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MIT staff blogger Ben Jones

What MIT Grads Do With Their Free Time by Ben Jones

Want to see the fireworks up close? Simply turn an old car into a boat and head into the Charles. Just watch out for the state police.

My friend Amrys (MIT ’02) and a bunch of her fellow MIT-grad friends spent the last month converting a 1967 Chevy Bel Air into a boat – the idea being to get as close as possible to the fireworks on the 4th of July (and have the coolest boat on the Charles River).

Seriously, you don’t find this kind of thing at other schools. In fact, I couldn’t make up a story like this.

You can read about the entire saga here – complete with photos.

I am sad to report that the story doesn’t have the happiest of endings. I think Amrys summarized it best with this quote:

“Never, ever try to launch a very sketchy-looking homebuilt watercraft on a public ramp on the busiest Charles River boating day of the year… your MIT degree holds no meaning for the State Police.”

Still, everyone involved had a blast, and as Amrys put it: “When a group of people work together on a big project and learn from each other along the way, even the biggest disappointments are sufferable.”

True, that. But damn, seeing a ’67 Chevy float down the Charles would have been awesome.

11 responses to “What MIT Grads Do With Their Free Time”

  1. Prashant says:

    And so would be seeing it getting towed away.. tongue laugh

  2. shazam says:

    Ha! I’d like to see anyone try and tow that thing. It doesn’t fit on a boat trailer (’cause it’s a car) and it doesn’t fit on a car trailer (’cause it’s a boat). And it weighs about 1800 pounds. And it has no wheels. We’re talking a dragging-onto-flatbed-with-much-difficulty situation here.

    Plus, there was no legality issue: we were completely within the realm of the law. We did everything by the book (as much as one can when one is constructing such a thing) — this is important, because the cops tend not to give you a hard time with awesome projects when you’re being safe about it. This was one state policeman’s judgment call, which sadly was not in our favor.

    The hope is to do a launch this weekend up in NH, pending approval by the Joshua C. Randall Towing and Disposal Company – And, next year, we’ll already have an awesome boat. And more time to work on propulsion, steering, and cosmetics. (I think the visible Poland Spring bottles probably freaked the cops out, and no explanation of the quantity of expanding foam and other buoyancy would convince them that there was actually NO WAY it could possibly sink.)

    For past Fourth of July rafting awesomeness, check out the Couchamaran –

  3. shazam says:

    We never *did* manage to get it on the river. The police wouldn’t let us launch in the first place.

    The plan was to back the trailer down the ramp and the boat into the river, use all the manpower we had, and pull the Scout and trailer back out of the water. (I thought you meant towing it, not getting it back out of the water.) We were planning on docking at the sailing pavilion overnight, getting a tow back to Watertown, and taking it out in the morning, when the ramp would be empty and it would be light out.

    With any luck, we’ll get to test all of this on Saturday.

  4. Shashank says:

    how did you get it to the river in the first place then? couldnt the police use the same technique?

    (oh, and ben – i did it)

  5. Shashank says:

    exactly. so the police could have just towed your trailer. :p

  6. Shashank says:

    how did you get it to the river in the first place then? couldnt the police use the same technique?

    (oh, and ben – i did it)

  7. Kiersten says:


    That is cool!

    I had a similar idea once, but it involved those stupid tiny desks and A LOT of bubble wrap.


  8. shazam says:

    Not sure what the fixation is here with getting the thing to which we devoted three weeks of our lives and because of which we lost a lot of sleep towed away by the police, but whatever. wink The whole Scout + trailer + carboat system would be difficult to tow. Not that it couldn’t be done — I just fail to see why it’s relevant, since we didn’t launch, and we didn’t get towed, and the police didn’t give us a hard time, they just made an unfortunate judgment call which required a change of plans. To be honest, just thinking about having the thing towed is jarring — we’re all still dealing with our extreme disappointment, while trying to figure out how to get the thing to NH for storage and take it out for a spin while it’s raining here in Boston, and no trailers are available, and Scott and I are headed out of town next week, and… The saga continues…

    Glad you like it, though. We had a lot of fun, despite our numerous setbacks.

    Last year, a couple of the folks from Cruftlabs built a pontoon boat with a plexiglass deck through which you could see the water. This Cruftamaran was also taken out for a second voyage this year. Another Cruftlabs-created boat was a tetrahedron.

    I think some folks from Second West / Third East also made rafts this year (it’s become something of a tradition the past few years), including another floating couch.

    As for me, for now I’m just looking forward to having a chance to sit down and watch the Sox games again. =)

  9. Wow, that seems really cool. Wicked, I might say raspberry. It’s too bad the police didn’t think so.

    Hmm, I suppose it would in order for me to introduce myself (since this my first appearance on this blog): my name is Antti Hallavo and I come from Finland. I will be applying this fall.

    I only started commenting now, but I’ve followed your blog for quite a while already. Thanks for the MyMIT system; it helps us prospective applicants form a more complete picture of MIT. Two years back I hadn’t even heard of MIT, but through the portal I’ve learned a great deal. MIT is definitely my choice number one.

    So ends my first post on this blog. I’ll go get some sleep now.

    -Antti Hallavo

  10. Susan says:

    For future attempts, your local Amphicar association might be able to give you some tips on the conversion. BTW, the annual Amphicar swim-in is coming up an week or two at Indian Lake in Ohio.

  11. Clara says:

    Couchamarans definitely rule, although the Poland Spring bottles are similarly visible on this year’s model. (probably part of why state police gave them a bit of grief too… ) And the bicycle-boat is also a way-cool conversion of vehicle power. I was at the sailing pavilion on the fourth, and there was a real car-boat cruising down the river: not quite as cool as a homemade job, but definitely sexy.

    BTW, I’m another one of those prospective students. MIT would be my first choice if I didn’t live 20 minutes away and have a brother who’s currently a senior and a dad who’s an alum. So basically the campus feels like home and I’d rather get a little farther away. But I’ll definitely apply and I may end up here yet.