An Audience with the Oracle
About 2 ½ years
ago I took up amateur boat building, a hobby I had wanted to
dabble-in for years, but until recently did not have suitable
space for. Since then, I have completed an AF4
power cuddy skiff and an AF3
Between my new hobby of boat
building, and my old hobby of repairing and running old outboard
motors, I was staying pretty busy. Still, there seemed to be
something missing in my life, a void if you will, an emptiness.
After much soul searching and inward reflection, I realized
what it was.
I did not have a rowboat.
I had built a powerboat and a
sailboat, but no rowboat.
Being a man of action, I consulted
with my favorite small-craft designer, Jim
Michalak, and he suggested his Oracle
design, a 15 ½ foot long, multi-chine “taped-seam”
boat. Having yet to build a taped seam boat, and itching to
try something no one else had yet built, I began construction
in November 2002, and by the end of Jan.2003, the boat was ready
for the water. Unfortunately, the water, being frozen-solid
in one of the colder winters of recent memory, was not ready
for the boat.
Since I prefer to build “Lumber
yard boats,” utilizing locally-available materials, I
checked-out Home Depot and Lowe's to see what they had on the
shelf. (I might add here that I have almost given-up on the
small independent lumber yards around here. They can not compete
with the “big-box” retailers on price, yet they
refuse to stock anything except the same products that the big
boys carry. I make little claim to great knowledge of the lumber
business, but it would seem to me that the little guys would
be better-off offering what the big guys don’t. Like double-sided
Anyway, I found some 5.5 mm “Ultraply”
at Lowe's. This stuff looks a lot like common luan, but a closer
look reveals that the thick center layer is actually two layers,
although I believe that the grain runs the same way in both
inner layers. The outer veneers are paper thin just like luan.
At about 20 bucks/sheet, the Ultraply was about twice the money
of luan, but appeared to be of higher quality, and the Ultraply
website claimed that the stuff “will not delaminate.”
So I bought the Ultraply.
Epoxy and seam tape came from
used a layer of 4” and a layer of 3” tape on the
insides of the seams. The outside of the hull received one layer
of 4” tape, and then the entire exterior of the hull was
sheathed with epoxy and Xynole
polyester cloth, also from Raka. The inside of the hull was
I departed from the plans in
that I laminated two layers of plywood for the bottom piece.
I am no light-weight, and felt that the thicker bottom might
be a good idea.
After spending a fair
amount of time filling and sanding, which did not produce all
that fair of a hull, I painted the Oracle inside and out with
Behr latex primer and Behr latex exterior house paint. The gunnels
and thwarts, which are cheap Home Depot lumber, were stained
I made a wood “box seat”
as per the instructions on Jim Michalak’s website, but
made the box a bit lower since the one detailed on the website
was for a boat with a bit more freeboard.
A chrome “bow handle”
from a swap meet was mounted on the bow, and a varnished flag
staff was mounted on the stern in a socket that came from a
boat railing somewhere.
I modified a trailer that I had
laying around, to carry the Oracle. Jim estimates the finished
weight of an Oracle built to plans to be about 80 lbs. Mine
came in at about 95 pounds, but that included the doubled-bottom
and full exterior sheathing, which were not ”to plans.”
After about a month of waiting,
a warm but windy March day provided an opportunity to launch
the Oracle for the first time. Jim came along to try-out the
boat and seemed pleased with the design. Having rowed nothing
but aluminum Johnboats in the past, I thought the Oracle moved-along
just fine. Using 8-foot oars (which might be about 6 Inches
too long for the boat) I could get the Oracle up to about 4.5
mph, per Jim’s GPS.
Having come from a power boat
background, I have to admit that the serenity of a rowboat is
Yet, it seems that there is still
something missing in my life.
I know what it is.
I do not have a double-paddle
There are four more sheets of
Ultraply sitting out in the shop, along with a set of Larsboat
It’s a disease.