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Last Updated: Monday, 16 July 2007, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
Not a bother commuting by hover
By Catherine Brown
BBC Scotland News Website

A two-week trial of a new hovercraft service across the Firth of Forth has started. I was one of the first passengers on board.

Rain and sea spray lashed my face. No chance of hanging onto my hairdo in this weather.

Forth hovercraft
The hovercraft was only a third full for its maiden voyage

I stared with dismay at the seething water, teased into a white-tipped frenzy by gusts of wind which tugged at my coat and threatened to send me toppling down the slippery wooden steps.

And this is a summer crossing.

It was perhaps not the best morning to test the new hovercraft service between Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy in Fife.

But then again, none of the disembarking passengers looked particularly peaky.

On board, there were plenty of window seats to choose from. The 127-capacity vessel wasn't even a third full.

It didn't take long for us to get under way, the craft skimming over the sea relatively smoothly - until we left the shelter of land.

I thought it would like a normal boat going up and down, up and down, but it's better, it goes sideways
Kieran Hayes

Smashing into 2 metre-high swells at 35 knots will not be everyone's idea of fun. For those who have never experienced it, the closest comparison I can make is with a rollercoaster. Did I mention how much I loved fairground rides?

I wasn't the only one.

"Wicked!" said 10-year old Connor Clark from Glenrothes, who was sitting behind me. "It was good and the waves are big and I've never been on one before and I didn't think it would be like this."

His cousin, Kieran Hayes, 10, from Leven agreed: "I didn't think we'd actually tip back and forth and it's just fantastic.

"I thought it would like a normal boat going up and down, up and down, but it's better, it goes sideways."

Self-confessed transport enthusiast Ian Allen from Dunfermline did not seem quite so convinced. He had been looking forward to the return trip, which he had squeezed in before work.

"It was quite good, quite rough, but I suppose the weather's quite rough," he said.

Kieran and Connor
Kieran and Connor said the trip was like being at the fairground

Vanessa Glenn, from near Elie, planned to use the hovercraft for her regular commute.

She said: "I thought it would a quick and direct route to my work in Leith. It was pretty exciting, it was probably quite a rough morning to give it a trial, but it was very fast."

After the voyage, Captain Barry Jehan reassured me about the craft's capabilities.

He said: "We've got a strong easterly wind, blowing five to six, and there were some two metre seas out there this morning, so it's not the best weather to start our service, unfortunately.

He added "This craft is very, very stable and produces a very good ride, even in poor conditions as we had this morning.

"Certainly, it does make my job more difficult, but this craft is so easy to operate, she's a perfect lady."

Back on land at Portobello, after the return trip, a few hardy souls who had decided to brave the weather were waiting for the next trip to Fife.

June Hall, who was with her granddaughters, told me some of her friends who were supposed to join them for a day out had changed their minds because of the stormy conditions.

She said: "If it was nicer weather, it would be okay."

Rain hitting the forth hovercraft
The stormy conditions did not cause the craft any problems

Stagecoach's regional director Robert Andrew did not seem perturbed by the low turnout, and insisted the two week trial was going "extremely well".

He said: "Up until now, we've had flat calm seas, so it's actually been very nice to have customers out there sampling the hovercraft in choppier conditions and they've loved it.

"We didn't really know what to expect. The first trip from Kirkcaldy had 40 on board, which is excellent for the first day. It's a Fife Monday holiday, the schools are off.

"There's been an awful lot of interest shown in the hovercraft and I'm sure once the clouds disappear, people will be flocking to it."

That they may do, even if just for the novelty of crossing the Forth at least once by hovercraft.

Whether the vessels become a permanent fixture on the estuary remains to be seen.

Hovercraft lift-off for the Forth
13 Jul 07 |  Edinburgh and East

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