Boating at last.

I built my pedal powered dinghy last year and after much development I’ve been able to use it as supplementary training instead of always riding my mountain bike. The boat never forces you to put additional effort in. It entirely lets you decide how hard you want to work and setting off with the boat on wheels to access the 127.25 mile long Leeds/Liverpool canal, I had no plans as to how hard I wanted it to be.

This is the first time I’ve sailed for almost a month for a variety of reasons. The weather has been too hot, too wet and too humid at times. In addition I’ve had mechanical problems, not with the boat but with the wheels on the trolley I tow it along on land with. They claim to be suitable for up to 300 kg of weight but after a year and around 50 short trips the 40 kg boat has destroyed them. I had a spare wheel which I fitted to one side the other day but realised that the other wheel was also too worn to risk a trip out. I ordered 2 new wheel so I still have an emergency spare and fitted one today. Even before I fitted these wheels I saw a weakness which let me down with the original and very similar wheels. They appear to be just pressed together so I welded the seam for strength.

I take my time when I reach the water. I remove the wheels, push the boat in and fit the rudder. I don my life jacket, which has never been needed, thankfully, and start the app. Strava to record my progress. I climbed on board and started gently, making a very short video early on.

The wind was against me as I headed north but the main effect of a breeze is to steer me where I don’t intend to go. I had to turn the boat and pedal to correct my course. I was taking it easy and after passing some moored boats I turned around to sail with the wind behind me. Progress felt a little easier but I started to increase my work rate and kept it up for just over a mile, which took me around 25 minutes. It’s not about the speed! In fact today I worked much harder than on my last few trips but only increased my average speed from 2.5 to 2.7 mph. I did, however, enjoy the hard work and the great experience of being on the water in the sunshine. I obviously had to stop briefly to answer questions from walkers on the canal bank, so my time could have been improved but I enjoy talking to interested people, who invariably ask if I made the boat myself. I had some spectators on a bridge just beyond where I would normally turn so I went a little further to avoid disappointing them!

I kept the pace up on the return leg and wondered if I could improve my pedalling technique. I always try to spin the pedals in a circle, as I would on a bike, but find my calves cramping in a way they don’t do on a bike. I tried using more of a pushing motion and not trying to force the pedals down after full extension and it felt better. By this time, though, my calves were starting to spasm and when I stopped I could see and feel the muscles contracting very uncomfortably. I rested for a while and drank some water but then it started to rain so I struggled back onto land to pull the boat out. I noticed some water in the hull but think it was just due to the wind blowing spray from the paddle wheel which propels the dinghy. I checked for leaks but all seemed well.

I had a good time and felt much better for having 2 new wheels and a spare in case of any mechanical problems. I’d covered 2.26 miles in 51 minutes.

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