Hovercraft – A Love Affair

Many decades ago, when I was a kid, I saw my first Hovercraft, the SRN1 on the Isle of Wight (UK). This was one of the first production Hovercraft in passenger operation.

It was love at first sight: this big machine left the sea and roared up the beach, to stop and deflate like a burst car tyre. After quickly swapping passengers, it re-inflated and rotated 180 degrees like a prima-ballerina, making the transition from beach to sea effortlessly.

I was later to see and experience the SRN6 Hovercraft running a passenger service from Southsea (near Portsmouth, UK) to Ryde, the isle of Wight. This route, which takes just ten minute, is the longest running Hovercraft route in the world. It started in 1965 and still operates daily.

Sitting inside the SRN6 was a rather noisy experience and the spray prevented you from actually seeing much out of the windows, but nevertheless, I loved it.

In the early 1970’s I regularly viewed the giant car carrying Hovercraft (SRN4’s) at Dover and Ramsgate (Pegwell Bay).These mainly went to Calais (France), taking just 30 minutes. The giant machines initially carried 30 cars and 250 passengers. They were of course even more impressive and even more noisy. Later the SRN4 Mk.III had a capacity of 418 passengers and 60 cars.

Mum & Dad took to Calais for the day, on one. What a thrill, although sea conditions on the day made it a very bumpy ride.

In 2000 the last SRN6’s were retired from the Dover route, due to rising fuel costs. There are now no car carrying Hovercraft in commercial service, but my love still lives on.

More Hovercraft slide-shows: Here

Seacat: Here



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4 Responses to “Hovercraft – A Love Affair”

  1. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Yes, the Hovercraft normally took 30 mins and the Ferry between 60-90 mins.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I used the Hovercraft often when touring France . If I recall it was the princess Margaret. Nothing quicker at that time than just driving onto the car deck, then having an exciting albeit noisy crossing that was much quicker than the ferries at that time.

    I too was disappointed when they ceased use, but still have the memories of lovely touring holidays all through France starting and ending with the Hovercraft crossings.

  3. Malcolm Oliver Says:

    Hi Tom, my love of Hovercraft is not really based on logic! They were fast, exciting, but very noisy and guzzled fuel. They were more weather dependant than most vessels too. However none can deny there use for special applications, such as search and rescue. RNLI have some for areas of mud-flats (quick-sand) etc.

  4. Tom Burke Says:

    I’m afraid I’m not a fan. I remember hovercrafts, of course – I think we’re the same generation – and I remember the days when they were going to be the next big thing. The other year I finally went on one, from Southsea to Ryde, and i have to be honest and say that it appeared to me to be a case of brute power. That’s always going to be expensive.

    Also, I think the development of the fast-cat ferries, now in use in many parts of the world, probably did for the hovercraft. The fast cats seem to work with the water much more than the hovercraft ever did.

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