Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

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?


  1. My first thought was that you shouldn't compromise the design of a row cruiser in order to accommodate a motor, since a row cruiser should never have a motor!
    This boat looks well thought out for pure rowing, though, another Bolger creative design. The flotation at the stern could come in handy at anchor, you could put the sleeping arrangements back there and still have a stable platform. I also like that windage is balanced, since my boat does tend to blow off from the bow unless I put a balancing vane at the stern.

    1. The V-bottom, with no chines immersed, helps to make this a good rower... in the photo of Bolger rowing, there is virtually no wake, yet he's pulling hard based on the swirls around the oar blades.