Monday, August 04, 2008

gliding on air

I spent a week at Boulogne and the adjacent resort of Le Portel.

Way back in the 70s there was a Hovercraft connection linking Dover to Boulogne in 30 minutes. Walking along the beach in Le Portel on July 31st, I came across the old Hoverport and terminal buildings. Essentially a tarmac ramp leading up to a few hangars and an five-storey building on stilts. The whole of it abandoned and left to the elements.

Later that day, reading the local newspaper, I found out that I had just visited the facility on its 40th birthday: It was officially opened by Princess Margaret on July 31 1968. It's quite spooky to see a technology so recently hailed as "the future" going the way of the Zeppelins.

What happened, I guess, is that the hovering technology was less fuel efficient (though still faster) than competing fast ferry services (such as the "seacat" catamaran, which is now run by, which we used to get there), and with the arrival of the Eurostar and chunnel services, it was ultimately doomed. Hovercraft services on the English channel were abandoned in 2000 according to the wikipedia entry, though the Dover Boulogne route and the Le Portel terminal were already given up in 1993 by the company Hoverspeed.

Speedferries's Speed 1 (the plural in the name is an exaggeration, they only run 1 ship on this route, which I think is their only one?!) takes 50 mins, by the way, was more than half an hour late on both legs of our journey, and every time I saw the ship on the days in between it was running late. Plus, as foot passengers, we got treated to the most inefficient travel procedure I've experienced in my life They ferry a minibus back and forth just for a maximum of 16 people, and one should not bring luggage, there is space for about 4 suitcases in total, 2 of which were actually blocking the exit for the 8 passengers in the back of the van.

So, maybe we should have kept the hovercrafts after all ?


LiteraryMinded said...

I think we all still like the idea of flying :-) I wouldn't mind a hover-skateboard type of transport. maybe I've just seen 'Back to the Future' too many times.

Michael said...

yes that would be cool. Ironically, the waiting room at Speedferries Boulogne terminal has a version of the "air hockey" (or whatever it's called) game, where you have a puck gliding on air streamed out of the table. Not sure whether this was meant as a tribute ...

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