Last night on Channel 4, motorbike legend Guy Martin, and hovercraft legend Bill Baker, set out to break the world water speed record for a hovercraft. The official record of 85mph was set back in 1995 by American hovercraft designer Bob Windt and as Guy pointed out in the program…”it’s a British invention, the record should be here!”
As is usual with most TV shows of its ilk, the program went off at a complete tangent with Guy learning to float in wind tunnel, take place in a hovercraft beach assault with the royal marines, and best of all – undergo a Bukram Yoga session with a very pretty but unnecessarily hot and sweaty Yoga teacher. As one of my American friends said “I doubt very much that Bob did any of that.”
Then Guy had to pass a test to get his Hovercraft Club of Great Britain licence – edited to make it look like he made a complete hash of it – only to be awarded it in any case. Having raced with the HCGB for many years, I can assure the outraged people of Twitter that there is no way he would be allowed to race without a degree of competency. Having passed, he was off to the Gang Warily race meeting to get some experience (honestly, it would have been much more relevant to take him out on a cruise in a fast craft, rather than racing round the smallest race track on the calendar at 30mph!) where they showed several accidents and incidents.
When the program finally got around to talking about the record attempt hovercraft, we were treated so an insight into Bill and his team creating a 5m GRP hovercraft based on the successful BBV4 – smaller cousin to the BBV500 we manufacture under licence from BBV Hovercraft. As it turned out, the BBV (a successful craft used by several commercial users for environmental services etc) didn’t make such a successful 90mph speed record racer – even when fitted with a 200bhp Suzuki GSXR engine.
The biggest problem was clearly excessive lift at speed, with Guy’s second run resulting in a spectacular ‘Campbell Maneuver’ – fortunately with less dramatic results, though the craft was badly damaged and Guy felt, unsafe to continue (basically, he looked shaken – and rightly so!)
Overall – he achieved some impressive speed (peak of 79mph, average 75) in a hovercraft which wasn’t truly suitable for the attempt. And this of course, comes down to time and money rather than BBV making a choice to use something unsuitable . We were approached some months back by the TV production company making ‘Speed’ but quickly decided they didn’t have sufficient understanding of the challenges involved for the project to have a fair chance of success. The main issue (apart from the ridiculously low budget they had) was that they expected the hovercraft to be ready within a couple of months. We considered that for a one off project with such massive safety issues we weren’t prepared to rush into it. I know Bill – and cannot think of a better man to take on the speed challenge. I’m pretty sure he’d much rather have used a 20ft long craft with a pointy front end to reduce high-speed lift, given time and money – neither of which (from our discussions) were available. Quite simply, I feel he was pushed towards grabbing what was available and making the best of it. For a utility/commercial hovercraft – I think it did pretty well.
So, it ended in failure – of a sort. But it was a worthy attempt – a brief 79mph maximum speed remember. And what it has done is to reopen interest in a speed record attempt here in the UK. We’ve certainly looked into it in a half-hearted way previously, and it’s just possible we may turn the heat up under our plans. We’re also aware that another well respected figure is making plans.
So, fingers crossed that the program – and Guy Martin’s involvement – has given the sport a shot in the arm. Well done to all involved.
100mph in 2016…. now there’s a challenge!