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The last flight of the Hovercraft out of Dover
The Princess Margaret's last ever trip to Calais was on Sunday 1 October 2000

It is 10 years since the final flight of a Hovercraft out of Dover.

A hovercraft is a vessel which skims the water on a three foot cushion of air. When it reaches land it simply deflates that cushion and sits down.

It needed no special ports or tying up and could cross the Channel in half an hour. It was simple and it was British.

The world's first metal hovercraft crossed from Calais to Dover in two hours on 25 July 1959 with its inventor Sir Christopher Cockerel on board.

The first two cross channel passenger services started in 1966 with a Hoverlloyd service from Pegwell Bay to Calais.

Hovercraft crew
The flight crew from the summer of 1976

The two SRN6 craft called Swift and Sure were put into service and at 7.30am on 6 April 1966 Swift made the first crossing. On 14 June 1966 Townsend Car Ferries launched Britannia to cross from Dover but bad weather and technical problems saw that service withdrawn by July.

The world's first hovercraft car ferry made its maiden trip from Dover to Boulogne on 11 June 1968 and crossed in 25 minutes reaching speeds of 50 knots.

That year also saw the introduction of the first SRN4 craft which were powered by four Rolls Royce Proteus gas turbine engines.

Hovercraft at Western Docks
A new Hoverport at Western Docks in Dover was built in 1978

The Princess Margaret came into commercial service for Seaspeed and was officially named by royalty. The first summer trips cost just £3.50 for a single journey and £3 for a day round trip. One year later the Princess Anne came into operation.

By 1971 there were 78 weekly flights from Dover to Boulogne and 88 from Pegwell Bay to Calais.

In 1978 the new Dover Hoverport at the Western Docks was put into service at a cost of £14 million and the newly stretched SRN4s were put into use to carry more cars and make the service more viable.

At its peak, in 1982, the Hovercraft was carrying 2.5 million passengers and 400,000 cars in just six months but the site at Pegwell Bay was closed to commercial traffic and used only as a maintenance base.

Remains of Hoverport
The only visible sign of the former Hoverport is a single propeller

But in 1994 the Channel Tunnel opened and even though the Hovercraft was still the fastest way to cross from Kent to France, its days were numbered.

On October 1st 2000, the last Hovercraft was brought up onto the beach outside the former Churchill Hotel in Dover at the spot where the first hovercraft had landed in 1959.

Crew and enthusiasts had gathered and she flashed her lights and bowed her head to mark the end of an amazing reign at sea.


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