Homeward Bound (T. Clarke)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Jim Michalak's Oracle

Jim's Oracle is 15' 6" (4.7m) long, 45" (1143mm) wide and weighs 89 lbs (36 kg) as designed. The overall design is similar to Jim's most popular design, Toto.

Max Wawrazyniak's Oracle

Plans Overview...

...and an End View

Jim, using a GPS found the speed to be 4 mph (6.4 kmh) at a 'cruising pace', and 5+ mph (8+ kmh) when he pushed hard.

Max Wawrzyniak published an article in Duckworks focused on building Oracle.

Max's Oracle under Construction

Gerry L. also has an Oracle build documented on his site.

Jim has a good article on setting up the seat and oarlocks to get the correct trim on an Oracle or any other rowboat.

Steve Chamber's Oracle
Oracle would make a fine oar cruiser without affecting the hull design which has proven to be very effective. Possible modifications to create a 'sleep-aboard' oar cruiser include:
  • Fore and aft decks made either with plywood or skin-on-frame
  • Floorboards to provide dry sleeping platform and attachment points for rowing seat and foot braces
  • Temporary shelter.
See the the post on Larsboat for one example of what these modification would look like.

Oracle, another great design by Jim Michalak: easy to build, good looking, fast.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

CATCH: Letter From a Batto Rower

Last November, we posted a review of Jim Machalak's Batto [which has garnered more views than any other post on this site]. Featured in that post is Wojtek Baginski's own build of Batto.

Earlier this week, Wojtek sent me a letter with some photos of an 'oar cruise' in Poland. With Wojtek's permission, here is the letter and photos:
Hi Tom,
I finally elaborated the system for Batto (self made sliding seat, inspired by Rick Thompson solution
[Rick's solution at the end of the post] but a drop-in embodiment) plus second hand outrigger plus second hand Macon oars)  and started up down river  cruise last Saturday, catching fine weather after 2 weeks of tropical like storms we faced here in Warsaw.  First day distance 80 km [50 miles], overnight on the river island.  The second day distance 43 km [27 miles],  the boat left at the river marina in the city of Płock 123 km down from Warsaw.  Back home by bus. 
Thanks to adjustments and river trainings with my rowing club coach Tomek Wiśniewski (doing the job on the photo attached) before the start,  Birdie works precisely as a Swiss watch. Really fast craft.
 Can't say much about Robote/Batto comparision as they are completely different, especially once Batto has been equipped with the sliding seat system. Both are perfect for their intended purposes: Robote for coastal rowing and Batto for river rowing.  I noticed that some cargo taken on Batto makes it more stable. This follows the observation I've had while taking my daughter as a passenger the other day. I had some camping gear and food last weekend, but for future legs which do not include camping option I'll take 5 polytarp bags prepared for sailing version of my Robote, each can be filled with 10 kg [22 lbs.]of wet sand on a beach. 

 I gave up on the tent over the hull as I have no floor. Any splash leaves some water in and you're right it is necessary to lift the sleeping stuff a bit up. 
 Nearest Sunday I'll get back to the boat and go further. For various reasons I decided to convert my river adventure into weekend mode.  
I posted similar info and same pictures  to Jim [Machalak], may be he'd like to use it at his newsletter.   

Photos of Wojtek's Batto ("Birdie"):

Wojtek, thanks for the write-up and photos, and allowing me to share this with other oar cruising fans.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Wayland Marine's "Merry Wherry"

NOTE: My understanding is that Wayland Marine is no longer viable, the most recent two owners have passed away... Does anyone know if the Company/plans/patterns/etc. were purchased by anyone?

The origin of the Merry Wherry was the Sprite 15ft rowing skiff developed as a stitch and tape plywood kit by Jack Chippendale in 1983. Copied in the USA and sold as the Merry Wherry by Wayland Marine (available in kit form).

Merry Wherry with RowWing Rig


Length...........................................15' (4.6m)
Width............................................34" (86cm)
Beam at waterline...........................27" (69cm)
Carry Weight (hull only)...............35 lbs. (15.8Kg)
Rowing Weight (rigged)...............55 lbs. (24.9Kg)
Capacity..................................300 lbs.(136.0Kg)
Construction..........................Bottom is slightly "V"ed with bilge and side panels.

The Merry Wherry is very similar to Colin Angus's "Oxford Wherry". Colin's Wherry is slightly larger (10" longer and 4" wider) and has two bilge panels per side rather than the one panel for the Merry Wherry.

Commentary (from Wayland Marine) 

"Designed for Fun, the Merry Wherry is the fun choice for recreational rowing. Stable and friendly - release the oars at any time to just enjoy! There’s not another boat like it - a fifteen year heritage of continual refinement. The fine entry and soft bilge, combined with constant flare and wide outwales, make for a dry, comfortable ride in less than ideal conditions. The lovely wineglass transom and graceful sheer will delight the eye. 
Fun to Row, the Merry composite chine construction provides a superior ultra-light hull. Merry composite chine construction is significantly lighter, stiffer, and longer lived than comparable fiberglass or wood construction. The thirty-five pound hull is easy to cartop, easy to transport to the water and quick to respond to every stroke! 
This boat can be your first boat and your last boat - many owners continue to enjoy Merry Kits built ten years ago. It’s built to last, easy to maintain and a joy to handle. If you are a lighter weight pair (300 lb load is the upper chine), you can instantly reposition the RowWing with a friend sitting in a “sport seat” - facing one another for pleasant company."

Converting to an Oar Cruiser

The addition of fore, aft and side decks (as Mike did in his custom Merry Wherry pictured above)… floor boards to provide a dry platform for sleeping... waterproof bulkheads for storage and flotation at each end of an open center rowing cockpit… and a collapsible shelter from rain for sleeping and eating would make this boat into an oar cruiser.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Oar-to-Boat Connection

What are some of the options for oarlocks, sockets, leathers and buttons?

Oar Locks

Probably the simplest oarlock is a single “thole-pin” with a loose lashing around the loom of the oar and the thole-pin as shown below.

From Small Boats, by Phil Bolger, page 32


Tom the Rower's large dory has his own variation of a thole pin oarlock. The oar is fastened to the thole pin by a loop of line that goes from the top of the pin, over and around the oar between PVC buttons screwed to the oar and then back around the pin under the oar. He changes ‘gear’, by shifting the loop from button to button. Clever.

Tom the Rower's Custom Thole Pin Oarlock

Tom stated (see Comments in Gears that he could not feather with this arrangements. Since his oar blades are only 3.5” (89mm) wide, he says they don’t present a windage problem.


The oarlocks below are available through Duckworks and are the locks I use on my Ross Lillistone “Flint”. They are pictured in the ‘gears’ blog mentioned above.

Duckworks “Seadog Premium Brass Ribbed Horn Oarlocks”

Available at Duckworks.


The “Douglas” design oarlocks (below) have two distinct advantages over the ‘horn’ locks above:

1.    The front of the oar is directly over the center of the pivot point and therefore the oar does NOT have the tendency to ‘walk’ as you stroke. (However, I have never felt my oars ‘walking’ (toward the center of the boat) using the ‘horn’ oars above as Bolger talks about in his book, Small Boats, on page 32-33).

2.    To me, the big advantage of the Douglas lock is the 6 degree angle of the forward (pivot) side of the lock. When used with a square or “D” shaped loom, the oar blade is tipped back 6 degrees which is the ideal angle of the blade during the power portion of the stroke… steep enough to keep the oar in the water, but not so steep that the oar dives.

Douglas Oarlock diagram and dimensions

Also see an article reviewing the Douglas Oarlock.


The oarlocks below are manufactured in Sydney, Australia by Gaco

Gaco Oarlocks

Gaco also sells sleeves to enable the locks to fit in either 1/2” or 7/16” sockets. A visit to the site is well worth your time. It contains a series of articles on boats, rowing, oars, etc.


Sockets can be top mounted, or side mounted. It is critical that the socket be firmly attached to the boat. I’ve found that (even large) screws are not good enough. The screws will work loose over time. They did for me, and I now use a combination of bolts with cap nuts and washers, along with screws, to attach the sockets. Since doing that, I’ve had no issue of the sockets working loose.

Sockets can be purchased with oversized holes for the oarlock pin, but they include a nylon bushing so that the lock pivots in nylon vs. metal to metal… much smoother and quieter… and replaceable.

Leathers and Buttons

Leathers perform two functions:

1.    Protect the oar from wear at the oarlock

2.    Help to make feathering easier and quieter.

Buttons stop the oar from sliding out (into the water) of the lock. The button can be an integral part of the ‘leather’ or added separately.

Traditionally, leathers have been made of… leather, Shaw and Tenney, Duckworks and others sell kits to enable you to apply real leather to your oars.

The photo below is of leathers I applied to a set of oars. The kit came with instructions on how to trim the leather to fit the oar and to sew it on the oar with a ‘herringbone’ stich. The button (supplied in the kit) is cut to the proper length and then, in this case, attached with escutcheon nails (about one inch, brass, with round domed heads).

Leather leathers

But leather is not the only option. On these oars below, I used 1/8” Polyester Solid Braid Line from Duckworks. Jim Michalak suggests making a button by creating a “Turk’s Head” out of bungie cord. No matter how tight I made the Turk’s Head, the button slipped. I finally had to glue it to the loom. Now that I’ve installed the gear changer (See Change Gears When Rowing,) the button is really not necessary.

Oar 'leather' and button made from 1/8" line and bungie cord

There are other alternatives for ‘leather and button’. Consider the Martinoli Oar Sleeves with Buttons from 
Duckworks often paired with Douglas Oarlocks discussed above.

Another option is Seadog Adjustable Oar Collars.My concern with these is that the amount of gearing flexibility is less than 4”.

There are many alternatives for how to connect the oars to your oar cruiser. Make your decision based on the severity of weather conditions you row in, how long you expect your boat/equipment to last and your wallet.

In 'comments' below, let us know what oarlocks, sockets, leathers and buttons you use and what would you change if you were to do it over again.

This post originally published January 31, 2016.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Why Small...

For me, I’ve always felt that the amount a boat is used is inversely proportional to its weight. I like ‘small’.  This post is about how others feel about ‘small’.

Robin Lee Graham, who, starting at age 16, sailed alone around the world in his sloop, "Dove":
"At sea, I learned how little a person needs, not how much."

RLW of the Boat Bits blog posted March 31, 2017:
 “…for me what makes a perfect boat to go cruising in is really quite simple...
  • It floats right side up
  • It does not leak to excess
  • It sails well
  • It's simple
  • It does not require you to go into debt to buy or maintain it
  • It's owner fixable”
I especially love the last point... if you can’t fix it, or can’t replace it with something else, maybe it shouldn’t be on the boat.

Howard Rice, November 2016, “Sometimes Small May Be Better”:
"Small boats in the hands of a conservative sailor may offer a few advantages larger boats cannot.

  1. They are affordable whether new or used.
  2. They can be kinetically controlled by movement of body mass by the sailor when underway.
  3. They can be easily self rescued if set up properly.
  4. Perhaps most importantly they can be hauled on shore when nasty weather looms.
“I have chosen to voyage aboard a small boat for a number of reasons primary of which are, ease of use for the type of voyaging I prefer (some open water crossings to remote and interesting shorelines). Ocean passages are fine but in my experience they can be a bit boring. Most passages aim at getting boat and sailor somewhere to explore. I prefer to get there more quickly, perhaps by trailer and get right after the exploring part. In my case with this voyage (sailing among the islands of Tierra del Fuego) … my boat (a Welsford SCAMP) is being shipped… 
“I also prefer small recognizing ease of handling given my “theory of thirds”* approach and resultant higher degree of safety. Safety is often equated with larger boats but if one stops to consider the question it may be argued that for some applications small may be better than large and this is particularly true for some solo sailors. Safety ranges from handling while upright to the ease and ability of righting the boat if capsized. My boat does feature an inflatable cuddy cabin aimed at keeping her at least on her side when she goes over. I believe she can withstand a 360 roll. 
“*(Theory of thirds)… I think of small boats in terms of thirds, me, the hull and the power generated by the sail rig. In the smallest of boats I can kinetically over power and thus control the hull and power generated by the sail rig.”

Mark G. from Ottawa wrote to me in response to a post requesting thoughts on cruising in small boats (used with Mark's permission):

“What are the positive aspects?"

  • easily handled by one person
  • can be cartopped (no trailer required)
  • great for poking around in thin water
  • can carry at least 2 weeks worth of supplies for one person (can probably push to 3 weeks)
  • agile/nimble and responsive to rower inputs (I've taken mine through rapids)
  • can be pulled from the water at the end of the day (esp. if bad weather threatens)
  • low maintenance
  • easily righted after a knockdown
  • no trailer required, no launch ramp required
  • no motor needed
  • allows you to get to some great areas that have no marinas
  • very buoyant and stable in rough water

"The negatives?"

  • rowing speed is about 2 - 2.5 knots
  • not really suitable for more than 1 person
  • difficult to sleep aboard
  • need to find a way to rig a sun shade

"Is the slower speed (due to shorter water line length) an issue for you?"

  • not really as I'm not out to get from A to B as fast as possible; I'm there to enjoy the surroundings and the experience of being out on the water
  • I can keep up with boats in the 16-18' range

"Do you feel they are practical for ‘weekend’ cruises in relatively protected waters?"

  • absolutely!
  • I think they're good for 2-3 week cruises as long as you like camping

"Would you want one?"

"Why, or why not?"

  • Even though I'm planning to do a lot of extended (1-2 months) cruising in my Marsh Hen over the next 10 years, it won't beat the simplicity and ease-of-use of the Shellback.  I can reach a lot of areas more easily, faster, and cheaper. In that regard it's a great boat for exploring.  A good step up from sea kayaking, which I also do.”

From the Classic Marine site, in an article entitled Small Can Be Beautiful, the author first identifies the reasons that people don’t use the boats they have. He then proposes an answer that responds to virtually all of the reasons people don’t use their current boat. His proposal is to buy/build a small boat… here’s why:
  • “Lower initial outlay, or higher quality for the same outlay, or, a solution a number of people find rewarding, a “bespoke” boat for the same outlay. There has perhaps never been as wide a choice of custom - or semi-custom - built boats as there is now. Many are the sort of craft which can give real pride of ownership. 
  • Lower maintenance costs - partly because you will need smaller quantities or sizes of items which need replacing - i.e. rope, rigging, paint and so on. It may also be that many of the maintenance tasks could now be done yourself, even if time is short. 
  • Lower storage costs - especially if the boat is car-toppable or trailable since you might be able to be based at home, in which case finding the time for maintenance becomes that much easier. 
  • Fewer things to maintain, so the boat tends to be easier to keep in good shape, thus increasing seaworthiness and eventual re-sale value. 
  • Shorter trips seem more adventurous in small boats , and you can explore smaller creeks impossible for larger boats. Short trips are good for involving the family - if you reckon on 15-20 minutes per year of age maximum per trip for children, you stand a good chance of keeping their interest and enthusiasm, even if you do lose them to the racing circuit for a few years! 
  • Finally, the consequences of a minor error of judgement such as unscheduled contact, either with terra firma or someone else’s belongings, are usually less serious in a smaller boat.”

Dave and Mindy Bolduc talk about cruising in small boats in their Micro Cruising Guide, in their case, Matt Layden’s Little Cruiser. The whole guide is well worth reading for its insight on two people cruising over 10,000 miles in a boat 15’ (4.6m) long. Following are excerpts from the Guide related to ‘why small’:
“…Though many people would consider this fifteen footer to be a little Spartan for two, we've found that the boat's small size is one of her strongest virtues. We've trailered her long distances with our aging four cylinder Honda Accord, and we've found it easy to launch the boat at any ramp due to the boat's 9-inch draft. Little Cruiser is simple to sail and to maintain, and her flat-bottomed hull along with her robust construction has proven itself over 10,000 miles (16.100km) of sailing in all kinds of weather. Most importantly, this miniature yacht has carried us safely six times to the Bahamas. We have enjoyed gunk holing in the shallow and incredibly clear waters in this sailor's paradise, and we have explored many pristine islands and beaches not easily accessible by larger craft.” 
“They track straight, and they will pretty much take care of themselves. Things don't tend to happen too quickly either. If you make a mistake, like an unintentional jibe, nothing horrible occurs. Nothing breaks, and nobody goes for a swim. In addition, these boats don't seem to make a lot of fuss while going through the water. This is probably because they are so narrow, small, and frankly, pretty well designed. What we find most amazing, though, is that we regularly have an easier time going to windward than larger cruising vessels. Because we are so short, we can often fit in between the wave troughs that larger boats aren't quite able to bridge.” 
“Over the years we have thought about moving up to a larger boat to get a little more elbowroom so to speak. However, after watching other sailors handle their big sailboats, we probably won't change a thing because it looks like too much hard work. Cranking on those big winches while tacking back and forth could give us some real nasty blisters, and hauling in those heavy anchors might strain our backs. Moreover, coming into a dock with a large boat could be a real nightmare when there is a foul current running or a strong breeze blowing. You'd better have your fenders and lines ready when you need to stop a few tons quickly. We usually just fend off with our feet and hold on with our hands. Running aground looks like another real headache too. If you can't get free right away, you'll have to jump into your dinghy, lay out an anchor, and kedge off while using your sails to heel the ship over. If that doesn't do it, and you're not in any danger, then you have the pleasure of sitting out the tide on the side of your boat. No, we prefer just stepping off our tiny craft and pushing.” 
“Over the years, one of the nice things we've noticed about having such a small boat is that you simply use it more while you are out cruising because it is fun to sail. These boats handle as easily as a dinghy, and the shallow draft is perfect for exploring up creeks and rivers. Running aground is never a problem when a simple push is all that you need to get going again. We can easily pass under low bridges by dropping our mast to reach new cruising grounds, and we can even land on deserted beaches for a picnic. We've noticed that the typical forty-foot cruiser one sees in the Bahamas tends to drop their anchor and to stay put until they make their next passage. And who could blame them? It's a lot of work to get all that ground tackle down and then back up again. We often move around daily to enjoy the scenery, and we have the luxury of choosing any anchoring spot we like most of the time. In the end, we'll probably just keep cruising along in Little Cruiser because she's easy to handle and she gets us where we want to go with the minimal fuss, the lowest cost and the least effort.”

How do you feel about ‘small’?

Sunday, July 9, 2017

CLC’s Expedition Wherry

Chesapeake Light Craft (CLC) has a wide collection of small boat plans and kits. The  Expedition Wherry is one example.

CLC's Expedition Wherry by Olav Y. in Stord, Norway
Expedition Wherry using X-Ray vision...

From CLC documentation:

“This fast, shapely wherry is intended for serious sliding-seat rowers who are looking for open-water ability and enough payload for camp-cruising.”
  • Length: 18' 3" (5.6m)
  • Beam: 36” (0.9m)
  • Weight: 92 lbs. (42Kg) 
  • Max Payload: 423 lbs. (192Kg)
  • Cockpit length: 7’ 6” (2.3m) 
Design: “I'm [John Harris, designer of the Expedition Wherry] working within the limitations of a hull design that's really easy to build from a kit.  But I think I got the distribution of volume in the forward third of the boat just right.  It's quite fine down at the waterline, for speed, but with a pronounced 'shoulder' up near the deck to help the bow lift over waves. It's subtle but you can see that feature working in the video footage."
Safety: “Most of the boat is decked in, with only a small "sump" area beneath the oarsman's heels to gather bilge water. An optional Elvstrom-type bailer [such as this one from CLC or Duckworks] can dispose of any water that gathers there. There are four separate watertight compartments, all accessible through hatches for gear storage.  The boat has enough stability, and the compartments provide enough buoyancy, that it's possible to climb back into the cockpit after a capsize, bail out, and continue on your way.”
Speed: "At a gentle cruising pace, about 50 percent pressure and 22-23 strokes per minute, you're doing 4.5 knots, or just over five miles per hour. The equivalent of an easy jogging pace on shore. Even with a couple of long breaks, you could cover 30 miles in a day, no problem…The boat is topping out for me around 6.5 knots, or 7-1/2mph, but I'm not much of an athlete compared to some rowers. A strong oarsman could keep that up for longer than I could!"
Construction: “The Expedition Wherry is a multi-chined plywood boat, with a six-panel hull reinforced by six bulkheads.  The hull is mostly 4mm okoume plywood, with fiberglass applied both inside and out.  The computer-cut kit is intricately designed and highly evolved to suit fast and easy construction, including by first-time builders.  Hull panels are snapped together with "puzzle joints," and all of the holes for the temporary wire stitches have been drilled in advance.  Plans builders are provided with full-sized patterns for every part.  An elaborate step-by-step instruction manual, with photos and drawings of every step, accompanies both kits and plans.” 

...Plans overview.

CLC has produced a video of the Expedition Wherry with the designer, John Harris, rowing and commenting on the boat.

For me, a row cruiser means you can sleep on board. To do that in the Expedition Wherry, a custom sliding seat would need to be built rather than using the Piantedosi unit that CLC recommends. A sliding seat could run on rails attached to the sides of the hull. See here for other options. One could also eliminate the sliding seat and row only with a fixed seat and outriggers.

I would see two alternatives for providing a flat surface for sleeping aboard:

  1. Add a folding platform that spans the (approximately) 3’ (0.9m) between the two waterproof compartments inside the cockpit. While sleeping, your CG (center of gravity) would be above the bottom, but lower than when you are rowing. (This is what I would do).
  2. Redesign the two compartments (that are inside the cockpit) to provide room to sleep on the bottom (with floorboards), but still maintaining the maximum amount of flotation/storage in the two compartments. 

Regardless of which alternative, provision would have to be made for a temporary shelter tent to provide rain protection (see here and here for alternative shelters).

This ‘oar cruiser’ would probably be the fastest of all the cruisers we’ve covered in this blog, capable of handling rough water, and with enough capacity to handle at least a week’s worth of supplies and equipment.

I really like this one! What do you think?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Bolger’s Thomaston Galley, an Oar Cruiser

Actually, it's an Oar-Sail-Motor Cruiser.

Phil Bolger designed the Galley about 1970. Harold Payson had been pushing him for years to design a good rowing boat that could also be outboard powered. The result was the Thomaston Galley. Plans are available from H. H. Payson & Company.

Bolger's Thomaston Galley...

...and sailing with the sprit rig...

...and demonstrating freeboard with 2 people and motor aft.

The plans and description are also in Chapter 8 of Bolger’s Small Boats book published in 1973 by International Marine Publishing Company in Camden Maine. Bolger’s notes and the photos in this post are all taken from the book.

Excerpts from Phil Bolger’s Commentary

(Regarding the design) "It seemed to me that some deadrise would have to be used to combine enough stability to be reasonably safe and comfortable with the motor in use, and a clean bottom to row pleasantly. With plywood planking specified, that meant a long bow overhang if a hard knuckle in the forefoot was to be avoided. I thought about sneak boxes, where this problem is solved by making the hull very low and building up the sides and ends in way of the cockpit. Eventually it struck me that there was no need to cut down the stern, that in fact if it was built up into a sort of quarterdeck it would produce just that extra buoyancy that was needed to carry the motor, and moreover the combination of low bow and high stern would balance her up in windage and stop the bow from blowing off as it does in most rowing boats." 

(The design in use) "…mine lives on a light trailer in my garage and is used almost entirely for rowing… I average 3.5 mph (5.6 km/h) in good conditions for two hours… I can spurt 5.5 mph (8.9 km/h)… By starting in the morning calm, rowing, and sailing when the wind came up, I’ve more than once covered 25 miles (40 km) or so in a day… She is intended strictly for protected water, of course; by trimming her by the stern she can go through or over a tolerable chop without much trouble under sail or power, but rowing her to windward in open water is a wet and nasty business I take pains to avoid….but in smooth water the Galley rows as well in a calm and better in a breeze… 

(Construction) No problems with the construction have developed in several years of frequent use, including any fair day in winter in my case… The boat is noticeably flexible under sail, the thrust of the leeboard twisting the side in and out in the puffs, but there doesn’t seem to be any harm in it." 

(Cruising) "[She is roomier inside…] As to the last point, the movable rowing seat (idea from L. Francis Herreshoff) makes plenty of room to lie down and the sail neatly covers the open part with the sprit for a ridgepole (also lifted from L.F.H.), but I’ve lost most of my enthusiasm for camping out in the New England climate in open boats." 

(Conclusion) "I admit to being quite proud of this design; apart from being the only successful attempt at a row-sail-motor combination I ever came across, it tends to blow up a designer’s vanity when an unusual solution to a troublesome problem works out exactly as expected."


  • Length 15’ 6” (4.7m)
  • Width 4’ (1.2m)
  • Weight approximately 140 lbs (64kg)

Bolger's Thomaston Galley Layout Plan...

...Table of Offsets and Construction Plan...

...Optional Sail Plan.

Using these plans, I built an 8:1 scale model of just the hull, building it as I would build the full sized boat, I found no issues in construction.

8:1 Scale Model (Hull Only) of Thomaston Galley (T. Clarke)

As designed, the Thomaston Galley would make a very handsome oar cruiser.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Oughtred’s Snipefish

Iain Oughtred’s typical designs are clinker built (and/or strip planked). As Iain states below, Snipefish (go to Iain's site, click on catalog >> "Outrigger Skiffs >> "Snipefish") is different in that it is ‘stitch and glue’. Using only 2 sheets of 5mm plywood, it is an amazingly light rowboat that could be converted into an oar cruiser.

Snipefish Lines

Iain’s writeup…

Out of character! this one is neither strip plank nor lapstrake! It's STITCH AND GLUE! Cartopped with ease and for its beam is the shortest possible sliding seat rowing shell. Any shorter and it will have the pecking hen look as the seat slides forward and back; nose dipping, nose rising, nose dipping, well, you know the look., a trainer sliding seat rowing shell that can be car roof topped. Plans include home built riggers and i believe (too lazy to use one so i have never seen it...) the sliding seat, too.  

Plans Overview


  • 4.58 m - 15' 0", Length oveall
  • 0.86 m - 2' 9", Width at gunnels
  • 25.00 kg - 55 lbs, Approximate Weight


Set of Building Photos

A Similar Boat in Action… 

This video is of an Echo Rowing Shell that is similar to Snipefish. The Echo is 3’ (.9m) longer, but only 21” (533mm) wide at the waterline vs. Snipefish’s overall width of 33” (838mm).

As an Oar Cruiser?

If we added SOF decks fore and aft leaving a 4’ to 5’ (1.2m to 1.5m) cockpit opening, watertight bulkheads (with access hatches) providing a 7’ (2.1m) sleeping area between the bulkheads, floorboards for ‘dry’ sleeping and to provide anchors for seat and foot rest (I would not use a sliding seat for the ‘oar cruiser’ version), a ‘tent’ covering for sleeping and an automatic bailer (or two) such as this Andersen Mini Bailer available from Duckworks, then Snipefish could be taken out in conditions as shown in this video.

EC or Texas 200 anyone?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Can We Make a 12' Oar Cruiser?

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.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Laying In a Waterline

You’ve built your boat, but now you want to lay in a waterline so that you can:

  1. Know where the bottom paint and the topside paint meet and/or
  2. Know where the fiberglass sheathing on the bottom stops and/or
  3. Know where to paint a boot-top of contrasting color (or boat-striping-tape). Note: I’ve used this West Marine tape and it has held up for three seasons with no peeling or discoloring… highly recommended (I have no connection with West Marine.)

First Step: Determine waterline END locations

Using the waterline marked on the plans for the boat, mark with a pencil about 1” to 2” inches (25 to 50mm) above (toward the sheer line) where the plans specify.


Put the boat into shallow water, load it (with people, sand bags, etc.) as you will normally be paddling, rowing, sailing, motoring and mark at the bow and stern about 1” to 2” inches above water level.

Second Step: Mark proposed waterline

See this Tips From a Shipwright video. The video shows the technique I used on my Ross Lillistone Flint. As shown in the video, use a tight string between the two horizontal supports, marking the waterline with either a pencil or short pieces of masking tape. You can do this by yourself, no help is needed. This technique is useful if the boat is NOT level, either fore and aft, or side to side.

Horizontal Stick at the Stern for Laying in a Waterline...

...and at the Bow.

A variation of this technique, which requires two people, is to set up the horizontal sticks as above. One person is the ‘marker’ (using pencil or short pieces of tape) and the other person stays at least one boat length away and sights across the two sticks, telling the ‘marker’ where to mark the waterline. I used this technique on an earlier boat I had with my wife as the ‘marker’. Worked well.
Another technique is to use a laser level such as this, (if you already have one!) . This can also be done by yourself.

You can level the boat (so that the bow and stern marks you did in the first step are level) by using a long clear plastic tube filled with water taped to the bow and stern and then moving the boat so that the water level in both ends are at the marks you placed in Step 1. Once the boat is set up ‘level’, take one end of the tube (making sure you don’t spill any water from the tube), walk around the hull, marking  every 6” the proposed waterline.

If the floor under the boat is level and flat (mine isn’t) and you have ‘leveled’ the boat as in the paragraph above, then just use a stick held vertically on the floor to mark the proposed waterline.

Third Step: Mark the full waterline

Using the guide pencil marks (or pieces of tape), lay in a continuous strip of masking tape around the hull. The ‘keel’ side of this tape will be the edge of the bottom paint and fiberglass cloth (if used).

When I glassed the bottom of Lillistone Flint, I laid in the waterline using blue painter’s tape. I then taped newspaper sheets to this ‘waterline tape’ in order to prevent any epoxy from dribbling onto the topsides. When I epoxied the cloth to the bottom, I overlapped the tape by a half inch (12mm) or so.

I then spread about four layers of epoxy on the cloth (sanding between each layer) until the weave was totally filled (each mixed with graphite powder). Epoxy dripped down over the tape and newspapers. When it had all thoroughly dried, I was able to lift the waterline tape, flex it up and down a couple of times, and the epoxied cloth broke off cleanly at the edge of the tape. There was no need to cut the cloth with a knife.

After the hull was painted, I used the West Marine Boot Top Tape, slightly overlapping the top edge of the fiberglass cloth.

Let us know of any other techniques you have used to lay in a waterline.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Paul Gartside’s Flashboat

Paul Gartside's Flashboat is a fast rowboat, capable of handling rough water and easily converted to an oar cruiser by adding SOF decks and a tent arrangement for shelter at night. He also uses an innovative construction technique that results in a very light boat that can be easily car-topped.

Paul’s commentary:

“The Flashboat is a family favorite with its roots in England's West Country. This is a modified version of a Cornish racing skiff. Its construction is unusual, with thin marine ply bent in two directions, which gives high strength for very low weight. It is also more of a challenge to build than most plywood designs. Light, graceful and a dream to row, the design has also proved itself to be a versatile, dependable cruising boat. We have wandered far and wide in our Flashboats. During the summers of 1995 to 1997 we took one 3500 miles down the Yukon River, north up the coast, through Bering Strait and on to Barrow.“

Paul Gartside's Flashboat

The lines drawing above shows why she would be very easy to row... and fast. She would be very tender initially, but have great stability in rougher conditions... 3500 miles (5633km) on the Yukon River and Bering Strait demonstrate that rough water capability.

Flashboat Awaiting Calmer Surf During the Yukon River/Bering Strait Cruise

Construction...note how the full-length keel helps provide directional control


  • Length: 15' (4.6m)
  • Beam: 4' 6" (1.4m)
  • Depth amidships: 16.5" (419mm)
  • Weight: 90 lbs (40.1kg)
  • Sailing rig: dipping lugsail (Downwind only, no centerboard, daggerboard nor leeboard)
  • Sail area: 47 sq .ft. (3.4 sq. m)

Paul on construction:

“It is built of four strakes of 1/8 in. plywood laid over a grid of sawn plywood frames and longitudinal stringers. Plywood this thin can be bent (tortured) into a compound curve, and in the bending becomes a very stiff structure. Building hours are very low (180 hours or so), but there is a little more to this than more conventional plywood construction. It has a properly rabbeted stem; also some patience is required to work the lower strakes into place.”“This building method requires very little temporary work. The frames are sawn from 3/8 in. plywood, left long and set up on the building frame. The backbone assembly notches into them and the transom is fitted. Longitudinal stringers are notched into the frames at the plank lands. Planking is glued and fastened to the backbone and stringers with temporary screws. In order to stiffen the bottom, the floorboards are also let into the frames before planking.”
Flashboat would make a beautiful, fast and sea-worthy oar cruiser... let us know what you think.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Scilly Gig 15

Boatplans.cc lists a number of plans for rowboats, sailboats and power boats. One of those designs is the Scilly Gig 15 designed by Bateau.com. She could be converted into another nice oar cruiser.

Lines of the Scilly Gig 15

Description from the Designer

The Scilly Gig is named after a type of very fast row boats that originated in the Scilly Islands, UK and despite what the name sounds like, is designed for the serious oarsman. She is fast: a top speed of 4 mph (6.4 kmh) can be achieved at 25 strokes per minute and at a quieter pace, she will cover more than 3 miles per hour (4.8 kmh). There is a standard and a light version. The light version uses 4mm marine ply and the standard version is made with 6mm marine ply. No compromise has been made to rowing performance for a single crew but if needed, she can carry a passenger and gear without any problem: the pounds per inch (25mm) immersion is 115 lbs (52 kg). A second rowing position is provided by the forward seat. Seats can be rearranged to suit.

 Key Dimensions

Length overall 15' 6" (4.72 m)
Beam 3' 8" (1.12 m)
Weight 80 (36 kg) or 100 lbs (45 kg)

Scilly Gig 15...


Conversion to an Oar Cruiser

Similar to other conversions posted, we would suggest the following:
  • Replace the forward and aft frames with full bulkheads containing large waterproof hatches. This would result in a cockpit approximately 7' (2.1m) long below the decks.
  • Eliminate the center two frames (and seat).
  • Triple the fiberglass taping on the interior of the two chines to provide additional strength.
  • Install fore and aft decks leaving a cockpit opening approximately 4.5' (1.4m) long. The decks could be made Skin-On-Frame to save weight.
  • Add floorboards to provide an anchor for the portable foot brace and rowing seat as well a dry platform for sleeping. See this post as an example. 
  • Add a temporary shelter such as one of these these.

Origins of the Scilly Gig

The following is from Wikipedia: 

The Cornish pilot gig is a six-oared rowing boat, built of Cornish narrow leaf elm, 32 feet (9.8 m) long with a beam of four feet ten inches. It is recognised as one of the first shore-based lifeboats that went to vessels in distress, with recorded rescues going back as far as the late 17th century. The original purpose of the Cornish pilot gig was as a general work boat, and the craft is used for taking pilots out to incoming vessels off the Atlantic. At the time, the gigs would race to get their pilot on board a vessel first (often those about to run aground on rocks) in order to get the job and hence the payment. 
Today, pilot gigs are used primarily for sport, with around 100 clubs across the globe. The main concentration is within Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, however clubs exist in Sussex, Somerset, Devon, Dorset, Wales and London. Internationally, there are pilot gig clubs in France, the Netherlands, the Faroe Islands, Australia, Bermuda, and the United States. 
All modern racing gigs are based on the "Treffry", built in 1838 by William Peters of St. Mawes, and still owned and raced by the Newquay Rowing Club. However non-racing gigs have been built which do not conform to the exact specification of the Treffry and are disallowed from racing in competitive races.

Cornish Pilot Gigs Racing

The Scilly Isles

Aerial View of Scilly Isles that are Located....

...40 Miles (65km) West of "The Lizard" (Southern most point in England)

Your thoughts?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Devlin's Duckling...

Sam Devlin’s Duckling is a beautiful, light weight and fast boat that can be rowed with either sliding seat and/or fixed seat.

Sam Devlin's Duckling (S. Devlin)


  • Length 17′ 3.6″ (5.3m)
  • Beam 3′ 5.75″ (1061mm)
  • Draft 5.25″ (133mm)
  • Displacement 346 lbs (157Kg)
  • Hull weight 95 lbs (43Kg)


Sam Devlin's Duckling Profile... (DevlinBoat.com)


...and From Dead Ahead (DevlinBoat.com)


(Quotes from Dale McKinnon’s article in April 2016 issue of Small Boats Monthly
“…The Duckling 17 is very stable…” 
“…Generally, faster boats sacrifice stability for speed, but in six hard pulls I had reached a GPS-measured 5.7 knots. With a waterline length of 15′ 7-1/8″, the Duckling 17’s theoretical hull speed is 5.3 knots. I settled down to a little over 5 knots at about 22 strokes per minute…” 
“…Although Devlin envisioned the Duckling 17 as a performance rowing craft, not as a load-carrying boat, I’d consider adding battens on the sides during construction to provide a place to attach plastic or metal pad-eyes. With bungee cords and dry bags you’d have secure load-carrying capacity for fast touring coastal waters…” 
“…I’d add a Venturi auto-bailer to take care of any water that might get shipped in rough seas…” * 
“…The thought of arriving comfortably at a destination 20 miles away half an hour sooner is quite appealing. I have no hesitation in recommending the Duckling 17 as a boat for fast and light touring, as well as recreational and open-water rowing.”
(From the Duckling Site Description) 
“Sleek lines and a beautiful sheer make the Duckling a delight to row and own. She is light and responsive and easily handled, providing great exercise for the single oarsman. As a three-panel per side design, she’ll glide through the water nearly effortlessly.
At 95 lbs. the Duckling 17 is a very car-toppable boat, easy for one person to handle. Folding pattern oarlocks and eight foot spoon blade oars give her a lot of power.”

Converting to an Oar Cruiser:

For oar cruising, including sleeping onboard, the following would need to be done:

  • Provide floorboards that span the V-bottom… see here and here for examples.
  • Provide shelter for sleeping, cooking, etc…. see here and here for examples.
  • Provide fore and aft, and possibly side, decks which could be skin-on-frame to minimize weight.

This would make a beautiful and fast oar cruiser that would take you through most any inland waters.

* For a Venturi style bailer, see Duckworks