Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A 15.5' (4.7m) Plywood Oar Cruiser

Few row boats can be used as ‘oar cruisers’ without modification (Wellsford’s Walkabout ( is one exception).
Michalak’s Larsboat ( is a boat that can be made into a very nice oar cruiser.
Line Drawing for Larsboat by Jim Michalak 
Larsboat is Michalak’s very popular “Toto” design lengthened 30” (76cm) to an overall length of 15’ 6” (4.7m) but still 30” (76cm) wide. Jim presents Larsboat as a one- or two-person double-paddle canoe.
Larsboat as a Double-paddle Canoe 
I built an 8:1 scale model and realized that it would make an oar cruiser with some additions, yet minimal changes to the basic design (no changes to the hull). Here is how I would see it.
Model of a Larsboat Converted to an Oar Cruiser
Note the mast lying on the bottom (fitting in the cockpit) and the mast partner on the forward edge of the cockpit. There is also a (pluggable) hole in the rear deck with a mast step on the bottom of the aft compartment. The idea of this is that a diamond shaped sail would be permanently attached to the mast and used as a downwind sail by placing the mast in the forward partner and running the two sheets back to cleats on the outside of the coaming. When anchored, the same sail would have the two clews together, with a sprit boom, sheeted tight and thus prevent the wild yawing that occurs when anchored with any wind.

Comparison of Oar Cruisers: Verio and Larsboat
Comparison of the Larsboat conversion to the Verio conversion found at:(

Specifically, the changes/additions to Larsboat are:
  • Move the bulkheads to provide 6’ 6” (2m) of cockpit for sleeping and to support the end of the two decks
  • Add crowned foredeck 4’ 11” (1.5m) long,
  • …crowned afterdeck 3’ 6” (1.1m) and
  • …side decks 4” (10cm) wide
  • Provide hatch access to the two water-tight compartments either on the decks and/or on the bulkheads
  • Add a reinforced coaming 4” (10cm) high on all four sides of the cockpit
  • Use removable outriggers hooked onto the coamings to provide 4’ (1.2m) oarlock spread
  • Provide framework for the custom ‘tent’. This framework could be
1.    Semi-permanent bows:
Semi-permanent Bows as a Tent Frame

 These would stay mounted all the time (except when car-topping), with the tent in three pieces: The top, which could be partially rolled up to provide shade for the rower, and two sides, which would only be used at night.

2. A single ‘hinged’ bow (or two)…
Hinged Bow(s) as a Tent Frame 
… which has the advantage of folding down inside the coaming. Remove the outriggers as done with all these alternatives, then hook the two sides and two ends over the bow(s) and coaming. One, or both ends would need a flap covered bug netting to enable ventilation and reduce condensation.  

3. A single support held by the mast step and partner… Simple, but storing the strut would be a problem.
Single Strut as a Tent Support

 The Larsboat, as designed, weighs about 60 pounds (27kg). With the modifications above, she would weigh about 80 pounds (36kg).

This oar cruiser would be fast, able to handle most any coast-wise waters and car-topped… a nice combination.

The iPhone alarm buzzed her awake at 4:00 am so she could be rowing by sunup on one of the longest days of the year… opened the insulated canister of oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit she had covered with boiling water the evening before… water was starting to heat for the green tea… ate breakfast along with a banana… retrieved a half-dozen energy bars, an orange, apple and 4 bottles of water from the aft compartment for the day’s fuel she’ll need, and stored all in ‘ready-bags’ hanging under the side decks.
Unhooked the tent, stored it in the forward compartment along with her sleeping pad, light blanket and luxurious feather pillow she always brought… washed out the breakfast canister, cup and spoon… While a fresh cup of water was coming to boil, she added a mix of beans, bacon bits and smidge of cayenne pepper to the canister, added the boiling water and put it aside for tonight’s hot dinner… put away the ‘soda-can’ alcohol stove in the utensil box and stored it in the aft compartment…pulled the anchor in, and after washing off the mud, tied it in chocks mounted on the forward bulkhead…
Untied the oars and set out in perfectly calm, windless waters, easy strokes initially, just as the sun came up. She thought; “Oh my God… thank you… it’s perfect.”

In the next blog, we’ll show a way to feather the oars with much less stress to the wrists.


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I 'graduated' from kayaking to rowing a few years ago and miss the motion and views from a kayak. I have been toying with the idea of a boat that would allow me to paddle and row too. You have accomplished this and added the possibilities of a downwind sail and sleeping aboard too. Bravo!

    1. Hello Gerry. You know, you had a great row cruiser but sold your Walkabout ;-).
      I agree, Tom's Larsboat conversion looks like a great row cruiser. It would be very light, making car top transport and portaging possible.
      My vote is for the folding tent supports, nice to be able to reduce windage to minimum at times.

    2. Hi Gerry... Thanks for your kind words! This is one of my favorite 'conversions' for all the reasons you mentioned... My problem is that I have no more room to build/store boats... "... so many boats to build and so little room!...) So I build the 8:1 models and think about which one of the current boats to get rid of to make room for the next...

  2. Hi Rick... Yea, the Walkabout is beautiful (yours, do REALLY nice work!)... I got the idea of the folding bows inside the cockpit from your Walkabout... I saw the 'semi-permanent' bows on Shorty's puddle duck site and for some unaccountable reason, I think they are a really cool solution...

  3. Gerry mentions being able to paddle facing forward as well as row. I'm playing around with stand-up rowing as a break from sitting and a way to see forward. With some sturdy raised oarlocks and a flat floor to stand on you can row standing as fast as normal sitting. Inspiration came from this thread on the WBF:
    Tom - these Italian catamaran rowboats would make great row cruisers!

  4. Hmmmm... In the video (in the link you provided) at 02-09-2016, feathering the oars partially underwater... Just sayin'...
    To me, the real benefit is the chance to use a different set of muscles be shifting from stand-up to sit-down. Also, very low windage.
    For overnight, use an Uber Bivy ( or a "Puddle Duck Tube Tent" ( about 80% down the page...
    Since it really consists of two hulls and a platform, all separate pieces, it would take up minimal room in storage... I might even be able to fit a fourth boat in the garage!!!
    Thanks for the suggestion...

  5. Thank you Tom - very interesting thoughts. I have bought plans for Michlack's RB42 with the idea of building it to use for exercise and cruising, both solo and with my son. I have never rowed a Michlak boat and looking at the plans am having difficulty imagining how it will row, especially in the wind. If you have any insights on this or can point me in the direction of descriptions of rowing these boats, I would greatly appreciate it.

    1. Justin, forgot to hit "reply" so that you get a copy in your mail (I think)... regardless, I responded with a new "comment"... Tom

  6. Hi Justin... The RB42 is very similar to LarsBoat... My take on it is that it will be a fast boat... probably cruise at 4 and sprint to 6... Most of Jim's boats have low windage... For example, I row Ross Lillistone's Flint and my rowing buddy rows a Michalak Vireo... my boat is much more affected by wind than his boat... I think the same will be true of your RB42... You'll find that windage will not be a big issue...I'm currently building a concept model of Michalak's Marksbark as an oar cruiser... Marksbark and RB42 have the same 'design', same length, but RB42 is 12" wider, which will increase carrying capacity (you and your son and all the gear)... If I were to build an camp cruiser for two people (as you are), I'd go with the RB42... However, my intent in this blog has been to present ideas for single-handed, sleep on-board, oar cruisers, and for that, I'd go with Marksbark.
    I think you'll find the RB42 an ideal camp cruiser for two and it will still give you a good exercise workout with speed that will satisfy "the need for speed"... I'd love to hear how this all works out for you... please keep me informed!

    1. Tom, thank you for the thoughtful reply - exactly the sort of insight that I was hoping for. I am new to boat building, and am at the stage of studying the "how to" aspects and the available design options. It is fascinating how every detail matters and how there are many possible solutions for each detail (e.g., your posts on oarlocks and foot braces). Thank you for collecting so many ideas on this subject in one place, in a coherent format.

    2. Hi Justin... In my experience, it IS in the details... however, some of the details you can skip, and others are ones you don't want to skip.
      Justin, use if you have any questions when you start building... I'd be happy to support you in any way needed... Just ask. I'll tell you if I don't know or give you my experience and thoughts...