Commercial hovercraft have a long and checkered history. After it's invention in the UK in 1950, it was quite a while before it was taken seriously as a means of transport. It must be remembered that traditionally, all vehicles took just one of three forms. A mode of transport either had wheels for moving over ground, a propeller for moving through marine environments or it flew high up in the air at great speed. An air cushioned vehicle like the hovercraft fitted none of these guidelines and so hovercrafts for sale were suspect from the start.
One thing that hampered commercial development was the lack of powerful engines that were light enough to provide lift and forward thrust. A large craft needed quite a lot of power to generate the air pressure necessary to hover a foot or so off the ground, and often several motors were needed for both lift and forward motion. It takes the smoothness of a Rolls Royce engine, for example, to deliver the necessary power also reduce the vibration - a major problem in hovercraft design.
During the summer months, the English Channel between England and France is filled with ferries criss-crossing the 22 mile stretch of water separating the two countries. A short strip of sea, but still taking 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the weather which obviously affects the height of the waves. Someone decided that it would be much quicker to ride over the waves on a cushion of air so a passenger hovercraft was commissioned.
The craft was big by those standards and could carry 200 people and cars in the crossing, which took only 20 minutes. Unfortunately, two factors made the experience less than tranquil. Firstly, the sea between UK and France is never really 'flat'. Waves would pound the front of the vehicle, causing it to bounce up and down like a bucking bronco. For this reason it was known locally as the 'vomit comet' for obvious reasons - sea sickness!
It was very different from crossing the channel on an ordinary sea-going ferry. For one thing, the passengers had to be strapped into their seats for their own safety, so it wasn't possible to wander around. One of the great pleasures of taking the trip by boat was the fact that you could wander around, have a drink at the bar or a meal at one of the several restaurants. Although a boon to many people who crossed the channel regularly for business, the disadvantages of hovercraft travel and the proposal of the new Channel Tunnel put an end to the service in the 60s.
The author does not allow comments to this entry