The cross-Channel hovercraft service made its final journey to Dover after succumbing to competition from the rail link and the ferries. Crowds gathered to watch the craft rise on its skirts and whisk off to sea for the last time. The two craft, Princess Anne and Princess Margaret, will be replaced by highs-peed catamarans that are cheaper to operate and can carry 100 cars, twice the number the hovercraft can accommodate.
After 32 years at sea the two craft have been offered for sale at £4.5m by their owner Sea Containers, the transport and leisure group. If a buyer cannot be found the craft will go to the hovercraft museum in Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire. Invented by Sir Christopher Cockerell, the hovercraft was heralded in the 1960s as a revolutionary means of transport. Sir Christopher experimented with coffee tins, kitchen scales and vacuum cleaners, and found that the best way to make boats go faster was to float them on a cushion of air.
The first hovercraft was built in 1959 by Sanders Roe on the Isle of Wight. It carried a crew of three at 25 knots over calm waters. In the 1970s it established a world record by crossing the Channel in 22 minutes, travelling at more than 60 knots. Hovercraft will continue to be used for passenger services between Southsea and the Isle of Wight. Many countries, including the US and Russia, use them for military manoeuvres as they are the only amphibian transport to allow troops and tanks to role out on land.