Posted on January 25, 2011



Mike Sayer is the project manager and a crewman for Project Torpedalo, an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in what is essentially a pedalo, as part of the Woodvale Challenge Atlantic Rowing Race 2011.


They will depart La Gomera in the Canary Isles on December 4th, 2011, and arrive in Port St Charles Marina, Barbados, covering 2,933 miles (2549 nautical miles). Mike, along with fellow crewman Mark Byass, are only the second pairs crew to attempt the journey in a pedal-powered boat.


The Torpedalo team have designed their boat themselves, and don’t assume that just because it’s pedal-powered, they haven’t put together an impressive boat. It must be fast, sturdy, self-righting (40 foot waves are to be expected) and equipped to provide a home for the pair for six weeks. It is 8 meters long by 1.5 meters across at the beam, and is 1.5 meters high. The boat is of two-skin carbon fibre construction, with foam core and carbon ribs, with is sprayed with a copper-metallic coating beneath the waterline. It is powered by a single one-gear pedal crankset using a Gates two-stage belt drive and a custom twin-blade low speed propeller.


Working on a continuous rota of two hour shifts of pedaling, the team are hoping for an average cruising speed of 3 knots, with a maximum speed of 7 knots. They have enough food to last 90 days, and water is provided by onboard desalination.


Mike and Mark are working on this project whilst working at Bentley Motors. Money raised through sponsorship will be donated to Make-A-Wish Foundation UK and the Motor Neurone Disease Association, with every single penny going to charity. The team is aiming to raise £250,000.


Q.  Where did the idea for this project come from?
A.  The project was an amalgamation of ideas. We knew that we worked really well together through projects at Bentley, but also through jointly building a racing car. We decided that we should use our spare time to raise some money for charity, and we realised that to raise a significant sum of money we would have to do something crazy! The first idea was to take a standard, beach pedalo across the English Channel, but research showed it would be exceptionally dangerous. So, we developed that idea in to a plan to design and build a specialised pedal-boat, and take it from London to Paris. Unfortunately, the French authorities don’t agree with such schemes, but at this point Mark commented that he’d always harboured a desire to row the Atlantic. So, we scaled the plan up, culminating in the idea to design and build our own habitable pedalo and pedal it across the Atlantic Ocean! Truthfully, there was no beer involved at any stage…
Q.  What motivated you to try and complete the challenge in a pedal-powered boat?
A.  A pairs crew has only crossed the Atlantic in a pedalo once before, in 1994. Two guys took 111 days to cross the ocean, but their philosophy was very different. Their journey was the start of a human-powered voyage around the world that took almost 20 years, they weren’t raising money for charity, and they weren’t trying to break records. While their boat proved capable, it wasn’t optimised for the challenge. 500 people have rowed the Atlantic, and while it’s clearly an exclusive club, you can count the number of ocean-going pedal-boat expeditions (on any ocean) on one hand. When the Torpedalo is in the water, she’ll be the most advanced human-powered boat in the world. These facts give us a unique angle, and means the project is “something different”, which is so vital in securing sponsorship.
Q.  You’ve designed a boat yourselves. What challenges did this present?
A.  Mark took on the challenge of designing a boat from scratch without hesitation. While he’s without doubt an outstanding engineer, he’d never designed a boat before. The learning curve he had to climb was incredibly steep, but with the help of a team of expert design consultants that we recruited, he took it all in his stride. Designing anything is about managing compromise – optimising one aspect of the design individually is almost always detrimental to another area. Mark has combatted this by always thinking holistically about the boat, and every week steps back from his work and thinks about how we’ll actually use it – what kit needs to be where, how we move about through the compartments, how easy it is to access vital systems for repair, etc. One of the biggest challenges was finding organisations willing to provide their services for free to assist with testing the design, and we’re hugely gratefully to Newcastle University for letting us use their hydrodynamic towing tank for six iterations of hull design, and to aerodynamic analysis company Exa for running Computational Fluid Dynamics simulations on the boat design. Ultimately, the biggest challenge was designing a boat that is relatively comfortable to live in for at least six weeks, whilst being small and light enough for us to physically be able to power it through the water. The boat also has to survive significant waves on the ocean, and self-right if it’s capsised – both of which require careful analysis and simulation in the design phase. I have absolute confidence in Mark’s design, and know that it’s going to be an incredible boat.

Q.  You’ve relied on the input of various experts. Can you tell us about them?
A.  Our expert team has been absolutely vital, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. Firstly, Mr. Phil Morrison was instrumental in bringing Mark up to speed about the fundamentals of ocean-going rowing boat design. Phil designed most of the current range of ocean rowing boats, as well as some beautiful yachts, and gave up hours of his time to talk Mark through the key principles. Professor Martin Downie, Dr. Peter Wright and Mr. Peter Bowes at Newcastle University and Mr. Alex Whatley at Falmouth Marine School were our hydrodynamics experts, guiding Mark through the process of designing a hull that is 40% more efficient through the water than the rowing boats. Mr. Jamie Fabrizio of Global Boat Works talked us through boat construction principles, while Jim Shaw and Alan Ramsay at Bentley Motors have expertly advised us on packaging and ergonomics. Mr. Tim Searle of Composite Innovations holds superior knowledge about designing with carbon fibre, while his wife Debra is a celebrated ocean rower in her own right and has talked us through the realities of life on the ocean. We’re also grateful to Mr. Simon Chalk, who organises the Woodvale Challenge, for always being available to answer our never-ending questions!

Q.  What dangers are involved in the race?
A.  The Atlantic is certainly a dangerous place. Apart from the obvious threats of big seas and stormy weather, we face a number of possibilites. The largest seas place the boat at risk of capsise, so she’s designed to self-right if that happens. Commercial shipping poses a significant risk, and it will be up to us to spot ships and get out of their way! We’ll also have to be wary of submerged shipping containers that can float just below the surface, which could cause significant damage should we run in to them. A rowing boat in a similar event a few years ago was attacked by a shark, so much so that they had to retire from the race and be rescued!
Q.  How confident are you feeling?
A.  I am very confident that we’ll have a capable boat, and that we can pedal it from the Canaries to Barbados. Raising £250,000 is certainly a huge task, but with the right publicity and sponsors I’m sure we can achieve it. Breaking the World Record, though, is by no means certain! Our challenge on the 40-day record is very weather dependent, but if we have the right conditions and Lady Luck on our side, I’m confident that we’ll be fit enough and the boat fast enough to break the record.

Q.  What’s the first thing you’ll both do when you’ve landed in Barbados?
A.  Probably immediately try and mount our respective girlfriends, then have a big burger and fries and a fresh orange! While I’d like to think we’ll be very manly about the whole thing, in reality I expect there’ll be tears.

Q.  Money raised through sponsorship is donated to charity. Can you tell us more about which organisations will benefit?
A.  We’ve chosen two outstanding charities – the Motor Neurone Disease Association, and Make-A-Wish. My beloved grandfather, who was a hero of mine, suffered a slow and undignified death from MND in 2005, so I have first-hand experience of what a horrendous disease it is. The MND Association is the charity that cares for those suffering from MND, and funds research into trying find treatments and a cure. We also wanted to raise money for a children’s charity, and Mark proposed Make-A-Wish, which is a fantastic charity that grants very poorly children a wish that they choose – whether it be a trip to Disneyland or to meet a famous celebrity. Both of our charities do incredible, life-changing work, and we’re delighted to be supporting them.

Q.  Can you tell us more about how people can sponsor the project?
A.  We’re able to collect donations through our website, www.torpedalo.com, where there’s a dedicated sponsorship page. The credit card facility on our site is provided by Barclays and is 100% secure, and every single penny donated will go to our charities.

Q.  Do you have any other projects like
this in mind?
A.  Not at the moment! My project after this will be getting married in November 2012, and then Mark and I can finish our racing car!

Q.  How do you hope Pelime can help with the Torpedalo project?
A.  Pelime is a brilliant place for meeting like-minded people, and so I’m hoping that we can use Pelime to contact new people to exchange ideas, promote our project and ultimately champion our fundraising cause. Both Mark and I are extremely grateful to Pelime for the invitation to be part of your organisation.


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