Biking without hills: on the water!

To live near the water and to not have a boat is probably against a law of Nature, as well as being obviously masochistic. But what does one do if one does not care to cope with the whims of the wind, nor suffer the noise and odors of a polluting fossil-power plant? "The winds and the waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators" hints Edward Gibbon; neatly summarizing the art of navigation in terms of Francis Bacon's "mastery of Nature through obedience". To update these 17th and 18th centruy aphorisms we might formulate another, appropriate to our own age of environmental concern: "Next to sail and solar power, human power is the most ecologically benign".

But with sail-power so spasmodic, and solar panels so expensive, we are left with just our bodily resources. Paddles and oars of course have been used to move us on the face of the waters since the beginning of time, and have much to recommend them for simplicity and economy. but paddling is tiring, and rowing is backwards, so what are our options?

Pedal power, naturally! Why not sit comfortably facing forward, and, with one's hands free for more interesting things, use one's more powerful leg muscles as the means for maritime locomotion. Not for walking on water, of course, but just as the invention of the wheel made things go easier on land (at the cost of some slight complication) so also does the marine paddle-wheel or screw propeller provide an effective conversion of pedal torque into propulsive thrust on the water.

If shallow water is not the case, the weight and windage of paddle-wheels then leaves the propeller as the answer to our prayer. Now, if speed's your game then high-tech's the name, and the air propeller and hydrofoils are the way to go. But, if once afloat you are "there", then the submerged screw is the one for you.

Under the Design File link above are several pedal-powered screw-propelled small boat designs intended for the do-it-yourself builder at the skill level of the advanced amateur. For the most part these designs are based on the use of materials readily available from local lumberyards and hardware stores.

Using the limited power available to average adults on a sustained basis (assumed to be 0.2 hoursepower for one hour) they move at speeds comparable to rowing, but in a vastly more comfortable and convenient manner. Providing healthy aerobic exercise, they are non-polluting, ecologically benign, and blissfully quiet.

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Philip Thiel  *  Sea/Land Design 2001-2014 by Philip Thiel

Contact: tamiko@alum.mit.edu