An Audience with the Oracle
by Max Wawrzyniak

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 sailing sharpie.

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 MDO.)

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 Raka. I 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 not sheathed.

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 and varnished.

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 attractive.

Yet, it seems that there is still something missing in my life.

I know what it is.

I do not have a double-paddle boat.

There are four more sheets of Ultraply sitting out in the shop, along with a set of Larsboat plans.

It’s a disease.



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