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Stationary water wheels in series along a river have a cable which will wind around the hub, reeling in downstream boats when turning.
When the boat nears a water wheel, a floating tow bouy attached to the next wheel reel upstream is captured and attached to one of the two toe rings.
cable, which is attached to the tow cable connected to the closer wheel reel has its tension released by a release lever and the toy bouy is directed beside the boat to float back downstream. (The reduced tension releases the catch locking the reeling ring to the water wheel hub, and the drag of the bouy pulls it downstream to where it was attached to the boat initially).
The increased weight of the boat releases a catch mechanism on the further upstream reel ring, locking it to the water wheel hub so as to match the spin of the previously non-spinning ring around the spinning hub.
Ride and Repeat.
This idea was inspired by [rling]'s River Crawler idea. [Zimmy, Nov 14 2008]
||For the first paragraph [+]
||They're going to need to be massive water wheels, as they're basically going to need to produce as much power, at perhaps 30rpm, as your boat's engine. However, that doesn't make the idea impossible - they may just need a significant head of water, therefore limiting the number that can be accommodated within a given length of river, and hence limiting the number of boats that can be pulled at once.
||[+] because it makes sense and it would work.
||Would it be as much work as a conveyor the whole length of the river, run by paddle wheels, that moves upstream?