HOVERCRAFT & OTHER VESSELS Part 1
Saturday 22nd October 2016
It was early on a bright and sunny autumn morning when I stood on the pavement near Southsea beach in Hampshire, England. My ferry friends arrived by car and we were soon parked and taking photographs of NORMANDIE of Brittany Ferries as she sailed out of Portsmouth, heading for France.
We could then walk into the Hover Travel office nearby, to buy return tickets on a Hovercraft from Southsea to Ryde in the Isle of Wight. The journey takes only ten minutes, but it was fascinating to anticipate and also to enjoy.
We were soon allowed out of the Terminal building to walk across the short distance to board FREEDOM 90 for our Flight at 9 a.m. She had arrived and berthed between SOLENT FLYER and ISLAND FLYER, which made for an unusual sight as far as I was concerned. We felt our vessel lift, and we turned and headed out to cross Southampton Water to the Isle of Wight. I marvelled at the 1955 invention by the famous Sir Christopher Cockerell, which first crossed the English Channel in July 1959. The vessel is described as a vehicle supported on a cushion of air supplied by a powered fan mounted on the craft - brilliant - hence Hover Travel calling it a flight.
I first went on a SRN4 Hovercraft called PRINCESS ANNE back in the early 1980s, sailing from Dover across the English Channel. Some passengers had their cars loaded on the hovercraft, which were much bigger than today's craft, ready to drive south in France; we simply went as foot passengers for the experience.
Today though we soon arrived at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, disembarked from FREEDOM 90 into the terminal and then climbed the nearby stairs to the bridge over the railway lines. This gave us a good view of the hovercraft down below, and we could watch our vessel head back to Southsea. The tide seemed to be out and there was a lot of mud-flats to be seen as we watched her go. Then it was time for breakfast ashore.
Back at the bridge over the railway lines we were pleased to be able to see the brand new SOLENT FLYER down below us on the tarmac, and we were even more pleased to see her changing places with ISLAND FLYER. We really hoped she might be our vessel for our ride back to Southsea... and yes, she was to be!
We were soon on SOLENT FLYER, embarking at the front/bow end this time (rather than near the stern) and admiring her new livery of our national flag. Once inside we could also admire the spacious look of the design with big windows and a streamlined look throughout. The builders plate by Griffon was dated January 2016, with a delivery date of March 2016, and after sea trials she soon came into service with a gross tonnage of 15.27. I particularly admired the mural effect of the wall behind the 24 passengers she can carry, as we sat down and prepared to 'fly' across the water back to Southsea. One of the crew came to talk to us and he was obviously very proud of the new hovercraft.
We noticed that as it was a Saturday there seemed to be a lot of other smaller craft around us, and it became necessary to take a somewhat convoluted route across the water. The Wightlink ferries were also crossing back and forth between Portsmouth Harbour and the Isle of Wight, so there was a lot to see in our short journey!
Back in Southsea we went down on the beach towards the sea and could watch SOLENT FLYER embark more passengers before she set off for Ryde again.
What wonderful vessels they are.
To be continued...