07 July 2006

Carboat 06

I wasn't around for the frenzied month of building and subsequent disappointment that was Carboat 2005. Luckily my Summer holiday travels this year brought me through Boston the weekend before July 4th. LB and I spent most of the days leading up to the 4th at Cruftlabs (and cruising to Kresge Mart to get the most awesome boat seats ever). Benoc has a good number of photos from the construction phase as well as a writeup of the weekend. A selection of my photos (possibly the only ones from our crue of the boat in the water?) is up in the new album.

After last year's no-launch fiasco, Scott implemented Plan Failure-is-not-an-option. Not only did he get the Carboat registered as an official MA vessel (MS 5481 AN) but he and Steve planned to launch on the evening of July 3rd to avoid crowds at the ramp and the State Police. In keeping with Carboat tradition, preparations went down to the wire and the convoy with Carboat departed Cruftlabs shortly after midnight on July 4th. We arrived at Nonantum to find the ramp deserted and proceeded to launch the Carboat. Initial tests (while tethered) indicated functional steering and propulsion, so Steve and Scott tried to fix a few slow leaks and prepare for the slow journey downriver.

It was at this point that we encountered the first of what would be innumerable people gawking at the contraption. A dude on a solo river cruise at 2AM pulled up to the ramp. We were at first nervous that we were blocking the ramp which he wanted to use, but in reality he just wanted to slowly circle around and take 500 photographs of the Carboat. Scott was feeling a little stress from many sleepless days of working, so I tried my best (along with Benoc and LB) to field what would become the standard questions (Is it a real car? How does it float? Does that thing have a hemi?)

The next morning I radioed Scott on the MIT repeater and we discovered they had docked at the Harvard Sailing pavillion. LB and I rode down to meet them and saw the Carboat in action, looking pretty sweet in the water which concealed its uglier areas. The MIT sailing pavillion was under strict orders not to allow strange vessels to dock, so they had gently booted the Carboat earlier that morning. Luckily nobody was at the Harvard sailing dock so we worked unmolested on fixing the steering. It was at this point that I learned from Steve about the first of what would be many propulsion failures: the gears from the bike chains to the paddlewheel had been badly stripped.

Steve and I pedaled gently (to avoid destroying what little remained of the gears) while Scott drove and LB manned the rest of the boat. Our destination was Josh's WhatBoat mooring to tie up so we could head back to Cruftlabs to perform emergency repairs on the propulsion system. We were quite a hit with the folks who were already hanging out on the riverside to get a good spot for the night's festivities. This was also the first time we attracted the attention of a Cambridge Fire Department golf cart (with two firemen) who seemed to spend their whole morning buzzing around following us to watch what happened.

Once moored we inflated the deflatable raft we had so that we could ferry supplies and people into the dock. Laurie and I took the first trip, along with a load of gear. While we knew the raft had a slow air leak, we did not know until I hopped into it that it also had a slow water leak. Laurie and I raced to shore while the raft slowly deflated and slowly filled with water. Upon arriving I discovered my camera was sopping wet, which is why there are no photographs from that point forward. After a couple of thunderstorms passed through we had tarped up the boat, brought in all passengers and the parts which needed repair.

After a lunch break and repair session at Cruftlabs we were ready to return to the boat (during lunch Josh received a call from the MA Environmental Police saying, "Sir, there's a car parked at your boat mooring."). The repairs of the paddlewheel were not as easy as expected. We tied up to the dock near the mooring and attracted all kinds of attention, including numerous offers for a tow if needed. Scott, Steve and Josh were determined to get the paddlewheel functioning, though, and created a miniforge on the sidewalk, with Josh blowtorching and Scott hammering the hot steel. The field operation eventually included a pair of drills, several hammers and an invaluable file.

After approximately 3 different failed attempts the paddlewheel was again functional, but without any mechanical advantage and directly chained, which meant the pedallers had to pedal backwards at an extremely slow cadence with immense force. Still, it meant that we proceeded all the way upriver to the Harvard bridge under our own power, which was pretty awesome. Nine of us were on the boat for the fireworks, which were fantastic. A wearying but wonderful 4th of July.

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