Jim Michalak's Boat Designs

118 E Randall, Lebanon, IL 62254

A page of boat designs and essays.

(15August13) This issue will review making lead sink weight for your rudder. The 1 September issue will show how to rig a lugsail.



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.


...and my Roar2, now 23 years old. The lake has dropped 2' since the AF4 photo giving us even more mud but the level is almost back within the normal banks. The Roar2 needs a few repairs but the exterior plywood is totally fine as are the old polyester resin taped seams!



Contact info:


Jim Michalak
118 E Randall,
Lebanon, IL 62254

Send $1 for info on 20 boats.



Making Sink Weights


Tidmarsh Major has been plugging away at the prototype Skat for a while now and sent me some fine photos of his method of pouring the lead sink weights in his centerboard and rudder blade. Why do they need sink weights? They are made of wood and will float up a lot if they are not ballasted to stay down.

Right here I need to say that the pivoting leeboards that I design don't seem to need sink weights. When they are all the way down and snugged up a little bit they usually stay put in ordinary sailing. And when they hit something they pop up maybe 70% and will stay up until you haul them down again. I have designed very few centerboard boats, Skat being one of them and don't consider myself to be expert on ballasting them. My Birdwatcher, the last Bolger design I built before trying my own, has I think about 40 pounds of lead in its centerboard.

But pivoting rudders always need lead weights I'm quite sure. Some will be shown with a large wing nut that you are expected to tighten when afloat. That just doesn't work. Once out on the water in a small boat with the sails already up the last thing you want to have to do is lean over the stern to try to get the rudder down and locked.

And if you think that a clever set of lanyards to pull the rudder up and down will be fine you are quite wrong also. I tried that for a couple of years. Here is what happens. You approach a shallow area or beach with rudder held down by a lanyard that you have cleated to somewhere convenient. Your leeboard starts to bump the bottom and rise on its own. You have one hand on the sail's sheet and another on the tiller. Now you rudder starts to bump the bottom but won't swing upward until you release the lanyard which you can't do in spirited conditions because your hands are already quite full. OK, you take a chance and release the sheet and release the rudder and grab that sheet again. Now your rudder blade swings up and trails behind the boat so now you have no rudder! So eventually I weighted my rudders and they bump along the bottom very nicely and swing full down again as soon as they can. None of you are as persistant as gravity!


This is Tidmarsh's setup.

Looks like maybe a plumber's melting stove with a pail of wheel weights on top. I also use wheel weights which I got from my local tire guy. For heat I use the normal campers propane stove. For a pail I use a coffee can with a handle bolted to it. There is a pour hole on mine about half way up the side of the can so I don't have to tip the can all the way to pour the lead and there is little chance of it sloshing over the top by accident. The pour hole is too small to pass the steel clips of the wheel weights (they float nicely on top of the molten lead).

Here is a photo of Tidmarsh's total set up. Lead melting, fan to blow away any fumes, rudder and leeboard near and ready for the pour, and Volkswagen warmed up and ready to go for more wheel weights if needed.

Here is a close up of the holes prepared for the lead pour:

They are clamped to a metal plate the will form the bottom side of the casting form. Note the screws in the corners of the pour holes. The idea is that the lead will flow around the screws and harden, locking the lead solid to the wood. Use nails or screws that won't rust. I might add here that it is also good to bevel the edges of the holes. The lead will flow into the bevels and form flanges that also help to trap the lead.

Now the lead is poured into the holes, slightly overfull to allow for some shrinkage when the lead cools.

That is about it except sometimes shinkage will cause the lead block to loosen. I found I could put the lead over an anvil and whack it with a hammer. That flattens it a tiny bit but expands it at the perimeter, tightening it in the hole. You might have to trim the lead flush with the wood's surface. Lead likes to clog files and sandpaper so I found a rasp is a good start and something like a 20 grit disk gets it down to where you want it.




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 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:

Another prototype Twister is well along:

And the first D'arcy Bryn is taped and bottom painted. You can follow the builder's progress at http://moffitt1.wordpress.com/ ....





which should give you a saving of the original Chuck Leinweber archives from 1997 through 2004. They seem to be about 90 percent complete.



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