Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(1January 2012) This issue wll present a new/old rig design from the 1800's that may have been forgotten but should be remembered. The 15 January issue will rerun the knockdown recovery 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.


Jon Fisher goes for a paddle in his sleek Rio Grande.



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.




H14 Sail Rig


I'm pretty sure really new boat ideas are few and far between. More or less everything we can imagine for our small boats has been tried in the past. I think especially in the end of the 19th century the boatbuilders were so well practiced that they could quickly build a wooden hull to any shape or size. But they were still made one at a time so changes and experiments could easily be introduced, and it looks like they did so. I suppose the advances of the past century were largely due to new materials.

The small boats we build for recreation are in many ways developed from those designs, if they aren't straight copies. So when you get stumped about how to improve a situation about your boat often the best place to look for an answer to your problem is in the writings of the ancients.


The Jinni was itself an update of the sharpies of the old days. Made of plywood, flatbottomed, shaped like an old flat iron (with special Bolger bottom rocker) and complete with a yawl rig set with a very large sharpie sprit main with a small sharpie sprit mizzen. (My Jinni eventually evolved into my AF3 design which shares the same main sail and mast). To refresh, here is a sketch of the sharpie sprit sail....

Pretty simple. These can be wickedly effective in that you can tighten up the sail, bow and arrow style, by hauling the snotter good and tight and a two or three part tackle on the snotter is the way to go. That will bend the mast aft and flatten the sail if needed just like modern racing boats. I think one great advantage seldom mentioned for this rig is that it can be set up by a beginner correctly from day one, although it may take him a while to learn the tricks with the snotter adjustment. They work great with a free standing mast.

So what's the problem with it. Well for one you need a long mast to get big sail area, in the Jinni case I recall maybe 21' with a 15' hull. Storage can be a problem, not to mention needing to scarf and laminate and shape a 21' stick. You can't quickly drop a stick like that in a small boat and go rowing. You can only put it up and down while on a beach or secured to a float, never in open water with waves.

But that wasn't the killer for me. Here the problem was where are you gonna get a 20' section of sail track in the middle of the prairie? Maybe no problem where Phil lived but not here. Sailtrack, once quite common I guess, is a special thing now. I suppose the use of aluminum extruded masts with their built in sail slots made the stuff obsolete.


I think I relied on Chapelle's writings for this. This sharpie sprit sail saw very wide use a hundred years ago in work boats that were locally built and maybe the Herreshoffs down the road could get all the sail track hardware they wanted but the local fishermen couldn't. So they laced the sail to the mast. I tried that and it works great if you aren't gonna reef. But on the 200 pound Jinni with 125 sq ft of sail reefing was very often in order. Now the problem becomes how do you lower the sail with lacing when it has to clear that snotter tackle. Can't be done quickly or safely solo says I in the conditions that made you want to reef to start with. I did find moderate success with lacing only the top half of the sail to the mast, the bottom held to the mast with just two loops around the mast, both below the snotter attachment. This worked in a pinch although it would upset the lacing at the top of the mast in the lowering process to use regular slab type reefing bundling up the extra cloth at the foot of the sail. Like this:

I hope you see how it works. You can lower the sail with the halyard down to where the lacing starts to hit the snotter tackle and no more. You can't easily lower the sail totally as you can with real sail track.


I should mention that the ancients had another way to reef that also got around the hardware issue. They used brail lines that would essentially jiffy reef the sail forward towards the mast instead of to the sail's foot. Now that sounds pretty slick in that the issue with snotter attachment is totally avoided as is having to retie the clew point at the end of the sprit boom. So to reef you slacken the snotter, pull the jiffy reef line which bundles the unwanted sail area against the mast, retighten the snotter and off you go. This is the reefing method Phil showed on the original Birdwatcher plans and which I put on my own Birdwatcher way back when. It performs as advertised but with two "problems". One is that you will have a big ugly bundle of sail now on the leading edge of your sail which hardly seems efficient. Second is that I found it hard to shake the reef out completely. The jiffy reef line on Birdwatcher runs to the mast head 25' up there and no matter how loose you get that line near the bottom it always seems to bind at the top, upsetting the sail there. But it works if you view it like using a parachute - only where really needed.

In the second updating of the Birdwatcher Phil added more sail but did not go with a taller mast. The original 25' mast is about all one man can put up by himself at a calm anchorage. So to get a taller sail he used what he called a Solent Lug in his book. It is essentially a true lug sail but uses a triangular sail, like this...

So the sail was not attached to the mast at all except at the tack. It was laced to the yard which was hoisted to the mast like any other lug except in this case it would hoist to the vertical position. The yard needs to be a lot longer and heavier below the hoist point than above so that it stays vertical. And as with any other lug you can drop it all at once and work with it on deck to reef and rehoist.

This is one rig I've never tried myself. You might ask how it is different from the gunter rig. The gunter is similar but the yard is a lot shorter and is attached to the mast with jaws, not unlike say a gaff sail that has its gaff hoisted all the way to vertical. I've never tried the gunter myself either but apparently there can be an issue with jamming up there and having it cock this way or that upsetting the sail.


I found this gem in L. Francis Herreshoff's great book SENSIBLE CRUISING DESIGNS. I take it the Herreshoffs made a good living designing and building yachts for the rich folk of Long Island Sound, but in all their writings you will find a real base of small boats, beautiful yet surprising simple and useful, I used to read this stuff over and over when I got started and when I review it now I see where my ideas (and maybe Bolger's) had a subconsious or consious foothold in the Herreshoff ideas. So if you can get a copy of this book look it over deeply and mine out many details. L. Francis was big on small beach cruisers, the sort of thing that I have tried to do over and over. Mine are no where near as elegant but you don't really need to be an experienced boat builder to do mine. Heffeshoff thought plywood was for dummies and fiberglass was frozen snot, but that was almost a hundred years ago. Anyway, in this book among the rich yachts I see small open beach cruisers with leeboards and lug rigs, etc., all standard for me now.

In the book are complete plans for the H14 sailing dinghy. It's a beauty. Its daggerboard gives it away as more of a performance boat than a beach cruiser but I note many practicalities in the design. L. Francis wrote:" As for the rig, I believe it is most important to have a sail plan that can be lowered away instantly, so I have adopted an improved sliding gunter rig. With this rig the dinghy can be rigged or unrigged very rapidly, and when reefed there will not be a long masthead above the sail which is often detrimental in a sailing dinghy."

Here are the basics of the H14 rig:

OK, what L. Francis did was simply attach the lower end of the yard to a short section of sailtrack attached to the aft face of the mast. I copied it with my Jinni because even on the prairie I could get a four foot section of sailtrack that would be plenty for the job. Since nothing slides down in front of the mast, as with lacing, the snotter attachment can stay attached as the sail is lowered. So to lower the sail you just release the halyard and it all folds back under control, unlike a true lug yard which can require care when it is not fully hoisted. You can leave it all down if desired and reef in the cockpit without standing. Once reefed I used a second hoisting point higher up the yard, the entire sail now would be a lot lower than originally, the sailtrack connection didn't need to be reset in any way. It just didn't slide as far up the mast track when reefed. The attachment from yard to sailtrack needs to be somewhat loose to keep from binding but I just used a normal sail slide with a 1/8" steel rod bent to a U and welded to small plates that bolted to the yard. It was slick. It was safe. I could drop and rerig it in terrible conditions without leaving the cockpit or standing up (Jinni had that mizzen which kept it head to wind in a bad patch).

Got to admire Herreshoff. I just noticed the H14 was 14' long and both the yard and boom are 13'6" long, a little sign that he was thinking way ahead for his boaters.



OLIVEOYL, Cabin Sailboat, 15' X 6', 500 pounds empty

OliveOyl was designed for someone who likeD AF3 but wanted more cabin room and comfort, but not more length. So I actually had some AF4breve drawings handy when I drew the lines for the new boat. Although Olive is the same length as AF3 the cabin is deeper and the bottom a foot wider. One thing the owner did not want, which made the larger cabin possible, was a large cockpit. So I've drawn a bridge deck which extends into the cockpit, reducing foot space there, and also just borrowed length from the cockpit and put it in the cabin. So the floor length in the cabin is over 8'long but you will probably sleep with your feet stuck under the bridge deck. I suppose the downside is that the cockpit is less than 5' long so two adults would fill it. I am guessing an empty weight of 500 pounds but it will take 2000 pounds to put its stem in the water so she should take a fair load.

I suppose I've learned a bit since I drew AF3 a while back. One thing I've learned is that when beached a boat like this is much easier to board if the bow is not too high, thus on this boat I've cut down the bow enough so you can sit on it anD swing your legs around right into the cabin entry in the bulkhead, I hope. The owner did not care about that and I don't think she beaches much in her area.

Now, the owner wanted a conventional cabin with sliding hatches so I drew that. And with it went a mast mounted on a tabernacle. I drew the mast off center as I normally do, attaching it to one of the main cabin deck beams. That moves it out of the center of the boat where you will be sleeping. But this boat could be simpler if it had my usual open slot top with a one piece mast. Such a layout would be a lot better I think for a boat which would be sailed off a beach too since it would allow the skipper to hop on the bow after pushing off, and then run upright back to the cockpit. As is he would have to creep down and tHrough the cabin or go over the cabin but I should warn you that, with AF3 at least, standing on the cabin top is an invitation for capsize. After all, these are not large boats.

The rig shown is pretty much right out of the AF3 experience, in particular with AF3's balanced lug rig. The spars are short and cheap and the mast short enough that the tabernacle won't be required if the open slot top is used.

But I doubt if OliveOyl would stay with an AF3 in a race. She has the same rig but she is wider, deeper and heavier and bound to be slower. On the other hand she is a much better overnighter since the AF3 has a minimal cabin suited for a backpacker.

In a lot of ways I think OliveOyl is more of a shortened Normsboat and if you don't mind the extra length and the weight and cost that go with the extra length, Normsboat would be I think a lot more boat for the buck.

Conventional nail and glue construction. She needs seven sheets of 1/4" plywood, two sheets of 3/8" ply, and four sheets of 1/2" ply.

Prototype plans for OliveOyl 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.

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 out West.

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 Battista's of www.breakawaybooks.com, printer of my book and Max's old outboard book and many other fine sports books. Beautiful job! 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. But he has used it extensively on his Bahamas trip towed behind his Cormorant. Sort of like having a compact car towed behind an RV.

And a Deansbox seen in Texas:

The prototype Twister gets a test sail with three grown men, a big dog and and big motor with its lower unit down. Hmmmmm.....

And the first D'arcy Bryn is ready for taping. You can follow the builder's progress at http://moffitt1.wordpress.com/ ....

And the first Brucesboat is in the water for testing. A full report soon.

OK, so he found a major league goof in my plans on fitting the bilge panels. He did some cut and fit and did a great job of salvaging the work, but I have corrected the drawing for the aft end of the bilge panel (I drew it in upside down!!)





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