Well, here it is – my first “real” boat design. This is a product of my well-known inability to leave well enough alone. It all started when I was obtained a Michalak AF4B.
I thought it was slightly improved by chopping off some freeboard aft, and dramatically improved by adding a full-length slot top and forward drop board entry. Sort of a poor man’s Skiff America for really thin water. (See the article on this extreme makeover HERE.)
But still it wasn’t quite there, and I performed a major remodeling job to get it here.
SS16 Profile Planing
I knew I was onto something when during the test run everyone at the ramp said “nice boat”. I actually got cheered by a large raft-up of powerboaters on a sandbar. I was astonished I got that much attention. I guess they must view it as something like someone with a ’57 Chevy driving by. At least a few assumed it was a classic boat that I had restored. (Maybe more than a few, based on the response from the sandbar.)
But no matter how much we might like the attention from other boaters, that wasn’t what determined the design criteria. This brings us to a discussion of design philosophy.
Why have a boat?
One of the governing factors in Jim Michalak’s design process is his feeling that one should always build a boat for oneself. After all, counting on the family staying interested can get you stuck with a big boat you can’t crew.
While this is true to some extent, I think a lot of us with young kids are in a different…um…boat. Jim is retired, and his kids have grown up and moved away. He truly does go boating alone most of the time. But people like me almost never go boating without the whole family. Even when we do all our boating together, I stand a real chance of missing out on the kids’ childhood while I cut plywood and mix epoxy.
Worse, in many cases people like me discover (after mixing gallons of epoxy) that kids are bored stiff with sailing. All three versions of this boat were a tremendous revelation for me in exactly this way – suddenly the kids actually found boating fun! We’re lucky if we get to sail twice a year now that the kids can lobby for the motorboat.
So let’s look at specifics on the new design priorities.
Jim’s approach on accommodations is to add a cabin only if it can be big enough to sleep in, or insist on an open cockpit big enough for the same. Or both. I find this is never a consideration with the family. It would require a monstrously large boat to sleep all four of us plus the dog inside a cabin. A big tent on land is a lot cheaper and simpler, doesn’t roll and slap at anchor, and it gets us up and away from the dense mosquito populations near the water. Besides, my wife flatly tells me she won’t sleep on a boat. Well, there you have it.
Absent the need for a sleeping cabin, why have a cabin at all? I would probably skip it in any boat under 15 feet and most boats under 20 feet. But I think a small cuddy can be worthwhile. Most women appreciate a cabin for the toilet facilities, when they are needed. It is also convenient to hang the lifejackets high enough to stay off a damp cabin sole – wet life jackets spell an immediate end to an outing with kids who get cold easily. I also like to have a readily-accessible “closet” for storing things like tissues, trash, band-aids, sunscreen, GPS, cameras and other electronics out of the rain. By “readily-accessible”, I mean something I can reach while standing at the helm, but not in immediate danger of soaking. (This is a good use for one of those automotive organizers meant to hang on the back of one of the front seats.)
It doesn’t take much of a small cabin can allow little kids to nap in the shade, which is a really big deal for us pasty northerners. However this only works if you build the front bulkhead open on the bottom like I did.
The plans show a solid bulkhead with a deck plate, which provides around 230 lbs of emergency buoyancy. I’m hoping I can get around that by installing a clip-on net over the opening and storing all the inflatable water toys in there. Still, this is something to think about if you’re going far from shore, like I don’t.
Either way, a cuddy is a playhouse—kids like to look through the portholes in the rain, play on the “parallel bars” of the slot top, and crawl in and out of the front drop board when the slot cover is on. And because they think it’s a fun place, they stay corralled more of the time.
Cuddy with Kids
SS16 Parallel Bars
Perhaps the best feature, however, is that this little cuddy is just enough to get the kids out of the wind and spray when the weather turns cold, wet or scary and you need to point the bow homeward and blast through some chop. If you provide handles to hang onto, they might even enjoy being at their “battle stations” looking out the portholes. Just be sure to strap down any junk in the cuddy, or remove it to the cockpit and strap it down. Even better, if it gets really bad there’s enough space for the whole gang to get in there for a while and read a story while waiting out a heavy downpour that comes with too much wind to have the bimini up. Even without a top, a dropboard provides noticeable protection from wind.
SS16 from Above
There is also a design benefit of the smaller cabin as well. The helm station moves forward, which gets the helmsman’s weight further forward. Trim is touchy in a boat so short, and too much weight aft can be a problem, since the motor and fuel are already back there. Getting some adults in the middle of the boat makes it handle much better, and makes the steering a lot crisper. Of course it is possible to move the helm forward with no cabin at all, but the cabin does provide a convenient wind break and hand-hold.
Speaking of wind, the smaller cabin further forward pretty much guarantees that the boat will point downwind when drifting. I suppose bow to the wind might be better, but that isn’t going to happen in any boat that it pivoting around the motor’s lower unit. If it is really blowing, downwind is where you should probably be headed anyway.
A smaller cuddy also gives a much better view of the bow well. This can be important.
The Bow Well
After I modified AF4B, the tiny bow well immediately became the most popular place for kids to hang out underway. They had to take turns and I had to time them to make sure it was fair! Clearly a larger bow well was in order. There are other benefits, of course. A larger bow well provides easier beach access and more storage for muddy stuff. You can actually climb in while the anchor is in the well, which is an acrobatic feat with the small AF4-series bow well. (Note the graceful fit of the oversized Bulwagga pattern anchor in the photo below.) A larger bow well makes docking and anchoring noticeable easier as well, and it provides a nice place to pole the boat from. (I find it easier to pole this boat backwards because the bow moves around so easily.)
The forward cabin opening and slot are wider than I would typically make them, but this allows the bow well to serve as an adult seat facing the cabin. This is good for keeping kids corralled while applying sunscreen.
Maybe best of all the deeper anchor well way forward gives the kids a place to put their legs when they are up there. This theoretically lets them sit more securely rather than kneeling and clinging precariously to the bulwarks, but in practice they prefer precarious.
Either way, they think this bigger bow well is the best part about the new design.
The changes to bow well and cabin combine to give us a significantly larger cockpit, which is where the grown-ups always want to be. I found AF4B’s cockpit OK when standing, but cramped as soon as more than one person tried to use a folding chair. A seven-foot cockpit is immensely bigger than a five-foot cockpit.
SS16 Profile Slow
You can actually unfold a lounge chair if you want to.
SS16 7 foot Cockpit 2
Like Michalak, I favor a wide-open cockpit. It is best for versatility. If you want benches, by all means add them, but not until the boat’s overall structure is solidified. You don’t want to create hard spots on the panels that will keep them from bending evenly.
I also added tie-downs in cabin and cockpit for camping totes and gas tanks. You don’t want this stuff sliding around if it gets rough on your way to the campsite. It gets rough fast in a flat bottomed boat.
These are just nylon webbing epoxied down with some standing loops. There are probably better ways, but it is hard to stub your toe on webbing.
The one caveat here is the lack of buoyancy. There is enough buoyancy under the slop well to keep the motor afloat, but not much beyond that. I would build in bench seats along the sides with lots of buoyancy if I were going far from shore, especially in cold water. My inclination is to make these cavities with ventilation so they don’t rot, but fill them with tightly-capped plastic soda bottles. That way you don’t need to remember to remove deck plates, and even if you get holed you still have buoyancy. And they won’t rot the wood like foam seems to. (That it still experimental, however, so if you try it you should definitely do some testing and write an article!)
I almost forgot – the low sides have an actual use besides looking good. Easy boarding!
The transom uses a full-width motor mounting rail, just like Michalak usually does. This is simple to build and works well. The downside is that it appears to invite the addition of more motors. Resist this temptation. Two motors are far too much weight for the back of this boat, and it affects the trim badly. Even worse, if you got swamped, the buoyancy of the compartment under the slop well is unlikely to float two motors.
If you really think you need to carry a spare motor, I would carry it in the cuddy or the cockpit. Besides, a “kicker” motor interferes with the steering cables when tilted up. I suppose you could mount a bracket like I briefly did, but I think it’s better to get a copy of Cheap Outboards
by Max Wawrzyniak and follow his recommendations on how to make your one motor as reliable as possible. Of course you should always have set of oars, a pole and an anchor.
I left the motor’s “slop well” the same 16” (fore & aft at slop well level) as the original, which does not leave room for fuel tanks in the slop well. I think the only real advantage of keeping tanks in the slop well is that the occasional leakage goes overboard. Theoretically it’s easier to cause an explosion from vapors collecting in the bottom of the cockpit, but it would have to be a very still day for this to actually happen. I stick with the small slop well and sniff the bilge before starting if there’s no wind at all. I also replace seals to get rid of leaks!
The disadvantage of the small slop well is that there is less buoyancy underneath – around 290 lbs if you don’t put anything in there. (Probably less with the soda bottle method, since water can fill between the bottles.) If you aren’t using the experimental soda bottle method, it is worth paying for a couple of the cheap 8” deck plates for this space. If you swamped the cockpit and cabin, the weight of the motor could sink the whole thing if these hatches leak. For under $15 each it is awfully hard to build something from scratch that can equal quarter-turn deck plates.
Speaking of motors, I recommend a late 1950s or 1960s OMC 18 horsepower outboard, which should cost you maybe $300-500 after putting some parts into it to make it reliable. (You may as well include the cost of a copy of the Wawrzyniak book.) Michalak typically used 8-10 hp in his AF4, but he was generally going out solo. With a family and the associated junk, I think you’ll want 18 hp. These motors weigh around 100-120 lbs, and I would not use anything that weighs more. This might well rule out many of the modern 4-stroke motors, so check the weight before you buy one. The heavier the motor, the less fuel you can carry in the stern, and the more you have to insist that nobody sit aft. (And the more buoyancy you need to build in.) Lighter is better.
Speaking of lighter, I have mixed feelings on electric start. I can easily pull start an 18, but I guess electric start might be handy for women and people with back problems. My wife is pretty strong but can’t quite turn it fast enough with the struggle string. For this reason, I do have the electric starter. Still, I normally pull start it. This gives me immediate feedback if the motor has for some reason gotten harder to pull. (Besides, more than three pulls and you should be diagnosing, not pulling!) It also saves the starter battery for when I really do need it. Admittedly, sometimes being hot and tired qualifies as “needing” it.
A more powerful motor will do more harm than good. First, I’m not confident the hull will tolerate more than 18 hp without breaking something. Even if you throttle it back, you have the weight problem mentioned above, and you have a worse weight problem if you reinforce the transom to use all that power. Just as bad is the fuel economy. Using a Big Twin would cut your range in half or worse. You might gain some top end speed, but less than you might think, because of problems with weight and trim. Worse, it is seldom safe and never comfortable to use that speed. The only reason I could conceive of wanting that much power is to pull a heavy skier. Even then the 18 might do fine with the right prop and skis.
I should also mention your wooden motors – oars and a pushpole. A good 18 does most of what you need on this boat, but you always need backup. You could carry another motor, but it is a pain to store, and would have to be very light if you hope to lift it into place. It also wouldn’t help you if your problem was lack of fuel! A trolling motor might do some good there, but their range is pretty limited. You need a good set of oars.
I like the Michalak-Culler pattern and I think 8 feet is about right for this boat. Read Michalak’s chapter on rowing setup, and put the oarlocks where you can brace your feet against the motor well bulkhead. Then all you need is something to sit on at the right height. For me it comes out about right with my cooler plus a flotation cushion. If this doesn’t fit you, you could build a box of the right size and add tie-downs to fasten it to the floor when needed.
Also be sure to have a pushpole. This boat can float in 4-6” of water, and you can’t run the motor in such shallow water. You really can’t get the most out of the boat unless you can control your progress in such thin water. A pushpole is ideal. Mark the pole every foot and you can poke around in murky shallows to figure out when the motor is about to touch bottom.
I provide drawings for stick steering with these plans, as I believe this system is well worth the relatively small effort and expense involved. It gets you far enough from the motor that you can have a nearly-normal conversation underway. I already mentioned the benefits of getting some adult weight further forward. It also gets you much closer to the bow. This is a huge advantage on rivers where you need to spot the narrow, winding channel deep enough to keep your lower unit from dragging. Here’s the view standing at the stick.
SS16 from Stick
From the motor you mostly see bulkhead, and strain to see over the cabintop.
SS16 from Tiller
If you’re really cheap you can get close to this with a tiller extension (see Michalak’s book). But this gets in the way if you are bringing a lot of people along, since the tiller sweeps the cockpit. And of course it also doesn’t help you shift gears. An additional benefit of the stick steering system is its stiffness. It takes more effort to steer the boat, but if you leave the stick it will hold its setting. See how in some photos I’m taking a photo and letting the boat steer itself for a few seconds? I can let it go like that for a long time, steering by shifting my weight. Nice!
SS16 Quarter Planing
The added cost should be under $100 (probably under $70), including a used remote control box and adapter from your local AOMCI member.
Speaking of which, the dimensions in the plans are for a 1950s OMC remote control, the kind with the rounded box that you see on my boat. If you have the later, boxier kind, or another make you might need to modify the distance between the two horizontal rails of the upper stick guide, since these are what the remote control fastens to.
Here is one thing I view as a key element in any family boat – reboarding after a swim. Not only is this a vital safety feature, but also you will never need to contend with a crowded beach again. But the system needs to work for all sizes and shapes of people, at many levels of athletic inability. And it can’t interfere with steering cables.
Given this boat’s stability and external chine, I don’t have much trouble with simply climbing over the side. But this is admittedly a bit acrobatic. If you’re at all cold or tired, or if there are any waves, this maneuver probably won’t be reliable.
In my opinion, the best ladder system around is the one Kilburn Adams designed for the Skiff America 20. But it requires a taller transom to fold up properly. One of my upcoming projects will be a version of Kilburn’s ladder with the platform part permanent, and only the steps folding up. Perhaps less elegant, but it should work. If you really want Kilburn’s ladder, you could build a notched transom, since you should only mount one motor anyway. It might even look nicer that way.
This boat is designed for simple nail and glue jigless “Instant Boat” construction, and it goes together fast and easy that way. However, I am sort of falling out of love with nail & glue because it seems you always end up doing some seam taping anyway to protect the chines. Worse, Michalak recommends filleting inside seams as well to keep the water from finding its way in and rotting the plywood. Those two measures put you halfway to stitch and tape anyway. If you go the rest of the distance and build it stitch & tape, you can skip some ripping and planing and you don’t need to buy nearly as many fasteners. If you wanted to have chines to protect the plywood, with stitch and tape you could make them purely sacrificial and thinner. I won’t belabor the point further except to say that the design should work fine either way.
In either case I highly recommend you use Payson-style fiberglass butt joints rather than butt straps or blocks for the plywood joints.
To build this boat, you’ll need four sheets ¼” plywood (sides, bulkheads, cabin top), one sheet of 3/8” plywood (bow well deck, slop well deck, ladder platform), and three sheets of ½” plywood (bottom, transom).
Plans comprise four sheets of drawings, one sheet of flat panel offsets (to keep the drawings tidier) and 10 pages instructions.
The drawings are provided on 11x17” paper so you can cheaply and easily make copies to write on in the shop. This will come in very handy, believe me.
If you have access to a printer that can handle 11x17” paper, you can save some time and money by ordering plans in pdf format. You also get the photos in color rather than black & white. If you prefer paper plans it will take a bit longer and cost a little more, but it is available.
Besides the above, I include a few more features.
Bill of Materials – most designers shy away from this, since everyone seems to want to change something, which screws up this list. I provide it nonetheless because I really wish I’d had one for my very first boat project. If you don’t intend to change anything, this will at least get you pretty close. Perhaps just as useful, I include a separate sublist for the necessary safety accessories that are easy to forget, such as a fire extinguisher, horn and lights.
Ripping List – This is not such a big deal for the builder with the well-appointed shop. But some folks need to borrow access to a tablesaw and do all their ripping at one time. Others like me need to move their saw outside to keep the dust outdoors. Still others simply don’t want to get covered with sawdust more often than necessary. In any case, the ripping list lets you easily get all the sticks down to size at one time without digging through the plans and still ending up one stick short.
Full Size Templates for Portholes – Figuring out the shape of the ports is a pain, so I include an actual size paper pattern. Glue it to an old file folder and cut to the lines with a utility knife and/or scissors. Then you have a template to trace onto the hull and onto the plexiglass. I do the same with the Sandy Shoal 16 logo.
Impressions in Use
First, let’s be frank. A flat-bottomed boat of this size is strictly a fair weather vessel, optimized for exploring places too shallow for other types. SS16 will pound and wallow in moderate waves that an 18-footer will span more gracefully. If you want a flattie and can make space for a longer boat, longer is probably better.
The SS16 is loaded to capacity with two adults and two kids, plus a big dog and a cooler. I have used it with four adults and two kids, however, and it handled better than I expected. But it soaked up a lot of power and would not plane, as it was loaded past where the stem gets immersed. An 18 foot boat of the same type should carry that extra couple of adults before the stem goes under.
Still, I think I’m keeping this one. This design gets enough value out of the smaller hull that maybe I don’t really need the bigger one anymore. Staying under 2 sheets of plywood for the side panels doesn’t save a whole lot of lumber or effort, but it does ease the licensing requirements in some states and makes storage a little easier. Perhaps more importantly, is has everything needed for a family outing, and right where it’s needed.
Mazomanie, Wisconsin, USA