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Katy Kelleher

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Posted: August 1, 2016

Human-powered boat tour combines cocktail cruise with spin class

Written by: Katy Kelleher
At least eight people are needed to operate the boat. Photo by Katy Kelleher

At least eight people are needed to operate the boat. Photo by Katy Kelleher

People pay hundreds of dollars a month to sit on stationary bikes and pedal to loud music inside the humid, sweat-smelling walls of a gym. But pedaling around Casco Bay and watching the sun set golden over the Old Port, might make you wonder, who in their right mind would cycle indoors when you can cruise on the water?

Portland’s first-ever human-powered tour boat is captained by Maine BayCycle founder and owner, Neil Kinner. On a recent evening, a dozen people climbed aboard to pedal their way from the Maine State Pier to the calm waters beyond the Casco Bay Bridge. On the way, they’d see ospreys nest while quaffing wine, watch for seals while sampling salsa and engage in some friendly conversation with people who had been complete strangers just minutes before.

“About midway through, everyone gets a little tired and people start getting up to take selfies,” Kinner cautioned before leaving the harbor. “And that’s totally okay! Feel free to trade places.”

Neil Kinner owns Maine BayCycle, Portland's first-ever human-powered tour boat. Photo by Katy Kelleher

Neil Kinner owns Maine BayCycle, Portland’s first-ever human-powered tour boat. Photo by Katy Kelleher

Everyone, it turns out, got a chance to pedal, even though there are only 11 seats at the cycling table. After about 30 minutes, legs starts get fatigued from cycling, and you might break out into a light sweat. It’s a surprisingly effective workout, considering the boat also doubles as a booze cruise.

All Maine BayCycle trips are for 21-plus patrons only. Typically, Kinner explained, the boat attracts groups of friends, but he’s also had companies hold meetings on board his unique boat. You need eight people to properly run the boat and, so far this summer, most people have signed up in clusters.

“Sometimes, we’ll get a bachelorette party,” he said. “It’s a fun alternative to the usual bar scene.”

It’s also much cheaper. Individual tickets are $25 during the week and $35 on the weekends. You bring your own food, your own beer or wine (no hard liquor allowed) and your camera. Then you pedal as hard as you like until the hour-and-a-half tour is complete. Should your group get stuck on the water, Kinner can use his solar-powered motor to bring everyone safely back to shore.

Kinner discovered these wonderfully odd, eco-friendly boats while he was living in “the other Portland.” A Peaks Island native, Kinner had plenty of experience on the water, and he needed a job. So when a friend mentioned that he knew a company looking for captains, he jumped at the chance. He spent the next five months working on a cycle-powered tour boat before deciding to return home to Maine, bringing the idea for a business with him.

“I took one look at the boat, and I realized what a great idea it was,” he remembered.

He saw how much everyone enjoyed it in Oregon, and he figured Portlanders in Maine would love it, too.

“We’ve got the beer scene. We’ve got the same kinds of active people living here,” he said.

In the summer of 2016, he launched Maine BayCycle, and, so far, his predictions have turned out to be dead-on. Locals are loving the quirky tour, which combines all the things you could want out of a summer evening: sunsets, waves and wine.

The boat functions as its own guerrilla advertising, drawing patrons in with its big blue wheel and steady, people-powered glide.

“Often, people will see the boat as we dock near Flatbread. We’ve had so many people come out from there and employees, too,” Kinner said.

Maine BayCycle tours also offer a unique opportunity to see the city from the water level, something that’s hard to do unless you’ve got a sailboat of your own.

“Since there isn’t a motor, seals often feel comfortable getting right up next to the boat,” explained Sam Bowen, who occasionally works as Kinner’s deckhand.

“It’s my favorite part,” she said. “Sometimes, it’s like they’re playing with us.”

Although there weren’t any seals on this cruise, pedalers did get up close and personal with a few wild ospreys. Kinner has been watching the nest since early spring, and he marvels at how big the chicks have gotten in just a few months. The boat’s slow speed allowed for plenty of time to snap pictures of the birds as they opened and closed their massive wings.

“You’re seeing everything at two miles per hour and essentially seeing it all at sea level,” Kinner said.

The tour ended at 8:30 p.m., just as darkness was starting to settle in over the Old Port. And the next day’s sore legs proved what a good work out you can still get while drinking wine.

Maine BayCycle, human-powered party boat

WHERE: Leaves from Bell Buoy Park, Portland
WHEN: Cruises at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. daily; also at 11 a.m. Friday through Sunday
HOW MUCH: $25-$35 for a single seat, $325-$455 for charter of up to 14 people

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