Monday, 18 May 2009

Michalak on rowing

I like Jim Michalak's designs. He is the Delia Smith of boats - they just work. His craft are easy to build, effective and unconcerned with style, but also thought through. There is a reason for every feature.
Michalak runs an essay twice a month, often reruns but none the worse for that. The current essay is about rowing, and it is a treat.
Jim is a fan of Pete Culler's rowing boats, and he has designed oars and boats on Culler's principles but using modern glues, mainly epoxy.
The oars are cut out of single planks to form a long, slender, straight blade with square looms for strength and balance. Michalak points out that big hatchet blades might be great for racing but for cruising they are heavy to swing and catch both wind and water.
Michalak has designed a neat seat that doubles as a ditty box for all that stuff that otherwise rolls about in the bottom of the boat - sun block, water, knife, whistle, that sort of thing. The advantage of a box is that you can adjust the seat position simply by moving it up and down the boat.
I must confess I don't like his oarlocks very much, even though they are based on an idea of Phil Bolger's. They have a steel pin with a curved metal strap running round the oar to keep it against the pin. I don't think they will be nearly as effective or robust as the traditional thole pin and rope, such as the Catalan estrop that Ben Crawshaw pictured in The Invisible Workshop recently.
Michalak ends with a description of his Roar2, a 14ft skiff, which has Mickalak's trademark long bow, but I personally prefer his Batto, an 18ft by 3ft double ender based on a Pete Culler design but updated for modern construction methods (ie stitch'n'glue).


Gavin Atkin said...

Check the latest Auray punt post at I'm using Michalak's oars, which originally came from Pete Culler. They look a little fragile, but they balance very nicely and work well for those of us who row the old-fashioned way - that is, who don't rotate their oars. Cheap shop bought oars may be robust and useful, but they're not half so pleasant to use.

Chris Partridge said...

Did you make the oars yourself, Gavin? They look very good. Most shop-bought oars are over-specified I think.

Gavin Atkin said...

Absolutely I did.

The finish isn't thrilling, as you'd expect from a rough-and-ready boatbuilder like me, but I think they're very serviceable so long as you don't use them as big levers to move heavy boats.

Gavin Atkin said...

I should add that making a pair of these oars provides a damn fine excuse to buy a power planer.

I'm rather against power tools in general, but making Culler-Michalak oars without one would be much harder work.

Ben said...

I can also vouch for those oars. They do look fragile and I'm continually told that the blade is too narrow. Mine are actually narrower than those drawn by Michalak because I was think of the curragh when I built them. But they've propelled me and the light trow over many miles of sea with ease. It's as Michalak says, with a good rowing hull once the boat's up to speed, which it is after a few strokes, it doesn't need much to keep it moving at the same speed.
I agree that a power planer would have been a boon during the build. I certainly learnt how to get the most of my plane and how to sharpen it properly.