The Hovercraft

Posted: May 2, 2013 in History, Kent, UK
Tags: , , , , , ,

When I was in Southsea a couple weeks ago I was delighted to find that there was still a commercial hovercraft service running across to the Isle of Wight. This brought back some memories for me of when as a child I went to the Isle of Wight a number of times for a holiday and on some of those occasions we travelled by the hovercraft.



I remember when Hovercraft was seen as the cross channel transport of the future. Larger and larger Hovercraft were built including ones that could carry cars and other vehicles. These services originally started running from the ferry ports but with in a few years it had been decided to build a dedicated international hoverport at Pegwell Bay in Kent. In its heyday it was very reminiscent of an international airport.It opened for traffic in 1969.

photo by Max Montagut ( )

However someone miscalculated somewhere and within 12 years the hoverport was closed and abandoned with remaining passenger services transferring back to Dover docks. I remember visiting Pegwell Bay in the 1980s and looking down the coast at the buildings of the hoverport standing there abandoned and unused.

By the end of the 1980s all the buildings had been demolished.
Pegwell Bay Hoverport
Photo by Adam Djemil ( )

The large hovercraft that formed the car / passenger services across the Channel were a sight to see. As a child I found it amazing that just air-power would lift something so heavy; so big and containing cars and then traverse across the water. Of course one of the big drawbacks to the hovercraft was that it was very susceptible to sea and weather conditions unlike the ferries which could sail in most conditions. It may have been this unreliability which eventually contributed to the demise of the service.

Hovershow 2009 - SR-N4
Photo by Nick ( )

From Wikipedia:

The Mountbatten class hovercraft or SR-N4 (Saunders-Roe Nautical 4) was a large passenger and vehicle carrying hovercraft built by the British Hovercraft Corporation (BHC). BHC was formed by the merger of Saunders-Roe and Vickers Supermarine in 1966. Work on the SR-N4 began in 1965 and the first trials took place in early 1968.

The SR-N4 was the largest hovercraft built to that date, designed to carry 254 passengers in two cabins besides a two-lane automobile bay which held up to 30 cars. Cars were driven from a bow ramp just forward of the cockpit / wheelhouse. The first design was 40 metres (131 ft) long, weighed 190 long tons (193 t), was capable of 83 knots (154 km/h) and could cruise at over 60 knots (111 km/h).

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