In The Wind In The Willows Ratty says to Mole “I promise you this my young friend, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” I’ve long held that it would be more true a statement if the term “in boats” was substituted with “on mountain bikes”. Despite this I decided to build a boat, which is something I’ve thought about doing for years, and in January I started to acquire materials. The hull, made of aluminium, came together quickly and by mid March I was ready for my first test. I’d chosen to use an experimental fish tail propulsion device which, as a cyclist, I wanted to pedal. The second iteration of this worked moderately well but had flaws which could not be overcome so I tried a second type of pedalled propulsion which didn’t work as well so I tried a third, which was even worse. I decided to try something a little more conventional, for a cutting edge experimental boat, that is, and built a paddle wheel. It had technical flaws but after lots more fabrication I’ve been itching to test the latest incarnation for several days.
Many may scoff at such a bizarre device and what I’ve noticed is that they’re always younger people. Others, more like my own age, are often interested and offer helpful suggestions. Let the detractors return to their Playstations, I had 127 miles of canal to conquer!
Having done this around 10 times previously the walk down to the Leeds/Liverpool canal felt familiar enough. I only need to attach the rudder once the boat has it’s stern dangling over the edge and I slipped it in to the water. Floatation has never been a problem and it hasn’t leaked a drop of water into the hull. Another favourable feature is that the hull is stable and easy to get into and seated comfortably. With the pilot low down you have no reason to feel nervous, honestly. I turned the pedals slowly to be greeted with smooth forward motion. Eureka! I felt like jumping out and running down the canal bank naked in homage to Archimedes but was too busy revelling in my success. I passed under a bridge, spun round and returned to my start point to check that everything was functioning as it should. I made a longer foray under the bridge and tried for a little more speed. Pedalling is easy and since I was running the app. Strava I’d be able to gauge my speed later.
Averaging 3 mph seems easy enough at a relaxed rate of pedalling. 4 mph is around top speed which may seem rather slow. If, however, you study boats in more detail you’ll find that unless your hull can rise out of the water and plane like a speed boat, skimming across the surface, your hull has a maximum speed. This is because when you move you create a bow wave which lengthens as speed increases. Eventually you’ll reach a speed where your bow wave becomes the same length as your hull. Your boat will be sitting in a dip in the water of it’s own creation and only by applying much more power to ride up the front of the wave and starting to plane, can you increase your speed. My boat is about 7.3 feet long at the waterline. The maximum speed for my hull is given by the square root of 7.3 multiplied by the factor 1.34, giving the speed in knots. Multiplying by 1.15 gives the speed in miles per hour. The answer is 4.16 mph. I can get very close to this so have to be delighted.
I want to try a trip with my dog, Freddie, to see how he likes it. I think a bottle of quality beer would be another useful addition. So what to call my boat? After months of work and multiple incarnations the name is obvious. Perseverance.