Hovercraft and the English Channel

Slides 19728
Copyright 2017 Théroigne S B G Russell  – The Princess Margaret, Dover 1970s (family photo)

For 33 years, until 1st October 2000, hovercraft flights took place across the English Channel between Dover and Calais.

They were really noisy, it was possible to hear them coming in Dover when they were still 12 miles out, thanks to the roof-mounted engines.

The Princess Anne, sister hovercraft of The Princess Margaret (above), still holds the cross-channel speed record of 22 minutes, faster than the Seacat (55 mins) or Le Shuttle (35 mins).

This despite weighing 250 tons (built in 1960s), being as long as the wingspan of a jumbo jet and able to accommodate five tennis courts or 400 people and 60 cars. Top speed for the world’s biggest hovercraft was a pretty nippy 70 knots (80 mph).

The Princess Margaret, pictured above, was used in the James Bond film ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971) starring Sean Connery.

When Hoverspeed withdrew them from service, The Princess Anne and The Princess Margaret were parked in the car park of the Hovercraft Museum on the former RAF base at Lee-On-The-Solent.

The royals were bought by a businessman in 2015, who removed the engines. A dispute over parking charges ended with the Homes and Communities Agency (part of  the Department for Communities and Local Government) acquiring them.

The HCA wanted to develop the former RAF base and scrap the huge craft. More than 20,000 signatures were raised on a petition to save The Princess Anne, including the daughter of hovercraft’s inventor, Sir Christopher Cockerell and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

The Princess Anne now has a Project Manager, Steve McGarry. His latest update can be found HERE along with details of the To Do List HERE and The Hovercraft Museum – volunteering will show that there are real opportunities to get stuck in and help with the restoration.

But of course, money is always needed for a project like this and donations can be made via Go Fund Me (opens on The Princess Anne page).

The Princess Anne and The Princess Margaret out of Dover, along with the Seacat catamaran from Folkestone, made it possible for millions of people to just jump on a cross-Channel craft and be in France in under an hour, for lunch, shopping and (until its demise, Duty Free goods).

When Hoverspeed (2000) and Seacat (2001) services ended, it made a big impact on the lives of people in Kent and Nord Pas de Calais, as well as on employment.