Sailing the Michalak Blobster (A World First!)

By Miles Bore - Newcastle, NSW - Australia

Today (Friday 8 January 2010) was a big day for me. Two years ago I started building the Jim Michalak design he called ‘Blobster’. I call her ‘Bob’ (why not? That’s what you want a boat to do at the very least). At noon today I launched Bob into Lake Macquarie in New South Wales, Australia. I had done so twice before over the last 4 months for sea trails under power and she had performed very well. But today was the real test. How would she go under sail?

The building of Bob was quite straight-forward. Measure and cut ply and timber and epoxy as you go. I really enjoyed the building. I had built a Bolger Micro some years ago but had not done stitch and glue until now. Bob came together very easily with a bit of thought and planning of each step. I used marine ply, Boat-Cote epoxy and Tasmanian Oak for framing, gunwales and sheer clamps as it was easily available from the local hardware store. I fibre-glassed from gunwale to gunwale and finished Bob in a polyurethane topcoat called Aqua-Cote which I found very easy to use and produced a very tough finish. Both Boat-Cote and Aqua-Cote are manufactured by Boatcraft Pacific in Brisbane. You could build her cheaper, but I decided to use the best materials I could find and afford as I always thought she was a design worth doing right. Bob should still be going strong in 30 years time with a little care along the way.

Building the Hull
Bob Blobster on Trailer.

So, I have spent the last few weekends laminating and shaping the mast, boom and spar after sourcing some high quality hoop pine. I had ordered and received the 139 sq ft sail from Duckworks back in July. I purchased ropes (or should that be sheets?), blocks and cleats and attached them to Bob based on Jim’s building instructions and essays from his website. I particularly studied his essays on rigging and jiffy reefing lugsails. Bob has what seems to be a fair spread of sail and so control of the sail seemed worth thinking through and following Jim’s advice.

Today was the day. It is a bit scary taking your pride and joy to the water’s edge for her first sail. Will it all work? Can I manage her on my own? Will she have lee, weather or neutral helm? How much will she heel? Have I got the sail rigged as it should be?

It all went so wonderfully smoothly. Bob slipped easily off her trailer and we (just me and Bob) then motored out to the middle of the lake, threw out the anchor and set about raising the mast and tying on the boom, spar and sail. Then the moment so anticipated came – pull on the halyard and up went the yard with sail attached. This was surprisingly easy! Tighten the tack line (read Jim’s essays!) and there was the sail set pretty well for a first attempt. Under motor to keep her head to wind I pulled in the anchor, went back to the cockpit and turned off the outboard. I was not really sure what would exactly happen next, but Bob simply moved a little off the wind and started to sail. I worked the tiller and mainsheet and off we went.

Ready to raise sail for the first time.

This was it! Yeehah! Bob and I were sailing! Now, I’ve owned a 21 foot keel boat, a 20 foot catamaran, built and sailed a Mirco, and read everything about sailing I could lay my hands on over some 30 years but I cannot say I’m an experienced or competent sailor. The truth is I’ve probably ‘been sailing’ no more than a dozen times in my 53 years.

Yet here I was with Bob actually sailing. We tacked. We reached. We ran. It all worked! I had the mast partners held on using g-clamps so that I could adjust the rake of the mast to fine tune the balance of the boat. There was just a hint of lee helm so after an hour or so of sailing I anchored again and moved the mast partner back about ¼ of an inch. Up went the lugsail again and off we went. Now Bob had just a hint of weather helm – perfect!

Using g clamps to fine tune the mast rake.

How does Bob tack? Easily. Helm down and around she goes. Even when the wind dropped to a light air I had no problem tacking. I’m not sure how close to the wind I could get her but it did seem to be about 45 degrees. We certainly had no problem making headway tacking up wind.

A little later in the afternoon the north-easterly wind picked up from light to moderate. I was keen to see how Bob’s water ballast would work in practice - down below Bob has some 270 kilos (600 lbs) of water held beneath the cabin sole. Wind strength was reported by the weather bureau to be 11 knots gusting to 13 knots. Close-hauled Bob heeled a little, perhaps about 15 degrees, and marched on. This is not a keel boat yet Bob ‘firmed up’ at each gust and at no time did I feel she was tender. I think she would be quite happy to press on reefed in stronger winds.

As to how fast we were sailing I’m confident we reached hull speed (about 5 knots). We were certainly moving as fast as under motor (Mariner 6hp). The video clip I took (one hand on camera, the other hand on mainsheet and tiller) gives a good impression of our speed.

I am really pleased with how this design all works so well. The cockpit is large and comfortable. The cabin is enormous for a boat just short of 16 feet in length and easily accommodates two people and storage for camping aboard (including the porta-potti). The slot-top makes the whole boat very user friendly and makes the raising and lowering of the 18’ mast a quick and simple job. The walk-through bow makes beaching and boarding a breeze. I tow her with a 4 cylinder 2 litre Honda CRV. And, as I found out today, she is a pleasure to sail. Jim Michalak is one very clever designer!

Michalak's Blobster plans are available at Duckworks.


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