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Image:  'The Princess Anne' entering harbour on 10 September 2000.
'The Princess Anne' entering harbour on 10 September 2000.

 

The hovercraft was invented by British engineer Christopher Cockerell (later Sir Christopher). He produced his first working model in 1956 and three years later his first full size test craft was produced by Saunders Roe. On 25 July 1959 the, Cockerell designed, Saunders Roe Nautical One (SRN1), successfully completed the first cross Channel hovercraft crossing from Calais to Dover, exactly fifty years after Bleriot’s first Channel flight.

The first regular passenger service from Dover started on 1 August 1968 when the Dover to Boulogne service was inaugurated by the SRN4 hovercraft “Princess Margaret”. The craft was owned by Seaspeed, the hovercraft operating subsidiary of British Railways, and ran from the new hoverport built at the Eastern Docks. In August 1969 a second SRN4 was delivered and the “Princess Anne” opened a second route from Dover to Calais.

By the mid 1970s increased traffic meant that there was a need for increased capacity on the hovercraft. This problem was solved by stretching the SRN4 hovercraft and turning them into SRN4 Mk3 craft, wich increased their capacity to 424 passengers and 54 cars. The enlarged “Princess Anne” re-entered service in 1978 after which the “Princess Margaret” was also altered. Also in 1978, on 4 July, the new hoverport was opened alongside the Prince of Wales Pier at the western end of the harbour. The SRN4 Mk3 craft made the journey from Dover to Calais in 35 minutes. The fastest ever crossing being recorded by the “Princess Anne” in September 1995 taking only 22 minutes to cross the Channel.

From July 1978 the SNCF (French Railways) owned Sedam N500 hovercraft the “Jean Bertin”, was operating with Seaspeed across the Channel. Sedam’s development programme had been dealt a crippling blow in May 1977 when the first N500 craft was destroyed by fire. The second craft, the “Jean Bertin”, was unreliable and it was withdrawn for modifications in September 1981. It returned in March 1983 to the routes of the newly formed Hoverspeed company but in July the craft was dealt its final blow when Hoverspeed refused to accept it into their fleet.

Hoverspeed was formed in October 1981 by the merger of Seaspeed and Hoverlloyd, the Pegwell Bay based company also operating cross Channel hovercraft. Hoverlloyd had started their service from Pegwell Bay to Calais in 1966. By the Early 1980s neither company was making an adequate return on investments so the two companies merged to form Hoverspeed based at Dover.

In 2000 Hoverspeed decided to end hovercraft operation. The abolition of duty-free sales in June 1999 had resulted in a significant drop in passenger numbers. To continue on the old basis winter fares would have had to increase dramatically to recover the lost duty-free profits but higher fares would result in a further reduction in passenger numbers. The hovercraft were replaced by seacats, which could carry nearly twice as many cars and passengers although with a slower crossing time to Calais of 45 minutes. The last hovercraft crossing was on Sunday 1 October 2000 and the seacats took over the service the following day.

 

 

 

1 OCTOBER 2000

Pictures taken on the hovercraft's last day of service

Image:  Pictures taken on the hovercraft's last day of service - 'Princess Anne' waiting at the hoverport.
'Princess Anne' waiting at the hoverport.

 

Image:  Pictures taken on the hovercraft's last day of service - Engines started and skirt inflated she starts to turn towards the sea.
Engines started and skirt inflated she starts to turn towards the sea.

 

Image:  Pictures taken on the hovercraft's last day of service - On the water.
On the water.

 

Image:  Pictures taken on the hovercraft's last day of service - Next stop Calais!
Next stop Calais!

 

Image:  The SRN1 approaches Dover beach on 25 July 1959 after the first crossing from Calais.
The SRN1 approaches Dover beach on 25 July 1959 after the first crossing from Calais.

 

 

 


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