This is an old blog post from 2008 when we took two Marlin I’s to France and back across the English channel. As a unique achievement, its something we often get asked about so I’ve grabbed the original blog post and reposted it here. The story begins…..
Living down in the South-East, 20 or so miles from France, we’ve been muttering about the possibility of a Channel crossing for a while now.
Flying Fish is based in Dover as well, so we always felt it was something that time, tide, weather, diaries and opportunity permitting – we needed to cross off the list!
A history of light hovers across the channel is pretty brief as I understand it. Somewhere around 1971, Nigel Beale crossed from Pegwell Bay (site of the Hoverport) via Deal to France, taking something like 3 hours. The craft was powered by three chainsaw engines…..a remarkable feat and one that made him the first to complete the crossing – it really was a heroic venture! In 1977 Kip McCollum of Osprey Hovercraft made a straightforward crossing from Dover to Calais, taking about 1h35mins. Though he left Dover in the company of a second craft, the other one got into all sorts of difficulties, eventually being recovered from the middle of a shipping lane.
And that’s it!
Since then, nothing. That’s the entire history (to the best of my knowledge) of Light Hover cross channel expeditions.
We decided we wanted to set a decent time, and to make sure it was safe and officially recorded, we enlisted the help of our good friend Lance Oram from the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation www.channelswimming.net – nobody knows the route across the channel better as he spends the whole of the summer months racing across at one knot!
Our diaries and weather window finally came good on July 23rd and we unloaded the craft at 6am on a slipway in Dover harbour – the harbour master, being a total killjoy, wouldn’t let us leave from the pad….. Nelson Wood (better known as ‘God in Orange’) brought his Flying Fish Marlin, and my son Russ had a similar craft. We brought two Ribs as support, both 6.5 metres. Nelsons Tornado and Lance’s Ocean, with Gary from Flying Fish and a photographer friend to take the all important pics!
We’d also managed to borrow some intercoms from a friend – Russ & Nellly were wearing noise canceling headsets connected to the VHF’s. Russ said that coupled with his Ipod, it was a comfortable, enjoyable crossing! The intercoms worked brilliantly and we could easily talk between the boats and craft.
The conditions, once clear of the harbour were great, with gentle rolling swell – no big deal and in fact, the crossing was actually pretty unremarkable – just what we wanted, no dramas! Cruising at around 24knots, we were quickly in sight of Sangatte beach, and a little later the hover abandoned the boats amongst the surf to ride gracefully onto the beach. Half the job done in 57 minutes!
Sangattes a funny place – nobody bats an eyelid. Lance has piloted amphibious cars, remote control planes, Ribs fitted with wheels, Jeremy Clarkson’s Nissank (sic) with the 225 outboard bolted to it….etc – nothing much surprises this sleepy little village anymore, least of all a couple of hovers!
The boys splashed a drop of petrol into the hovers (not really necessary, the Briggs motors had used around 6 litres each – by comparison, the boats had used 30!) and wandered into the village to buy some cheese and wine (as you do!) and then set out for the return leg. We’d decided to push very slightly harder on the way back and 52 minutes later we safely arrived back on the slipway in Dover. Our times each way were both quicker than the £1m (seriously!) amphibious car that Lance had taken across in July (they took 74 minutes) and Branson’s Aquacar crossing – Hovers Rule!
Kipper’s smoked, we were back for breakfast! The press were waiting for us – TV, newspapers, radio all loved the story. Groping for an answer to the question ‘So why did you decide to make crossing?’ Russ could only mutter something about ‘Ummm, Errr, well its to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the commencement of cross channel operations….’ Which may or may not be right, but they all picked up on it and reported it differently in each paper! The real answer is that – we wanted to!
We’re all just chuffed to bits. To complete the return trip – and with two hovers – is a first and makes the Marlin the only current light hovercraft to have crossed the channel – and the only one ever to have made the return trip.
The ‘Channel Club’ is a pretty exclusive little club at the moment, with just 4(?) members. – Nigel beale, Kip McCollum, Nelson & Russ. It’s one that we hope grows. We genuinely hope that somebody will come along and smash our time, we know we could do it quicker and can promise a response!
These 4 stroke, quiet, reliable, economical craft make it so easy. Cruising is on the up, with some great craft out there operating week in, week out. Check out the hovercraft club bulletin board – modern craft are capable, genuine cruisers with no more limitations than a boat of comparable size. Pushing the Flying Fish to the limit in environments such as this is what has driven development so far, so fast.
A great big ‘Thank You’ to Dave Pearce for the photos!Theres quit e afew more in amongst the gallery images on this site too.