By mid-April, Moksha was ready for a proper sea-trial. First, however, we needed to make sure she would automatically self-right in the event she capsized. Before taking her down to Salcombe, we took advantage of the hand-operated crane at the museum to flip her over in the River Exe. After an initial unmanned test roll, Kenny and I clambered inside the cabin and buckled up using seat belts reclaimed from the Ballistic Cleaning van. Kenny had borrowed a camera to film. Steve and Chris operated the crane.
As she tilted to ninety degrees, water began spewing in around the sliding hatch. My head was resting on the plywood roof, hair swimming in a rising pool of water.
“You okay Kenny?” I shouted, watching the proboscis flip upside down.
“Yeah. This seat’s comin’ apart, tho.”
The water was up to my eyes. “Jesus!”
Then, a gut-wrenching spin – “Woooooaaaahhh!” – and we were suddenly upright again, torrents of water cascading everywhere.
What happened next was one of the most humiliating episodes in the entire expedition. Having benefited so greatly from the loan of the workshop, we’d decided to stage a media event to raise publicity for the museum, which was struggling to avoid closure.
The idea was to pedal Moksha around the sheltered canal basin, letting press photographers snap the world’s first two-man ocean pedal boat going through her paces, and then wrap up with interviews.
Chris Court from the Press Association was there on the dockside. He was joined by a carrot-headed journalist claiming to be from Yachting Monthly, and several other reporters from local papers. The next evening, when we pedalled out of Salcombe estuary to spend our first night at sea, one of the Sky Sports television channels would run a live interview patched through from our newly installed VHF radio, running some of Kenny’s pre-recorded footage in the background.
Cautiously, I pedalled out into the muddy-brown river, swollen and turbulent with recent rain. Steve stood in the cockpit posing for the cameras.
“Over here Steve. Give us a wave!” yelled the snapper from the Western Daily News.
“Can you turn the boat around and come towards me, please?” This was the Dorset Evening Echo.
Steve leaned his head into the cockpit. “Did you hear that Jase?”
“Yup, just give me a second.” I shoved the rudder hard over.
Nothing happened. I tried pulling and pushing my hands in opposite directions, but there was still no response.
The current was turning the boat.
“We need to turn around, mate!”
“I – I can’t! The rudder’s jammed or something!” I tried pedalling backwards. It was hopeless.
The flood run-off was sweeping us sideways down the river, faster and faster, the water sloshing and gurgling all around. And now there was another sound, like low, rolling thunder.
“Jase!” shouted Steve. “There’s a fucking waterfall!”
Pedalling like the clappers, the best I could do was head broadside to the current, aiming for a concrete wall bordering a builder’s yard.
KERRUUNNNCH! The sickening sound of splintering wood echoed across the basin. Moksha was now drifting stern first, all control gone. Steve scrambled out onto the foredeck, frantically snatching at low-lying willow branches. Our disgrace was complete when a noisy black inflatable appeared and plucked us off the lip of the dam just in time. Blushing furiously, we were dragged back to the waiting line of journalists, all of them sucking on the ends of their pencils, trying desperately not to laugh.
The next morning an article appeared in The Daily Star tabloid,entitled: PEDAL SUB SUNK!
According to the Yachting Monthly reporter, in reality a scumbag hack who’d clearly never been anywhere near a sailboat in his life, ‘A pedal powered submarine was swept out to sea by high winds … before capsizing and sinking’.
As well as learning a lot about the nefarious workings of the press that day, we made our acquaintance with an essential feature of the operational workings of the boat. Steering depended entirely on something called a centreboard, that three-foot-long piece of timber we’d left behind in the workshop.
All Rights Reserved – © 2012 Jason Lewis