Ryszard Fechtner, inventor, is inspired by fish. The bearded, cheerful man has admired sea life since he swam marathons in the lakes of his native Poland. He kicked and paddled through miles of water, while fish darted beneath the surface with ease and grace.
"You look and see how easy fish swim," says Fechtner, who speaks with a thick accent and laughs a lot. "I always had in my mind that people are struggling in the water. We are not swimming so graceful, like fish."
So the water-loving family man, who has lived with his wife and two kids in Boynton Beach for nine years, figured there had to be a better way to swim. About six years ago, he started working on one.
"There is not one creature in the water which swims the way we do," he says. "Do the fish splash? Do the fish make bubbles? We swim by force."
A computer engineer who specializes in digital telecommunication, Fechtner became an inventor on the side. A member of the Inventors Society of South Florida, he read about fish, watched videos to study their movements, and worked on a design that would give humans more fishlike efficiency while swimming.
Fechtner, age 47, made dozens of prototypes, crafting fins and paddles from outdoor garbage cans, indoor trash cans, liners from dish drainers, and other inexpensive rubber items. After he'd drafted a design that pleased him, he created a form of rubber he says neither weighs a swimmer down nor pushes him to the surface. Then he carved and sanded rubber slabs into a streamlined vertical fin for the feet and a kayak-type paddle to be used either at or below the surface. The final touch: Fechtner's circular "Swim Like a Fish" logo, stenciled in green.
Whether wearing a snorkel or a scuba tank, a swimmer holds the taillike fin between his or her feet by slipping into straps on either side. The fin acts somewhat like a rudder, and swimmers don't kick or flick it with their feet; the paddle, equipped with hinged flaps, does most of the propelling.
Using the paddle is like rowing a boat one hand at a time. When one end is thrust forward, its flaps folded together so that there's no resistance, the other end is pulled back, its flaps opening to propel the swimmer forward. This rowing motion has a ripple effect, forcing the swimmer's legs to move laterally and the fin to aid in the propulsion.
Fechtner himself uses the setup in pools and at the beach. In particular, he's eased his way through the surf and watched rays and other creatures off Sanibel Island near Sarasota. "It's very relaxing. You feel like you can cruise," he says.
His prototype has been patented, and with a Website (www.likefish.w.pl) he's trying to get his idea noticed so that he can find a manufacturer. His invention won't replace traditional swimming, he says, but it will offer swimmers -- especially snorkelers, divers, and people with disabilities -- another way to enjoy the water.
Fechtner believes his paddle-and-fin system is a great way to spend time in the water without getting too tired. "People can go and travel some distance with pleasure," he says.
-- Patti Roth
The Inventors Society of South Florida, a nonprofit educational organization for inventors, meets monthly at the Royal Palm Clubhouse, 554 Gateway Blvd., Boynton Beach. The next meeting is August 1 at 1:30 p.m. For more information on the group, call 954-486-2426 or 561-533-6848.