Unlike mountain biking, which can be enjoyable in a variety of weather and trail conditions, I’ve found that using my homemade pedal powered boat is far better in good weather. Today was perfect with cloudless skies and temperatures as high as 16 Celcius or 61 Fahrenheit. I waited until the afternoon to take the boat to our local canal, the 127.25 mile long Leeds/Liverpool, which takes around 15 minutes. I pull the boat along on wheels and the trip to the canal and back is useful exercise. I remove the trolley/wheels then put the stern of the boat over the water to attach the rudder. Getting aboard is easy and I was soon underway for around 40 minutes of effort.
I designed and built the boat with the intention of it being complimentary to my usual sport of mountain biking and after a good few false starts I’ve achieved the objective. The big differences in the pedalling experience are the recumbent, rather than upright position, and the fact that the work put in is entirely your own choice. Mountain biking, even more than road cycling, requires you to adjust your effort as the terrain changes from coasting to 100% just to maintain progress. The recumbent position certainly uses your muscles differently to an upright riding position and on a bike manifests itself in harder, slower hill climbing in the laid back posture. In my boat I added a lay shaft, chain and sprockets towards the end of last year to speed up the pedalling. This has improved the boat and made it more aerobic and less muscular than it previously was and hence it is much more like pedalling a bike.
Today I decided to head north to the Cowling slipway to turn around, heading south to Frederick’s Ice cream parlour before turning again to my start point. We had a stiff breeze blowing mainly from the south-east but I’ve always noticed how the wind direction and strength vary as I sail along. This is due to the lay of the land as well as the trees and buildings alongside the water. I began with the wind behind me and spinning the pedals was a little easier than it often feels. The only disadvantage was that the spray from the paddlewheel was being blown forwards and I felt a few splashes on my head and back. A few groups of canal bank walkers with children stopped to watch me pass so I waved back at them.
After I’d done my first turn and returned past my start point I experienced something I haven’t had before in the form of a strong cross wind funnelled down a dip in the ground perpendicular to the water. I was almost pushed into the bank and had to turn the bow into the breeze to compensate. Normally I point the bow exactly where I want to go but now I had to make a considerable adjustment to my course.
On the return to my start I had another unusual occurrence. A motor cruiser, rather than a more canal focussed narrow boat, was coming the opposite way at some speed. It may only have been travelling at twice the 4 mph speed limit as the adult in control tried to impress a youngster stood beside him but it was enough to leave the water like a ploughed field in its wake. I kept pedalling and my bow bobbed up and down over the waves. It didn’t feel dangerous but the experience seemed to suggest that I should restrict my sailing to the benign waters of the canal rather than larger bodies of water such as lakes. I’d sailed for 38 minutes and got some good exercise which I felt particularly at the front of my thighs. I’d love to add some wind assistance to my boating but on the canal the wind direction and strength may vary too much to make it work. The simplest option would be a kayak sail for less than £20. They’re simply a dome of 42″ diameter to catch the wind when it’s right behind you. I’m still in 2 minds about this.