Seaspeed hovercraft services across the Solent
(Click on an image to get a larger version)
On 6th July 1966, British Rail Hovercraft Ltd. started their first hovercraft service between West Cowes and Southampton using an SR-N6 under the Seaspeed banner. The West Cowes terminal (shown right) was located at Medina Road on a site which for many years had been the storage area of a couple of Saunders Roe Princess Flying Boats. The Southampton terminal was at Crosshouse Road next to the Itchen Floating Bridge, now under the western end of the Itchen Bridge, a bit 'out of town' but there was a bus service into Southampton city centre. Both terminals were on land so the amphibious capabilities of the hovercraft were fully used.
See a Seaspeed Brochure from 1967 (contributed by Paul Bevis).
Over the winter 1971/72, both SR-N6 hovercraft had more powerful Gnome engines (1000 shp) fitted and were streched by 10ft to give increased seating for 58 passengers, these were known as the Mk1S. The first of the Seaspeed stretched SR-N6 took to the water from BHC, East Cowes on 11th February 1972. See a couple more pictures of the Mk1S.
The crossing between Cowes and Southampton was scheduled to take 20 minutes, the first hovercraft of the day leaving West Cowes on weekdays at 07:00 and the last leaving Southampton at 20:00, Sunday service started at 14:30 from West Cowes (see 1966 advert right - 15/- = 15 shillings = 75p, 7'6 = 7shillings and six pence = 37.5p).
June 1967 saw the 100,000th passenger on Seaspeed's Solent routes.
The conventional, Red Funnel, passenger/car ferry of that time took about 45 minutes to cross; since those day, Red Funnel have used a HM-2 Hovercraft (in 1969) hired from Hovertravel (according to their corporate website , Red Funnel had two HM-2's operating up until 1982 mainly used for transporting shipyard workers between the IW and Vosper Thornycroft's Itchen yard but occasionally appearing on the schedule run), Hydrofoils (the Shearwater series of vessels) and now (2004) High Speed Catamaran (the RedJets series), crossing time is now about 20 minutes, the same as the Seaspeed SR-N6 used in 1966 - although one must admit, in better comfort today.
Seaspeed SR-N6 at Southampton terminal, June 1967
(picture contributed by Barry Quelch)
May 1st 1976 saw the Cowes to Southampton route (the last remaining Seaspeed solent route) transferred to the new ownership of Solent Seaspeed - a joint Hovertravel and BHC company.
Postcard of Seaspeed SR-N6 in Cowes harbour
Postcard of Seaspeed SR-N6 at speed
In April 1967, Seaspeed started their West Cowes to Portsmouth service using an SR-N6. The West Cowes terminal was shared with the Southampton service while at Portsmouth, the SR-N6 moored along side a pontoon positioned at the pier head adjacent to the Portsmouth/Ryde passenger ferry.
The service ceased in September 1969.
Early 1968 saw Seaspeed start the Ryde Pier Head to Portsmouth Harbour route using a SR-N5 craft this was followed in April 1968 by the introduction of the first Hovermarine HM-2 sidewall hovercraft. Both the SR-N6 and the HM2 used pontoons at Ryde Pier Head and the Portsmouth Harbour terminal. At this time, the conventional ferries (MV Southsea and MV Brading) took half an hour to make the crossing, the nice thing crossing on these was that you could sit down and have a drink.
The HM2 service started on 1st April but was immediately hit by mechanical problems - a spokesman for rival Hovertraval (Ryde/Southsea SR-N6 service) was quoted in the local press "Well, it is April Fool's day". Reference the advert to the right, 6/- = 6 shillings = 30p, 3/- = 3 shillings = 15p.
The service closed in September 1972.