Republished with permission from Matt Sheehan’s An Optimist’s Guide to China.
As a lover of home-made water crafts, I recently set out to build my own Beijing boat. The blueprint is simple, the supplies are all within striking distance, and the finished product unlocks a lot of free fun in parks, canals and places like Houhai.
- inflatable kiddie swimming pool: ~90 kuai
- flat piece of wood: free (if you can find an unguarded construction site)
- ~4 square meters of bubble wrap: ~5 kuai per square meter
- saw: 15 kuai
- sand paper: 4 kuai
- tape/masking tape: 2 kuai
- a home-made oar: whatever value you place on the sweeping end of a broom, or a frisbee
- camping tarp (optional)
Basics: You are going to shape the wood to the interior of your swimming pool, soften/wrap its edges so it doesn’t pop your pool, and place it on the floor of your pool. Then you’re pretty much set. All a boat needs to do is displace enough water to create flotation, and that’s very easily done.
Step 1: Fitting wood to inside of pool
Inflate swimming pool and cut the wood to fit the interior. When measuring the pool, add a few inches to your tally, because the wood needs to squeeze snugly into the inflated pool’s walls. You’ll also want to round the corners on the wood to avoid any sharp/pressure-applying points.
Step 2: Sanding, wrapping wood
Sand down the edges of the wood, and then wrap it in bubble wrap. The more layers you add, the safer and more comfortable it will be. I think Zhang Wen and I went with three layers, which was plenty.
Step 3: Reinforce pool floor with tape (probably optional)
This is my unscientific approach to reinforcing the plastic of the pool. I use tape to create something of a spider web that I hope will distribute the weight from the edge of the board. The bottom of the pool is soft, so my fear is always that there will be too much stress where the wood is essentially dragging the pool down. Go with your own method here, I’m making this up as I go along, but my boats haven’t failed me yet.
Step 4: Grab a makeshift oar and get out on the water
I was originally working with the sweeping end of a cheap broom, but found that it worked best when complimented by a frisbee. Below are pictures of my boat’s maiden voyage on the creeks and lakes of Chaoyang Park. It was a lot of fun, though eventually cut short by the repeated warnings of the lake police (湖管?).
Next stop will probably be Houhai and a great night of drinking out on the water.
Optional add ons:
When some friends and I slept in a similar boat one night we wrapped the exterior of the swimming pool in a camping tarp, which we then tied off around the top of the swimming pool. That relatively sturdy exterior shell protects the boat from the greatest threat: a tiny prick that deflates your pool and sinks your boat. I didn’t add one to the Beijing version, but it still proved more than seaworthy.