not ready when the first cruise occurred. Apparently she sailed fine with main alone, as planned. But without the mizzen achoring was found to be too unpleasant if not too risky on the Maine coast. Next year we will know.


Well, it looks right now as if we could just add a small mizzen to any design where it will fit and get most of the benefits without giving up a single sail layout for quick daysailing. I have designed for Steve Chambers such a rig for his Wooboto which is pretty much a bolt on deal.

It uses a simple bolt on box mount which has a slight taper to secure the mizzen mast.

We should know if a few months how it all works out. Steve is an active boater and is probably mizzening around as we speak.




Blobster has a lot of features I like in a boat. Lots of volume for its size, sort of like Micro or Scram Pram. The multichine shape is almost exactly like Scram's but this one does not have a Birdwatcher cabin. It has the more traditional cabin with a raised watertight deck behind. Also it has one feature I would love to have in my personal boats - a step-through bow so that when you beach you can go forward through the cabin and out the front without going into the water or climbing over the bow. The cabin also has a slot top roof.

This shape of boat with multichines has proven good in rough water and with fair speed in spite of its blobular proportions. Blobster has about 600 pounds of water ballast in its belly and should be OK to 90 degrees heel although such depends mostly on weight distribution of the crew, something the designer has little control over. On the other hand, if the crew jumps overboard the boat will be almost assured of righting without their help. Then the problem becomes reboarding. Be prepared!

Sail rig is a large but simple 139 square foot balanced lug on an 18' mast. Mast is stepped off center to allow you to walk upright down the slot top and out the front. Should be rigged in an instant with no one going on deck ever. All very low tech built with common materials but effective.

Blobster uses taped seam construction. Five sheets of 1/4" plywood, eleven sheets of 3/8" plywood and one sheet of 1/2" plywood.

Prototype plans for Blobster are $30.


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 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.





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