The making of the AquaMod

On April the 1st 2021, ModMo launched the AquaMod, an ingenious and entirely fictional contraption designed to connect to your Saigon bike so that you could cruise around on water as easily as you could on land.

The concept wasn’t originally built for April Fools Day - you will have seen it on our swimming pool in previous pictures and videos - in fact the AquaMod boat began its life many months ago when Jack had the idea of putting the Saigon on the river and use it to drive around and collect trash. It was a way of giving back to our area of Saigon, a way of reusing our own plastic waste (we’ll get to that), and an interesting challenge for our Modular Design Engineer, Bachir (known to the team as Bach).

In the end, the boat never got used to collect trash, it just lived on the pool and featured in our update videos. Then, two months later, it finally got its river debut as our groundbreaking April Fools mod.

Bringing the Modmo Boat to Life

Inspiration for the AquaMod came from youtube - there are a number of videos online where people have managed to build flotation devices for their bicycles, and having watched a few of them Bach was ready to get started on his own design.

It was just a matter of figuring out how to pull together the tools and materials he had available.

The foundation of the boat rests on the 20L water barrels we have at the office for drinking water (sidenote: the tap water in HCMC is not safe to drink so the most eco-friendly option is to buy big containers of locally treated drinking water) and the rest of it is a mixture of salvaged wood, plastic tubing and spray paint.

“Jack gave me 30 minutes to do the initial design,” he says. “Then it sort of evolved from there. It was fun - you know, working outside, on my own, listening to salsa music."

(SideNote: Bach is actually a dancer as well as an engineer. You’ll learn more about him later in the week)

“It was a weekend project, a lot of sweat, a lot of dirty t-shirts, a lot of trial and error. First, we calculated how many bottles we would need according to the weight we expected to have on the boat. The boat has 16 bottles, each of those bottles carries 20litres of water so they collectively hold 320 litres of volume and that basically means that if those bottles completely sink we would get a buoyancy force of 320 kilograms.

“Then the PVC tubing around the boat also adds in buoyancy so that’s more than enough for the number of people we’d want on the platform and the bike itself.”

So Bach pulled the 16 bottles together in groups of four and connected them to wooden plates and strips of bamboo, and then to the frame. Then he built a network of struts over the top to ensure maximum stability.

“We did our initial test on the pool one night. At that time the floor wasn't even bolted on, we just laid the boards on to see if everything works. I hopped on and it didn’t sink so the others joined me until there were five of us on it and it still worked!” Bach laughs, “So we were like “mission accomplished, the boat floats.”

“The only remaining concern was that water might seep into the PVC piping if it wasn’t properly sealed. So we drew some lines to see if it would sink over the period of a few days and it didn’t so we knew that the sealings were done well. After that, it was just bolting everything together and then painting it, and the Modmo boat was ready to sail.”

How the Boat Became Our April Fools AquaMod

It was Jack who had the idea to use the boat for April the 1st so he came up with a concept and took it to Bach, who transformed the boat into a mod fit to sail the Saigon River.

“We were kind of constrained with time so we had to find the easiest way to do it using the tools and equipment we had," says Bach.

"The first thing was to be able to have both wheels rotate so we used the bike stand and modified it a little bit in order to make that possible, then we had to figure out how we could fake that the wheels were powering the boat so we decided to put the tubes in. This was inspired a little bit by a water bike we found on YouTube where there is a wire extending through the tube into the water that rotates a propeller.

“In reality it's just a garden hose wrapped in black electrical tape!”

The Filming

Finally, the actual filming of the AquaMod took place a few days before April Fools Day. We wanted to strike that delicate note between believable and ridiculous, so we set Jack up with general directions to act enthusiastic and say as many long, fancy, jargon-y words as possible, with no script to read from. Jack also happened to have a sailor hat lying around and there was an old life jacket by the pool so he put them on as his “uniform”.

While he spoke, Martin was secretly lurking under the water holding the boat steady, and when Jack actually got on the bike and started pedalling he pushed the boat along from underneath while splashing a bit out the back to make it look like it was motor-propelled.

“There are nice bamboo struts underneath that you can hold on to so all I had to do was wait for Zoe to say that she was ready and that I am holding the boat in the right position, and then I’d push it forward,” says Martin.

“My left hand was holding onto the bamboo, pushing the boat, and my legs were kicking and then I made the splashes with my right hand. It was an interesting experience, because I couldn't see anything so I was wondering “how does this actually look on the video?!”

Then we took the boat out onto the river. It is much heavier than it looks and took quite a few people quite a lot of effort to get it into the water.

“We had pretty much the entire engineering team join us for a few minutes to get it done and it was a delicate job as it's only by an inch or something that the boat can actually exit through the gate," says Martin.

“Then, to complicate things further, as we put the boat into the river the bike stand at the back slipped into the water! Bach hadn’t bolted it on. So Jack had to jump down and get it from the riverbed at low tide, then we continued the filming the following afternoon.”

When the team reconvened the next day, Jack donned his Sailor’s cap and life jacket again, got onto the boat and attached a rope to it that was spray painted black.

“We had to find a way to get the boat moving without a motor or anything, and to do so out in the river with the current and tide,” says Martin. “You can't really rely on swimming power from one person and the river is not pleasant to swim in so we pulled the rope with a canoe.

“In order for the rope not to be seen we tied two bricks at about two and six meters from the boat to weigh the rope down, and then Bach and I kayaked pulling it while Jack made it look like he was pedaling the boat to move.”

Zoe stood on a jetty out the back of the neighbour’s restaurant and held the camera while Martin and Bachir paddled the AquaMod past her.

“It was real hard work. The regular river current was going one way but the tide was going the other way and at one point the tide got so strong that Bach and I realized we're not moving an inch. So we paddled sideways to the wall and got onto the shore and walked, pulling the boat against it. I was kind of happy that it wasn’t nighttime because the security guards would have thought I was breaking in!”

The Results

Filming ended with a well-deserved beer as the sun set behind the river and the team dispersed to go home for the night. Zoe edited the clips together the following day with a musical nod to Popeye the Sailor Man and the video launched on April the 1st 2021. We hope you enjoyed the joke! If you missed it, you can view it here.