Phil Thiel of Seattle, Washington, has inspired a whole fleet of tiny human-powered houseboats in the United States, England, and Germany. He calls his quaint canal cruisers Escargots for their slow speed and sells the building plans for just $150. Each 18.5′ by 6′ houseboat fits up to three bunks and is propelled by a combination of pedal and solar power.
The solar drive isn’t strong enough to allow for direct solar power propulsion and the best way to move about is to pedal. At a pedaling rate of 50 rotations per minute, Thiel’s design can puff along at four miles an hour. Keep in mind that the average cyclist pedals at around 60 rotations per minute and professionals can do nearly twice that!
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Human-powered Floating Home
Thiel, now 91 years old, is a naval architect who started enthusing about and building human-powered boats when he was a teenager. Born in Brooklyn and now relocated to Seattle, Thiel has only driven an automobile twice in his life. Houseboats, though, he’s steered plenty of times.
His love of the water and sailing is clear in all he does. His simple website starts with a paragraph reminiscent of Thoreau. “To live near the water,” he writes, “and to not have a boat is probably against a law of Nature [and] masochistic.” He goes on to quote Edward Gibbon and Francis Bacon, tying their statements into the environmental impact of most water travel.
The $150 plans Thiel sells for his Ecargot designs are simple and accessible to anyone with a little bit of building experience. Most of the materials are affordable and easily found at a lumberyard and hardware store.
The pleasures of living in a Escargot are many. You can get your exercise and travel without leaving your house all without polluting. Imagine traveling each day along a calm and scenic river, pedaling yourself lazily through paradise.
Phillip Thiel writes on his website that since traveling by sail is “spasmodic” and solar panels are spendy, paddles, pedals, and oars are the most sensible method of water travel. Ruling out paddling and rowing as tiring and uncomfortable, Thiel concludes that pedal-power is the clear superior for environmentally conscious houseboats.
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