Sunday, January 28, 2007

Seattle Boat Show & WaveWalker Report

Yesterday I went to the Seattle Boat Show and checked out the
boats on display.

Hobie was there, with boats at a couple of booths.

A couple of kayak companies were there, too, but fewer than
in previous years.

A couple of transoceanic rowboats were there, too. This included
the Row NW boat that won last year's Woodvale rowing race across
the Atlantic.

Several boats used in James Bond films were there, too. In general
these boats looked somewhat beat up. I guess James didn't treat
them very well. :-)

Ok, ok... Yes, WaveWalker had a booth, too. They were shoehorned
into a spot beneath the stairs in the corner of the main hall,
a nicely laid out booth filled with boats and people admiring
those boats. I spoke at length with David and Lisa, and got a few
close-up photos of the transparent demo drive system as well as of
the boat.

The drive system appears to be very well designed. It uses a fairly
standard set of crank arms connecting to a tapered spindle, connected
to a fairly small sprocket encased in the top part of the fin shaped
drive unit. This sprocket drives a #35 chain with *no* twist that
transfers power to a smaller sprocket near the base of the fin. On
one side of the bottom sprocket is a larger gear that drives at right
angles a smaller bevel gear. This smaller bevel gear turns the shaft
through a set of seals eventually to the twin bladed propeller. The
final ratio, according to David, was about 6.2:1.

There is a mineral oil bath in the lower several inches of the fin
to lubricate the gears, chain and sprockets as well as to reduce the
influx of water.

Overall the drive seemed to have fairly minimal friction and seemed
to be very quiet and sturdy.

The drives used in the actual boats use a much stronger opaque
material. If only a window could have been provided in those! It
would be nice once in a while to see how things are doing in this
critical area.

David said that they should just about never need maintenance, but
there is a screw tensioning mechanism available in the event that
the chain loosens up over time.

There was a demo scheduled at the Bell Harbor Marina on Elliott Bay
that afternoon. A brand new WaveWalker owner and I grabbed the bus
and headed over to check it out.

It was a nice, sunny day with the temperature in the low 50's and
very little wind. The new owner got into one of the three boats
available for demos and I mounted my GPS onto the drive unit lift
bar. He headed out and disappeared around some boats.

Eventually he returned, pedaling smoothly towards the dock. I
retrieved the GPS and showed the readout to him. It indicated that
his maximum speed was 5.3 mph (or so my fuzzy memory recalls). He
indicated that he had been pedaling close to or at his limit. He
also said that he bought the boats so as to get a good workout
along with his wife, and these would certainly do that.

It was my turn to try out a boat. I put on the PFD, mounted the
GPS on the lift lever and stepped into the foot wells. Immediately
water began flooding into the wells through a pair of large drain
holes. Oops! I quickly sat down so as to not get my shoes soaked.

The change in weight distribution was enough to cause the water to
then drain back out.

I gently pedaled away from the dock, trying to get used to the
steering lever (forward=left?, backward=right?). The boat was
very responsive to the steering lever, with only a little self
centering at speeds up to 5 mph.

My heart rate was registering at about 77 bpm, pedaling at roughly
30 rpm and achieving a GPS speed of approximately 3 mph. There was
no wind and certainly no tidal effect as I traveled along the
shore in this protected marina.

Increasing the speed to 4 mph was also pretty effortless, though a
small bow wave was now forming. My heart rate was about 88 bpm.

Increasing the speed to 5 mph raised my heart rate to 125 bpm. A
sizeable bow wave was formed.

Increasing to a full out effort raised my heart rate to 160 bpm
and climbing. The bow wave was quite large. It almost appeared
as though the WaveWalker was doing an tiny imitation of a Foss
tug going at full speed down the Sound. Water splashed onto my
crotch through the propeller access hole in the hull. There also
seemed to be some ventilation of the propeller every so often,
as the load and speed seemed to drop slightly, possibly when I
hit some large ripples (2") in the water. The maximum speed
recorded by the GPS was 6.2 mph.

I doubt that I could have gone much faster or maintained that
level of effort for more than a hundred yards or so. It is
unlikely that anyone short of an Olympic caliber athlete could
maintain even 6 mph on flat water without wind or current
assistance for more than a few minutes.

I was very tempted to take the boat out into the unsheltered
waters of Elliott Bay. It wasn't very rough out there, to be
sure, but the water was certainly pretty cold. If I *did* fall
in and have troubles getting back aboard there was no one
nearby to rescue me - at least not for the amount of time I
wanted to be in the water! Perhaps I'm getting too old and

So, no, I didn't try to see how far I could tilt the boat
before it would go over. Fast turns at high speed did cause
it to tip towards the outside of the turn, of course. I suspect
that if one made a fast turn at the wrong time on a reasonable
sized wave one might be able to capsize - but then you would
learn to not do that sort of thing or, at the very least, find
out how far you could tip and still not capsize.

Returning to the dock I practiced parallel parking. It appeared
to me that the boat travels perhaps more effortlessly in the
reverse direction than it does in the forward direction, though
I didn't push it above 3 mph.

The weight and shape of the hull and the weight and shape of
the drive fin all combine to make this a fairly stable boat. If
the seat were a couple of inches lower I'm sure that if would be
even more stable in operation - though you might get a bit more
wet when those waves made it into the cockpit.

It would be interesting to try it on rougher and warmer seas.

Overall, I think the new WaveWalker is a great, fun boat. It is
a bit faster than a Hobie Mirage, has lots of easily accessible
storage, is highly maneuverable, has an apparently bulletproof
drive system with easy access to the propeller for defouling,
a comfortable and adjustable seat, and can handle beaching and
travel anywhere that a kayak can beach or travel. I'd highly
recommend it for newcomers to the world of human powered boating.

Side note: It is unfortunate that their web site claims that
normal humans can achieve much faster speeds, i.e., "effortless
cruising at 6 mph and speeds of up to 10 mph". Find their PDF here.

This certainly was not the experience of anyone at the demo.

It was pretty effortless at speeds up to 4 mph. As you approached 5 mph,
however, there was some effort involved. Going over 5 the effort seemed
to increase exponentially.

A similar statement for their tandem: "Twice the fun and twice the
speed". Ok, while I might agree with twice the fun, it certainly
won't be traveling at 12 mph, let alone 20 mph!

The rest of their literature is quite close to the mark.

Photos taken at the boat show can be seen here.

GPS stats are included, too.

I took a short video of Harry Howard, the inventor of the
WaveWalker, riding in one of his boats.

Had I known that the video and audio capture of my camera was
working so well (it had major troubles in the past) I would
have taken quite a few more videos. Oh, well.