Crossing the English Channel

Since you are back, you restarted your work on the propulsion system. You must finalize the mechanical system as soon as possible before duplicating it for your friends, and leaving for this intercontinental journey that passes through the crossing of the Bering Strait. This time, you would be four: Patrick, a young Australian rider and two Russian friends you met: Tim and Vladimir. You met all of them during your last trip.
Around Grenoble, you can test the bikeboat only on lakes. Your experience on sea water is limited to a few kilometers in the Bay of Krista (Egvekinot), and you must now multiply trials on sea to accumulate experiences and meet the specific problems of the sea like corrosive environment, different dynamics of the waves, management of the tides … That’s why you have with Patrick decided to cross the English Channel. Another goal for this crossing is to make a promotional video: you must find sponsors, especially for Patrick and your Russian friends. At your side, your craft is already almost ready.

Grenoble, Sunday, June 21, 2015
Summer solstice. In 2010, you were already gone on June 21 for a year of travel. Today, it is not for one year, but it’s again an important trip.
You spend the morning to pack in your panniers all the parts you disassembled yesterday. Even if you have a little less load than for your trip to the Bering, filling these panniers is always like a puzzle.
While you finally tie the bag on the boat, you see the bike slowly moving and falling. It reminds you … You straighten quickly, without difficulty. You are surprised by the ease to recover. During your journey to Siberia, it happened twice. On departure day, then on the road to Magadan, on the day you met Patrick. But both times, someone was present to help you to recover. The rest of the journey, you had been stressed at each stop, haunted by the idea of fall because you thought you were unable to straighten by yourself. You now realize you could do it, even if the load was slightly higher than today. You’re also remember you had to improve the side stand. Obviously, this was consigned to oblivion. Note it somewhere! Done.
The ride is going well. You quickly regained the feeling to ride this heavily loaded bike.
You find your mother and your sisters at evening. They had never seen you with your bikeboat.


Paris, Monday, June 22, 2015
It rains on the road almost continuously. You take a ferry from Calais to Dover. Sitting near a window, you look at the sea waves. The sea is a bit rough. You would prefer milder sea for the crossing back.
For the last ten days, you downloaded daily the GRIB forecasts files. Tuesday and Thursday are the two calm days of the week. But as you will not be able to be ready for Tuesday, it is already decided that the crossing will be on Thursday.
Arrival in Dover, you follow the coastal road to Rye. You go to the small harbour to meet William who will drive a safety boat during the crossing. Patrick and you decided to hire an escort boat. As a precaution, but also to film the crossing from this boat.
Will is absent, and Hank receives you. You call Will to make an appointment for tomorrow early afternoon. You unload the boat and leave it at the harbour, then you go to the nearby campsite where Patrick had booked a caravan. You are happy to have a couple of days before the crossing. This will leave you time to prepare quietly and enjoy the place.

Rye, Tuesday, June 23, 2015
On the morning you walk on the seaside. The port is connected to the sea by a river, or rather a channel. On each side of this river, the wild is reserved to birds and sheeps. Small salt ponds populated by hundreds birds. You meet a few pedestrians and cyclists.
At the time of appointment, you encounter Will. He explains you his activity as accompanying boats, especially for the crossing by kayak. It shows you on a map the route, the current. He worries a bit about the speed of your boat, its stability. There are two major waterways, one on each side of the border. Crossing them is sometimes a problem beccause of the traffic.
He wants you to leave as soon as possible, because the wind would get up in the afternoon. You agree to reduce risk.
After this discussion, you assembled your mechanical propulsion at Hank’s garage, near the harbour. You will inflate the boat tomorrow, after the refueling. After two hours, you have done all possible for today. You have worked quietly, to avoid any mistake. You leave everything at Hank’s garage, and you can go to the caravan. You’ll come back tomorrow to install the bike.

Rye, Wednesday, June 24, 2015
You go to Rye for refueling. The distance on the sea is about 65 km. Rather least considering the currents that push you. You think now consume less than 15 liters per hundred kilometers. Ten liters would be sufficent, but you prefer carry a normal load to make a real trial.
Will waits for you at noon in Hank’s garage. Will cleans his boat, and you put yourself at work. At the most delicate moment, when necessary to remove the front wheel while the rear is already out, you ask Will for help. Better not to risk damaging the boat. The rest will not be a concern, but you still spend five hours … is 2 hours yesterday+ 5 = 7 hours for everything. With a little practice, it could be reduced to 4 hours, but no much less. And you don’t think that the reverse transformation is faster. Patrick will be there to help you when reassembling the bike in France.

Back at the campsite, you check the weather for the last time. Perfect! Perfect weather till 1am.

Patrick joins you at 7pm. You take your dinner together, and after a short discussion, you both go to sleep. You are tired and the wake up will be early tomorrow.

Rye Thursday, June 25
You arrive all at the appointment time, at 3.45am. Will and Hank put their boat in the water. Then help you to bring the bike to the river. There, Patrick and you are busy with the final preparations. Things always take longer than you had imagined. Some unexpected problems, fortunately minor, appear on the new parts. And you can go!

During the descent of the river towards the sea, you advance slowly. Once at the sea, you accelerate a bit, and you appreciate tuning the power to choose your speed. You try to keep the 15 km / h, but you know you could go faster. This corresponds approximately to 3000 rpm for the engine, an optimal speed. For too long, the 10 km/h were an almost insurmountable barrier. And two months ago, things have been unlocked. It was no more than optimize a system that works. Two weeks ago; you have replaced the first pulley so that your engine is running at a lower speed. But this change had modified the geometry of the assembly, and again the 10 km/h barrier stood. It took three trials and some more modifications, more tuning, to solve these problems.

Now everything seems to work great. 10 knots (or 18km/h) seems to you an easy cruising speed while ensuring for so long, it was an impossible dream. You are happy with this “performance”. It took you so much work, so many trials to get there.

On the escort boat, Patrick filming and taking pictures. Hank and Will seem pleasantly surprised by the behavior of your boat. More stable and faster they had imagined. They usually accompany kayaks that are limited to about 3 knots. After an hour of navigation between 8 and 10 knots, you decide to take a break to check everything. Check tightening. But everything is correct. Nothing will happen with the mechanical parts today. The new mudguard is efficent too: not a drop of water is projected in the boat nor on the bike. It must be said that the sea is particularly calm.

Upon leaving, the red signal overheating is on. Ouch. You’re familiar with this situation, but you are surprised because the main fan is not running. It should work, but it looks dead. You start the extra fan that you mounted in front of the radiator. It is quite effective, and after a minute, the light goes out. You can leave.

After less than 10 minutes, the red LED lights up again. The main fan seems to have trouble. It runs sometimes, but briefly. Its threshold is abnormally high. You go again, but for lack of ventilation, light is soon to turn back a third time. You had thought that overheating can occur, even if you were hoping that the combination of the two fans was enough. You decide to spray fresh water on the radiator. You took a 8 liters bladder and you have a small manual pump for this. You know from experience that this method is effective. In case your stock of fresh water would not be sufficent, you will use sea water, then rinse the radiator on arrival in France. The radiator is often in contact with the salt used in winter on the highways.

You think that, if there had been this concern with heating, the trip would have been monotonous. A perfectly calm sea. A few cargo ships on the lane, but not so many. And Will does not seem to worry about them.

Water is efficient, and the red light does not blink anymore. However, you feel the heat rising from the engine. Especially the left side where the exhaust pipe is located. A few times, you apply with your hand some sea water on the left of the boat, where you feel it hot.

You often met these worries of overheating, but you live with. On the lake, you splash some water on the lower part of the engine. You have adopted the principle of maintaining the temperature outside the red zone, and not to force the engine. Recently you have added the second fan but obviously it is not enough. But why the first fan does not trigger ?

Anyway, you’ll have to create a true cooling system. A task for the coming months.

You look from time to time to your GPS. Soon half the distance. Halfway, it is planned that you leave your seat to Patrick. Patrick wants to participate in the crossing of the Bering, and he needs also some training. In 5-10 minutes, it will be his the turn.

A slight odor of burnt that seems to come forward. You try to see what might be the cause. Nothing except perhaps a nylon tie. You also perceive the smell of gasoline. But your nose on the tank before, this is not very surprising. Worried, you touch the bottom of the front tank. No special warmth. Going down a little, that you burn yourself on the exhaust duct. You quickly withdrawn by hand, but nothing unusual there.

You hear a kind of whistle. You turn your head to the left, you see a clear jet forth horizontally from the bike to the sea. Gasoline!. The rear tank must be under pressure. You stop the engine immediately. Patrick, Hank and Will saw the same as you. Suddenly, the liquid ignites right. Will shout to jump. You go to the front of the boat and jump at the opposite of the fire. You did well as standing out the head of the water, you realize that the fire has grown. The whole bike is now a blaze. After a couple of seconds, the tubes of the boat explode, one by one. The bike is already sinking under water. Only the front tube, partially preserved remains on the surface. The wheels that were put in front float. William quickly came with his boat to take you away from the blaze. He is efficient, even if it’s the first time he is facing such a situation.


The fire dies in the sea. All this happened in less than one minute. There is only one big black cloud in a perfectly blue sky. Hank helps you to go on board. You ask Will to approach the bike, or at least what remains of it. Hank tells you that your dry suit has a hole. The fire has burned, and your left leg also benefited. But nothing serious. This explains why you felt wet.

Will agrees to get closer, now that everything is submerged, and you return to the water to detach your tank bag. Patrick also jumps. He also wants to get his GoPro and his microphone. You’ve forgotten your GPS.

You hope that Will’s boat can tow your bike. It is still floating just at one meter under the sea level. Although the fire caused damage, the parts could be repaired. At least the engine and the mechanical propulsion. You have attached a rope to the bike you hold in your hand. But the descent begins, and Will told you he can not do anything. You still hold the rope but it is more and more difficult. You know he’s right, and you release the rope. The bike is definitely sinking.

Fortunately, you left the bag containing your clothes on the Will’s ship. So you can change your clothes; You also quickly empty the water from your backpack. It seemed waterproof, but he did not resist the different dives you did to get your tank bag.

This tank bag is burned, but its contents are intact. Or almost, because spared from the flames, it was immersed in sea water. You had good waterproof bags, but you really did not think they would be useful. So you had not closed them carefully enough. The weather was so perfect …

Everyone was surprised by the events. Will, Patrick and Hank are sorry for you. You stay philosopher: you could have had much more serious burns. If you had stayed one or two seconds longer on your seat, you would be very sadly different now.

You’re sad for your bike that was so well behaved from Grenoble to Egvekinot. It could have died 10 times in river crossings, but it passed all. It would have deserved to be the first motorcycle to cross the Bering Strait.

Will suggest they take you to Boulogne. You accept. You did not know this was going to block them during the low tide but it will actually be much simpler for you.

In Boulogne, you leave the boat at a dock, and walk together downtown. At a cafe, while taking a beer, you open your bags. You start by spreading the papers of your motorcycle, insurance, permits, bills that you had with you. Your phone is wet and refuses to restart. Likewise for your camera. Patrick and Hank suggest you rinse with fresh water. You’ll try.

Patrick lends you his phone so you send an SMS to your mother who expect you tonight. You just want to confirm that you will arrive as planned at evening. You do not specify that you will be without your bike.

You think back to those events. The exhaust, too close to the tank, burning the bike… you had read this on a forum about this bike. You should have to feel you more concerned. You could easily add a protection. When you were reading this story, you were told you that the unfortunate owner had trouble raised its pot. But you were well taken care away up yours. And you had not made the connection with your possible overheating.

It’s a shame that the problem appeared to be there. You could also have stopped immediately at the first suspicious odor. He may be gone two or three minutes between this signal and the fire. Before this trip, you had imagined a mechanical failure because you knew some weak points. But by limiting the power as you did, you thought having discarded any major risk for this short crossing.

What are you going to do now? Rebuilding a bikeboat? In any case, finding sponsors may become more complex. And this failure is a big worry for your personal finances.

You have time to decide. For now, you are safe and you must enjoy this beer under a large Boulonais sun. Patrick told you that this was probably the best day of the season.

You also think back to Chukotka where you had sailed only a few kilometers. If this misadventure you had arrived in these cold waters, things could end very badly. Your breakthrough combination would not have been a great help to you. You did well when you renounced at Egvekinot. You know you were insufficiently prepared.

You take a train to Paris. Tired, you carry your bag on the shoulder. You write these lines in the train. Your notebook, placed in your backpack, resisted seawater despite several dives. This is not the case of the charger that was in the tank bag. Fortunately, the battery was full charged.

Paris, Friday, June 26, 2015

You rethink this crossing at an insomnia. You had already traveled long distances on the lake. When the engine was too hot, you stopped to sprinkle some cold water from the lake. You could avoid this leak by doing the same with sea water. As much as it is to be avoided for bearings, as the crank cases would have much appreciated. In any case, the cooling system deserved a significant change. With an ocean on each side side, cooling was certainly not the most complex problem to solve.

This crossing could have been a journey of great simplicity. The weather conditions, the state of the sea were much better than what you met on the lake.

This morning, you want to continue the project. Finally, your situation has become the same as Patrick. You thought you were “almost ready”, and now you restart from scratch. But building two or three copies does not fundamentally change the situation. Except you’ve already lost the entire investment that each should do.

This fire complicates things, but you will find solutions. You miss some plans, but you have in mind all the principles, the mistakes not to repeat. You even know some improvements.

Grenoble, Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You are returned to Grenoble by train, and have returned to work.
During a new insomnia, you analyze the electrical circuit of the motorcycle. You realize that the original fan is not driven from the temperature sensor: it is serially connected with a “thermoswitch” and this switch is placed on the radiator. Where is blowing the new fan you just added…
Now you understand why the main fan was not running: you thought you were complementing it, but you’d rather replaced it…
The main fan is placed behind the radiator. It draws cool air through the radiator, and rejects warm air upward engine and exhaust manifold. The fan you added did not have the same effect. It’s a bit late, but you prefer to understand.

It would also have sufficed you short circuited the thermoswitch, and nothing would have happened.
You also write emails to William to retrieve the GPS coordinates. You hope recover the bike and Will put you in touch with Russell, a diver who lives in Rye. You do not know yet if this will work, but if you retrieve the wreck, you would save months and also a few thousand euros. You have to try. Unfortunately, Russell seems not very available. You understood he a diving instructor, and that’s just the beginning of the summer holidays, the start of his seasonal activity. But he thinks he could dive for your bike at mid-July, if the weather will permit it. Nothing to do before.


Why ?

The fire reminded you that the worst can always happen. That you have been too close to the worst. He also questioned your relatives. Your son asked you: “Why? “. Your son is rational and he wants to know what there is on the other side of the balance. For three years you have worked on this project. You spent your nights, your weekends and your savings. Why so much effort? Three years of often fruitless attempts, slow progress. And now, while the main difficulties seemed past, a shipwreck. Why such risks?

You still consider this journey to be important. Not for a single reason, but for multiple reasons:

  • The starting point is quite simple: you wanted to show that a real ‟round the world” trip is possible. A trip without any ferry, nor plane. A world tour in reasonable autonomy. During your one year trip, you had to deal several times with airlines, and, once, you put the bike in a cargo ship. Even briefly, you needed the support of the transport industry. You’d be happy to show that you can do without.


  • You also want to promote travel on the lands, those who bring the traveler to meet people. To be in contact with people. To get help from people. Meeting, anywhere in the world, a man on horseback and telling him that you also come from your village by the same track. This is not the same as if you’ve landed at the nearest international airport.


  • You would like to draw attention to the Bering Strait. This is where the Amerindian tribes have conquered America. Descendants of Eurasians. They are our cousins. There are only one or two millennia, all populated areas had been reached by walking, and crossing some straits. On maps, we see the Bering Strait at the end of the world. This would further its center. The junction of the two largest land areas. The junction point of the continents that actually constitute a single emerged space. The former Pangaea.
  • To attract attention to the Chukotka, the twin region of Alaska on the Russian bank of the Bering Strait. Amazing scenery, among the most beautiful in Russia. A region where live courageous aboriginal populations in difficult conditions. An isolated area, known only by a few thousand people. A region with exceptional natural resources, both geological and animal. A region that needs care.
  • To break the wall between Russia and the Western countries. A clash of nations. On each side of the borders, leaders oppose strong arguments to condemn the enemy, to rebuild the walls. Private initiatives that unite friends of both sides are desirable. Especially if these initiatives show that the boundaries are not so insurmountable as that. During your travels in Russia, you have always benefited from the solidarity and brotherhood from Russians. You want to testify.
  • Try to do something that has never been attempted also makes sense. So when the adventure blend technical, geographical and historical originality, you still find more reasons to try. And you’re happy that this adventure has not germinated into an incorporated company, but in individuals. Individuals who wish to meet others and to share.
  • Finally, if these peculiarities unify people helping you, you’re happy to wear such a joint project. Traveling with friends, thinking to all those who helped you to prepare this trip. Also to those who will help you during the trip.

So many reasons. But these reasons are not enough to justify an accident. You think you’re careful, even if you can’t predict everything. The fire took place, and you will do not to see it again. This journey is risky, but not foolish. You wanna tell your children.