Hovercraft on land

Hovercraft on water

Hovercraft on a pond

Hovercraft on a pond

Ok, let's put the fundamental stuff first.
Small hovercrafts have basically two modes of operation:
  1. Sitting on the ground
  2. Uncontrollable
While this slightly overstates the case, it is based on observation.
I went hovercraft riding in September '98. Originally I planned to do something else. I always wanted to be in a hovercraft and the only ones I knew about were the ferries between Dover and Calais. Those have been in service for some time now and with the channel tunnel in operation it is unlikely that they will be replaced once they are gone. So I wanted to travel with one of these and I tried to find out whether it would be possible to get from London to Dover, take a hovercraft to France, go back to England and return to London within a single day.

So I looked for hovercraft webpages and happened to find one that offers 'hovercraft for hire'. Since it looked like more fun to steer a small one yourself than to be passenger one a large one, I made an appointment, and got to drive one. [Hint: If you want to do the same, go for the combined 'land and water' option. It's worth it.]

Hovercraft on land

Going down a little canal

Not one of the cleanest sports there is...

Tired, dirty, but happy

It's a bit scary at the beginning, because they make you drive a small slalom course at first (well, just around three markers) and you get the feeling that you'll never be able to control that craft at all. You slide and drift widely and all attempts to get back on track make things worse, mostly because it behaves not like other vehicles. For example, when you start to slide, you tend to reduce thrust. Which, on a hovercraft, makes you lose the last bit of control you had, so you slide even farther.

But once you get to drive around on your own, it is fun. There is a wide open area and a pond to drive on and there's enough room to slide around. Once you stop caring about following some course, you just let the craft drift all over the place and enjoy it. And it's just neat to turn corners by turning the hovercraft on the straight, long before the corner, letting in slide until you reach the corner and then lean forward at full throttle to actually go into the new direction. Or to get out of the water and back along the 'shore' by swirling around 180 degree, driving backwards for a bit and then accelerate in the opposite direction (see the third video for an example).

In short: It was a fun day out in Tattershall Park.
One more word of advice though: Expect to get dirty.

And here are a couple of short MPEG clips:
Land to water transition Water to land transition Turn out of water Turn out of water Turn out of water
15 Sec.
3.411 MB
4 Sec.
912 KB
7 Sec.
1.706 MB
5 Sec.
1.250 MB
7 Sec.
1.707 MB

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