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Engineer Pedals His Boat Toward $25,000 Prize : Hobbies: The technical challenge of increasing speed under human power has intrigued the inventor since he built his first boat in Long Beach at age 6.

September 20, 1990|HERBERT J. VIDA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sidney G. Shutt is ready to gobble up the $25,000 that E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. is offering to anyone who can travel 100 meters at 20 knots in a pedal boat.

It just so happens that pedal boating is Shutt's expertise, a hobby that dates back to the 63-year-old, retired Rockwell International engineer's youth.

"Theoretically, I see that it is possible," Shutt said. "What is really exciting is the technical challenge. I'd say I'm a serious contender."

But he notes that others are in the running, including a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Shutt set a world record in 1988 in Visalia by traveling 200 meters in his 43-pound pedal boat at the rate of 15.91 m.p.h. It took place at a speed competition sponsored by the International Human Powered Vehicle Assn.

Last year he took overall second in the group's competition in Adrian, Mich., which included a 100-meter sprint, a 120-meter slalom and a 50-meter lap race.

Besides boats, competitions sponsored by the group include bicycles, airplanes, helicopters or anything else that is human-powered.

"I was 6 when I built my first boat with wood slats I took from our back-yard fence in Long Beach," recollects Shutt, who now lives in Brea. "I didn't even get in trouble for taking the slats. My parents were very encouraging to me."

Shutt said his parents later moved to Whittier, where they frequented a grocery store owned by President Richard M. Nixon's parents.

"My parents liked to tell me that the store had a delivery service and Richard Nixon used to deliver groceries to them."

His boats today are much more sophisticated, most of them built in the form of hydrofoils. The kayak-like boats are on struts that raise them a foot above the water to better skim the surface.

They are steered by hand controls on each side and are powered by pedaling bicycle mechanisms that turn a propeller.

The Whittier College and USC graduate said he also likes sailboats but finds more fun in his pedal boats, which he tests in the waters off the 15th Street dock in Newport Beach.

"The boats are just a lot of fun and it's nice doing something that is a little different," Shutt said. "I'm even getting to be competitive."

It's exciting to make the boat go faster, said Shutt, who takes his boat for weekly runs with his son, Dave Shutt of Dana Point, in the waters off Newport Beach.

At times, Shutt purposely tips the boat over to make sure he can right it. "We've found out you can't tip it over unless you want to," he said.

His expertise in boats comes from building an assortment of sailboats and trimarans. Although he has not built boats to sell, he does not discount that for the future.

In the meantime, Shutt builds and gives away boats to friends. The boats are a nice gift since the combination Fiberglas, resin, foam and aluminum craft cost from $2,000 to $3,000 apiece.

"At the beginning I'd take old bicycle skeletons to power the boats and they would do six or seven knots," he said. "My, how times have changed."

Although retired, Shutt operates a small engineering business.

"I'm a regular retired guy who mows his lawn, reads and takes care of the house," he said, "but I like to have an active day."

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