Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Can We Make an Oar Cruiser in 12 Feet?

I think the answer is "Yes"...

Jim Michalak's Vireo is 12' (3.66m) long, 45" (114.3cm) wide and about 60 pounds (27kg) empty. Made with 3 sheets of 1/4" (6mm) plywood. I've rowed this a number of times... found it very stable, easy to row and surprisingly fast for a 12' boat... sustained speed at 3.5 mph (5.6 kh) and 'sprint' to about 5 mph.

This is an overview of the plans, with a picture of my friend Paul's Vireo.
Vireo Plans

Vireo at Round Valley Resevoir, NJ
To convert this to an 'overnight cruiser', I would make the following additions:

- Full deck with cockpit opening 4'6" (137cm) long, 2'6" (76cm) wide and 13" (33cm) deep to the top of the floorboards.

- Overall cockpit 6'6" (198cm) long, extending under the foredeck.

- Aft deck (crowned about 2" (5cm) 2'6" (78cm) long. The after bulkhead moved aft 6" to support the deck.

- The fore deck (also crowned) 5' (1.5m) long and the forward bulkhead moved forward to enable full 6'6" interior length of the cockpit.

- Oar locks installed on short outriggers (removable) hooked onto the coaming.

- Appropriate hatches to allow access to the fore and aft waterproof compartments.

- A full length cockpit floor to provide a flat sleeping area and provide adjustable stops for the rowing seat and footrest.

- Two bows to support a cover at night.

- Note that the only changes to the original planned construction are the movement of the two bulkheads. All else are additions.

- I'd estimate the weight of the completed Oar Cruiser to be approximately 100 pounds (45kg).

Pictured below is an 8:1 scale model of the conversion described above, with 8' (2.4m) spoon blade oars.
Proposed Conversion of Vireo: Scale 8:1

Top View of Model

Looking Forward
Cockpit Interior, Seat, Foot Rest and Outriggers

I can picture rowing down Barnegat Bay (NJ) in the late fall after all the jet skis are put away... listening to the gulls and terns... a cold breeze keeping the perspiration at bay... anchoring at dusk... tucked into a shallow cove behind a sedge grass knoll... buttoning up the cover and settling down to a hot cup of coffee and meal of Dinty Moore beef stew... roll out the sleeping pad and bag... sweet dreams!

Please comment with your thoughts: What do you LIKE about this conversion? What do you DISLIKE? What SUGGESTIONS would you have to make it a more useful Oar Cruiser?

Originally published January 16, 2016.


  1. Hi Tom, a nice project. I like the bows What about sleeping in deep vee small boat? I row Robote since few years and and can hardly imagine it. What's your solution? I would think of proa like "night ama". Now I'm building Batto for long distance cruising, and looks like bows you presented will be the way to go. Wojtek, PL

  2. Hi Wojtek...

    Sorry for the delay getting back to you... (I thought Blogger would notify me if there was a comment... will have to do more research)

    If you look at the last picture, the floor boards provide a flat area for sleeping above any water/dampness. A sleeping pad plus sleeping bag would provide sufficient comfort in the 6' 6" (2m) cockpit. I would use floorboards athwartship, as shown, in order to provide a range of slots so the rowing seat and footrests could be moved to any position.

    I believe you could take the same approach with Robote, although you would have to cut down the center frame to accommodate the floorboards. If I were to build Robote, I'd make the center frame a temporary frame, install the gunnels, remove the temporary frame and put short knees at both chines where the frame had been.

    Batto is flat bottomed, but I can't tell from the writeup whether there are permanent frames or not. If there are, then I'd probably put floorboards on top of the frame... I think you definitely want to sleep on floorboards rather than the directly on the bottom... there is almost always a small amount of water in the bottom (or at least, it's damp)

    Also, with Batto, you may want to consider fore and aft decks, either permanent (heavier) or just cloth (Polytarp?) over deck beams.


  3. A good observation, Tom, about a small amount of water in the bottom :) so floorboards are worth some work. I'll take it into account. My question was more about stability of a "deep vee floating bed" than inside solutions. As a Vireo user you know well how she reacts upon any asymmetric load. To introduce myself, here is the link to one of robote cruises:


    1. Hi Wojtek... I like the sequence of photos as you are rowing... It shows that the boat is pitching very little, maybe an inch or so and the bow wave is much smaller than that on Verio.

      I believe that if you keep the floorboards thin (1/2" or 5/8", 1.5" wide and a 1/4" space between boards), eliminate the center frame (replaced with small knees at the chines) your center of weight when laying down would be quite low, much lower than when you are rowing, and therefore quite stabile.

      See and Colin's Row Cruiser photo album... he uses 2 floats bolted to the end of the outrigger to provide stability while sleeping. You don't use outriggers, but a simple athwartship strut a foot longer on each side, bolted to the gunnel with wing nuts, would hold the two 'floats'. I'd first try sleeping aboard without the floats and only if the rocking was a problem, would I then make and install the floats.

      Best regards,

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  5. If you read on duckworks, I'm the guy with the FOF kayaks. To save weight and make the boat a bit safer, you can add a deck made of foam.
    1" would require a little bit of reinforcement, 2" is as stiff as 1/4" plywood.
    Covered with PMF, painted fabric, a foam deck would also help with righting a swamped boat, and keep it upright

    1. If, for example, on this 12 footer with a 5' foredeck made of 2" foam, covered in painted fabric, with a 1.5" wide king plank down the middle, would it be strong enough to crawl on it (hands and knees, 190#) haul in anchor or to go ashore with dry feet?