Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

If you want to build a classic (Scandinavian roots) oar powered, beautiful boat that is a more challenging build, then Black Skiff may be your ideal. She is 14’ (4.3m) long and 4’4” (1.3m) wide.
 “Glued lapstrake ply with sawn frames. Bottom and first strake are sheathed in glass for abrasion resistance. She is strictly for rowing and not suitable for a sailing rig. Medium skill level required to build. Lofting skills needed. (From Mark Wallace’s website)
Plans are free, available here.
Mark Wallace's Black Skiff


 There would have to be provision for overnight shelter to make this into an oar cruiser.

Based on the lines, she would be very sea worthy, but subject to cross winds with the high ends.


Sunday, January 21, 2018


"This is a boat that is moved slowly and smoothly through the water towards raft of waterfowl with the hunter lying in prone position in the bottom of the boat. Propulsion is a single oar that extends out through the stern (transom) of the boat and thru a waggling motion the boat moves silently and smoothly forward. When the raft of ducks is closed to a shooting distance, the hunter then sits upright in the boat, ostensibly at this time the ducks take off in flight and with some fine shooting a limit of ducks can be paddled or sculled out to and picked up." (Excerption from Skulldugery write-up)
Skulldugery in it's Designed Environment and 'Dress'

“Wait a minute…” you’re thinking…  “I thought this blog was about cruising in oar powered boats, not about gunning skiffs.”

It is.

And Skulldugery would make a really nice oar cruiser for protected waters.


Because it has VERY low windage, easy to row with its V-bottom, roomy enough for comfortable sleeping on the (padded) floorboards, lots of  storage space for supplies, stable enough to stand up.

The only modifications I would make in order to provide a sleep-aboard oar cruiser would be:

  • Add a rear deck to provide storage
  • Increase the height of the coaming
  • Provide for a 4 foot span to the oarlocks using one of the designs shown here: 
  • For a shelter from rain/bugs, the ‘PDR Tube Tent’ pictured below would be a simple and effective solution.

The "PDR Tube Tent"

 Lines of Skulldugery

Construction Detail: Requires 4 Sheets of 6mm/ ¼ inch plywood

Length           15 ft. – 6 in.
Beam           3 ft. – 2 in.
Draft           6 in.
Power           Scull, outboard (oars for a row cruiser)
Max Load   850 lbs.

With little additional work, Skulldugery would make an excellent oar cruiser. What do you think?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

L. Francis Herreshoff 17' Pulling Boat

L. Francis Herreshoff (LFH) 17' Pulling Boat was originally presented in Sensible Cruising Designs by LFH. Later, John Gardner formalized the design in his Building Classic Small Craft, Vol 2.

Lines of the LFH 17' Drawn by John Gardner
Later, Jim Michalak, using Gardner's lines, drew a plywood on frame version. Comparing the set of lines above by Gardner to those of Michalak below, the most noticeable difference is the shape of the sheer line and that in Jim's version both (fore and aft) halves are identical.
Lines of LFH 17' Drawn by Jim Michalak

Stewart River Boatworks sells a slightly modified LFH 17' based on the Gardner version. The modification adds slightly more flair to the topsides at the bow than Gardner's lines call for.

A Finished LFH 17' Offered by Stewart River Boatworks

Chris Jones built the boat pictured below (and at the top of this post). This was his first boat and he built it based on Gardner's plans and instructions in Building Classic Small Craft.

Chris Jones' LFH 17' He Built
I've read about people who have built the LFH 17' as a skin-on-frame (SOF) using Jim Michalak's plans. However, I could not find any photos nor the articles about them.

I bought Jim's plans and made a 8:1 scale model with 4 modifications:
  1. Built it SOF
  2. Made the bottom panel of plywood rather than SOF
  3. Added 2 bulkheads approximately 7' feet apart for a central cockpit
  4. Added framing for SOF decking at each end and along side of the cockpit opening. 
The photos below show the build process, which is quite straight forward using Jim's plans.

An 8:1 Scale Model of LFH 17' with Plywood Bottom and First Ribands Installed

All Framing Installed, ready for "Skin"

Skin Started...

...and Showing SOF Deck Partially Completed...

...and What Happens When the 'Heat Gun' (for shrinking the skin) Gets Too Close

My opinion is that the LFH 17', using Jim's plans, would make an outstanding oar cruiser. She would be light, very sea worthy, fast and very pretty.

If you know of any SOF LFH 17's that have been built, I'd love to see photos and will post if permitted.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

CATCH: Sliding-Seat Conversion

The December 2017 issue of Small Boats Monthly includes an article on how to make a sliding-seat that can be used on a fixed seat rowing boat. The author is Ben Fuller with Chris Cunningham adding a section on how he built his conversion.

Ben Fuller's Sliding-Seat Conversion

Pictured at the top of this post is Chris's sliding-seat. The article contains more photos showing both construction and a video of Chris rowing using his sliding-seat.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Lightning Protection

It's not 'lightning prevention', it's lightning protection.

BoatUS published an article in 2015 identifying the probability of lightning strikes as a function of type of boat and size of boat.
Table 1. The probability of a lightning strike by type of boat, 2003–2013 
Type of Boat                                          Chances per 1,000
Multihull Sailboat                                   6.9
Monohull Sailboat                                  3.8
Trawler/Motoryacht                               1.5
All – Overall Average                            0.9
Bass Boat, Runabout, Pontoon Boat    0.1

Table 2. The probability of a lightning strike by size of boat, 2003–2013
Type of Boat Chances per 1,000
0-15 Feet         0
16–25 Feet 0.2
26–39 Feet 2.1
40–64 Feet 6
The same article also identifies what to do if you are caught out on the water when there is lightning:
What To Do If You're Caught Out On The Water 
"When thunder roars, go indoors." If there is time, return to shore and take shelter in an enclosed building (not open-sided) or your car. They are not impervious to lightning, but the lightning is less likely to do damage.
But if lightning has already begun, getting closer to shore may bring you close to trees and other objects that could be lightning targets. In that case, stay on the boat and do the following:

  • Go indoors — go down below. Stay in the center of the cabin if the boat is so designed. If no enclosure (cabin) is available, stay low in the boat. Don't turn yourself into a lightning rod! 

  • Keep arms and legs in the boat. Do not dangle them in the water. 

  • Discontinue fishing, water skiing, scuba diving, swimming, or other water activity when there is lightning or even when weather conditions look threatening. The first lightning strike can be a mile or more in front of an approaching thunderstorm cloud 

  • Disconnect and do not use or touch major electronic equipment, including the radio, throughout the duration of the storm. 

  • Lower, remove, or tie down the radio antenna and other protruding devices if they are not part of the lightning protection system. 

  • To the degree possible, avoid making contact with any portion of the boat connected to the lightning protection system 

  • On larger boats with an oven or microwave, putting electronics inside should prevent them from being damaged as the oven or microwave will act as a Farraday cage, allowing the charge to pass harmlessly through the metal around the devices."
From University of Florida's "Boating-Lightning Protection" by William Becker

Another article worth reading is Lightning-Proof Your Boat. Note especially the damage done to the electronics through “electromagnetic induction” and “side flashing”… scary stuff.

An article in BoatUS provides more information. The author is James Coté “…an electrical engineer, ABYC Master Technician, Fire Investigator and Marine Investigator. He operates a marine electric and corrosion control consulting firm located in Florida. For more information, go to:” 

Following are excerpts from DWFORUM in April 2017 in which contributors shared their personal experience in dealing with lightning: 
"I have relied on the stainless stays on the sides with a 2’ square of copper sheeting mounted below the water line and a flattened 1/2” pipe to carry the stay anchor point over the edge to the plate. I’m not sure how effective it is at the top relative to the radio mast, but the connection to the water should be fine. I’ve never known it to be tested, however!"
Schultz Apr 3, 2017
"My Paradox does have lightning protection as per plan.  It consists of a copper strap which leads from the top of the mast directly through the boat to the water."Andre-Francois Apr 3, 2017
"The static wicks on an airplane are only meant to dissipate the static charges that build up from the friction of air rushing over the skin.They do nothing against lightning. The skin of the aircraft is your protection, as electricity only travels on the outside of a metal object. Composite aircraft get a layer of metal mesh like window screen to provide this protection. In a boat, just like on land, a metal cage or can is your safest place in a lightning storm.So carry a metal garbage can you fit into on the boat, or build a cage of wires into the cabin for crew safety. A cable from the mast to the water will keep the hull from damage."Josh (Rowerwet) Apr 5, 2017
"...that's what we did on Dad's Wharram. He had a permanent rod off the backstay coming off above an insulator and running down under water and a pair of thick jumpers we'd deploy off the shrouds if we were out in dicey conditions."
Michael Burwell 4/11/17


Sunday, December 17, 2017


"Yawl" – from the Dutch “jol”
"Yawl" – a two-masted sailboat in which the rearmost mast (mizzenmast) is aft of the rudder post… a classic example is Olin Stephens' Dorade

Olin Stevens' Yawl Dorade (52' [15.9m] by 10' 3" [3.2m])

(Canoe) "Yawl" – a two-masted large canoe-shaped sailboat popular in the late 19th century such as the Iris

Yawl Canoe Iris...

Iris lines...

...and Specs.

(Source for Iris information above -- scroll to bottom of this linked page.)

"Yawl" – a four or six oared small boat used as a tender for large sailing vessels (A small ships boat, usually rowed by four or six oars. (Webster's dictionary 1828))

HMS Victory Yawl Boat

The term “yawl” (in rowing craft) is rather loose in modern usage, often interchanged with Wherries  and Whitehalls. Rowing versions of “yawls” are typically characterized by ‘round’ bottom lapstrake hulls with ‘wine-glass’ transoms and vertical stems. Given the wide meaning of the term “yawl”, following are some examples of various yawls that could be oar cruisers.

Modern Adaptations:

CLC’s Chester Yawl
"Boats like the Chester Yawl were used as working craft in 19th-century.  Efficiency was critical in these human powered craft, so they evolved easily driven hull shapes.  Working watermen weren’t immune to good looks, either, so these “livery boats” were often beautiful.  The most famous of the type, the “Whitehall” boats of New England, are still considered a touchstone of small craft elegance.  The Chester Yawl is based on the Whitehall and adopts its distinctive plumb bow and “wineglass” transom." (From CLC writeup)

Chester Yawl from CLC: 15' (4.6m) by 42" (1067mm)

This would be a very effective and beautiful kit-boat oar cruiser… I’d add SOF decks fore and aft and provide for temporary shelter such as these.

Selway-Fisher's Dronheim Yawl

This is a large ‘yawl’ for at least two rowers.

Selway-Fisher's Drontheim Yawl Lines


  • LOA 21'8" (6.6m)
  • Beam 6' (1.8m)
  • Hull Mid Depth 2'1" (0.64m)

Commentary from the write-up...
The Drontheim Yawl was designed for the Causeway Coast Kayak Assoc. - this is a traditional Irish open yawl and we have been asked to model her on the computer and develop the 9 hull planks for stitch and tape construction plus frame shapes only - guidance is available for those who need construction details, or we can draw up plans to suit.

The following are not true 'oar cruisers', but rather sail boats using oars as auxiliary power. (For purposes of this blog, we define an 'oar cruiser' an oar powered boat with (optional) sails as auxiliary power.)

Selway-Fisher Canoe Yawls

Selway-Fisher has two ‘canoe yawl’designs. The first is the 15’ (4.6m) Lillie  The second is an 18’4” (5.6m) version of Lillie called Jim Canoe Yawl.

Description of Lillie from Selway-Fisher
This lovely craft was commissioned by Tom Dunderdale after reading the series of articles in the Classic Boat magazine on the 13’ strip planked canoe yawl Ethel. The idea was to produce a canoe yawl of similar style to those of the last century used by Baden Powell and MacGregor and which formed the basis of modern canoeing today but using modern ply/epoxy construction methods with computer generated plank shapes. Her length is based upon the maximum length of plank that you can get out of 2 sheets of ply and we have increased the beam a little over the original Ethel design which allows more extensive cruising and even the ability to sleep on board. She uses 6 sheets of 6mm and one of 9mm ply in her construction. The standard set of plans show details for stitch and epoxy construction using 7 planks per side to give a beautiful round bottom hull shape and details are given for her to be fitted out in classic style with a lug yawl rig. The plans include mould shapes and construction details for her to be made using the strip plank method. Tom reports that up to a force 2 she will sail herself both before and into the wind hands off allowing the helmsman to drink his beer  in comfort. Above that, she handles herself with grace and she rows very well with excellent tracking.


LOA 14'11" 4.53m
Beam 4'8" 1.43m
Hull Mid Depth 1' 5" 0.43m
Draft 8"/2'1" 0.2/0.63m
Sail Area 106 sq.ft 9.84 sq.m
Approx. Dry Weight 353 lbs 160 kg

Selway-Fisher's Lillie lines...

...and Sailing

Iain Oughtred’s Caledonia Yawl 

(Click on Catalog>>Double Ended Beachboats>>Caledonia)


  • LOA:        19' 6" (5.95m)
  • Beam:       6' 2" (1.88m)
  • Sail Area: 170.01 sqf (15.8 sq m)
  • Weight:     330 lbs (150Kg)

Description of Caledonia Yawl from Iain’s website…
I first saw one of these sailing with the gunter yawl rig in Tasmania about 8 years ago. It was a very cold, windy day, white topped waves whipping down the Derwent toward Constitution Dock. The Caledonian Yawl, with it's crew of five, looked very at ease in the unwelcoming Derwent, and I had the feeling that they could have taken much more. 

Iain Oughred's Caledonia Yawl...

...and Profile.

Yawls are beautiful boats and in smaller sizes, make outstanding row boats that are fast and seaworthy.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Feathering Without Pain

(Note: This is a series of posts originally published 2016 each focused on a different aspect of powering small boats with oars. So far, we have re-posted the following topics:
  • Designs for various oars, including how to determine oar length... Sept 24
  • How to make a set of spoon-blade oars... Oct 1
  • The various ways to connect the oars to the boat... Oct 8
  • Alternative outriggers... moving the oar locks to a proper 'span' on a narrow hull...Oct 15
  • Various foot braces... Oct 22
  • Rowing geometry... Oct 29
  • Sliding seat/rigger options... Nov 5
  • Changing 'gear' when rowing...Nov 12
  • Rowing in Wind...Nov 26
  • Rowing in Rough Waters...Dec 3
  • Today: Feathering without Pain

(This post was originally published February 21, 2016)

To feather an oar is to spin it forward approximately 90 degrees so that the blade, during recovery, is almost level (keep the leading edge of the blade slightly above horizontal) to the water. Why feather? Two reasons:
  1. Wind resistance is reduced, especially when rowing upwind. When rowing upwind and I don’t feather, I can definitely feel the resistance.
  2. In rough water, sometimes we don’t raise the blade high enough. If the oar is feathered, then the blade will cut through the wave… if not feathered, it’s called “catching a crab”, which not only slows the boat down but can be dangerous if only one oar catches.
In private correspondence with Christopher Cunningham, Editor of Small Boats Monthly, we discussed feathering and why people find it uncomfortable after just a couple of minutes. I mentioned to him that I feather by rolling my fingers, rather than cocking my wrist. He told me that his father, a rowing coach for many years (see for a write-up about his late father) taught his rowing students this technique to feather.

Hand and Wrist During the Pull Portion of the Stroke
This photo shows the hand position during the power portion of the stroke. Notice the blade is almost vertical and the wrist is straight.

Hand and Wrist When Feathering by 'Cocking' the Wrist

Here, the oar has been feathered (blade is horizontal) by cocking the wrist. I found, after a couple of minutes of feathering this way, my wrist starts to feel uncomfortable… soon leading to pain.

Hand and Wrist When Feathering by 'Unrolling' Your Fingers

And here the oar is feathered the same amount, but the wrist is straight. Just ‘unroll’ your fingers and loosen the thumb (exaggerated here). When the oar is all the way forward, raise your hand and 
at the same time ‘reroll’ your fingers for the ‘catch’. Your hand will look like that in the first photo above.

If you don’t feel the need to feather your oars, you may want to practice feathering in case you are in a situation (high wind, rough water) when it will be essential that you do. Try it and let us know your experience.