Updated: 23 Jan 2020
World's First Passenger &
Mail Hovercraft Service
20th July 1962
the 40th Anniversary - July 2002
The Hovercraft started operating on 20th July 1962. It was known as the VA3. See the images below. The previous year there had been discussions on where to operate the hovercraft. Moreton and Rhyl were suggested by a Mr Douglas Whybrow, General Manager of Channel Air Bridge. Hoylake was the original choice, but with the engines being very noisy, Moreton was chosen as it had a good flat beach, the same as Rhyl, and when the tide was in the embankment was a place to land. Many passengers were to use what was called a Hover coach. The hovercraft was scheduled to do 12 trips a day. This they achieved on 6 days only, on 4 other days they reached 10 trips. In total it only ran on 19 days out of 54. On the 36 days it did not run, the reasons were varied. The principal ones being strong winds and high seas, and continual failure of the rear lift engine. Its last trip was on Friday 14th September 1962. It left Moreton Shore at 1.15pm en route to Rhyl. When just over half way, one of the lift engines failed, soon after the other failed. It eventually limped into Rhyl. Although there were 2 more days scheduled, it was not to be. The next day was very stormy, preventing repairs. Captain Old decided to remain on board overnight because of the winds and in the early hours of Sunday morning the craft broke free from its moorings. Captain Old managed to start the propulsion engine and prevent it drifting out to sea. When the tide receded, the hovercraft was safely beached and remained there till the next day. This time all 3 Captains remained on board; they were Captains Old, Colqhoun and White. The winds were even stronger the next day and the craft once again broke free from its moorings., this time drifting out to sea. Captain Colqhoun signalled the Coast guard who called out the lifeboat. The craft was by now a quarter mile out to sea. The Captains boarded the lifeboat and left the craft to the mercy of the wind. It was driven towards the shore and the promenade wall. When it came ashore everyone did their best to secure her to the wall; this they succeeded in doing with great difficulty with the pounding it was taking from the waves. 2 mobile cranes were brought in to lift her out to safety at 7.30am on Monday morning 17th September 1962.
Some points to note:
Hovercraft Type Vickers VA3.
It was the first Hovercraft Mail Service in the World.
It was the first passenger carrying hovercraft in the world.
Its top speed was 60 knots and hovered 8 inches above a solid surface and to ride over waves.
It weighed 10 tons and could carry a 2 ton payload.
It was run by British United Airways through Furness Withy Ltd (Shipping Agents).
All the major papers of the day mentioned it, including The Times. A Colour supplement was issued by the Liverpool Echo.
Ross recalls - "I do remember the occasion despite my young age of 10 yrs., I recall a dull grey day very quiet and sullen, no security keep out zone and an absence of high visibility safety clothing and protective headgear. they were yet to be invented. I would imagine there to be a couple of hundred people out to watch, all looking at the horizon in anticipation of the first glimpse of the craft and nobody really knowing what to expect as most people had never even seen a hovercraft before. Then when she was first sited all you could hear was people shouting loudly '' yes there she is'' a grey silhouette surrounded by a shroud of spray from beneath her skirt. it seemed to take for ever for her to draw closer, probably only 20 mins. When she arrived and left the water to glide out on to the flat area of the beach she appeared much larger than I imagined and very noisy as would be if you were stood 100 feet from a twin engine aircraft at full throttle and they had no noise suppression on aircraft engines in those days. Amusingly, if you look closer at the photo in the background you will see a number of people paddling in the sea having no interest at all at what is happening behind them. After the turn around period, she took on new passengers and returned to Rhyl, having excited and entertained some people of Wallasey and the Wirral watching history in the making."
The following images are courtesy
of Chris Potter from
The Hovercraft Museum
Sir Christopher Cockerell - The Inventor of The Hovercraft
The inset in incorrect, as it has the Hovercraft going to New Brighton and not Moreton
The following postcard was sent to Martin Church of Derby by his grandparents.
Its been quite a while since my last update, but today, 12th October 2006, I received a very interesting email from a gent who lived under the "noise" of the Hovercraft. Here is what he had to say on the subject:
In 1962 I was 7 and lived in Moreton, just 1 mile from the sea wall. From our house we could clearly hear the hovercraft coming and going; the sea wall seemed to magnify the sound somehow. Streams of people passed our house heading for the shore, most just sightseers. There was lots of talk of people trying to queue jump but I suspect that was just rumour. We went to see it a few times but after a while it got boring. We were never going to be able to afford to go on it; the frequent mechanical problems meant that you spent most of your time hanging about and when it did operate, it was here and gone so fast and the huge press of people made it difficult to see anything. In the end we even got fed-up with the noise! The sand and water thrown up by the engines and from the skirt was tremendous and I can remember my Dad saying that it wouldn't do the engines any good. Needless to say when the engines did fail he was cock-a-hoop for his prediction. There was also a lot of "location" jealousy, much of it reflected in the press. People in Moreton were adamant that it was a Moreton affair; The Wallasey News claimed the service was a Wallasey possession - which was a bit of a cheek, given that Wallasians normally denied any kinship with the lowly and looked-down upon Moretonites! The Liverpool Echo thought it was a Merseyside attribute and that was really stretching the bounds. But I have often challenged people to name the worlds first hovercraft passenger service; few if any get it right. Well done for an interesting and well presented website. Yours Aye, Dan Tanzey.
July 2011: One year to the 50th Anniversary of this historic event. I got this email from Pamela Townson: I was a passenger on the first passenger trip from Moreton shore to Rhyl in 1962. My father was the Mayor of Wallasey at the time and before the hovercraft went into regular service the local dignitaries and the press were given a preview trip. I was not an invited guest but one of the aldermen who was invited took me along as his wife was unable to go. What an exciting day. I was 16 years old and had never "flown" or travelled far by sea.
- Good site on Hovercraft and
only site, other than mine, to mention the VA3
Thank you to Nick Gurney of Rhyl for some of the above images & documents
http://www.hover.globalinternet.co.uk/cockerell.html - How Sir Christopher Cockerell did it - excellent page. All about the man.
http://www.hover.globalinternet.co.uk/years.html - Hovercraft History
Received an email from Martin Church on 7th March 2007, it contained a link to this item in the Rhyl Journal
RHYL could welcome the
return of hovercrafts to its shores with news that pleasure cruise company
wants to offer a service from the resort. Cheshire-based
Hovercraftrental's proposals to operate short trips from Rhyl down the coast
to Prestatyn, towards Colwyn Bay and the Little Orme and along the coastline
into the Dee Estuary, received the backing of Rhyl Town Councillors. The
members believe the return of the mode of transport to the resort - last seen
in the early 1960s - and its distinctive bright yellow craft would prove a hit
with today's day-trippers and long-stay tourists.
Several years later and I have heard nothing about this since ...........
Delighted to receive an email today (Dec 5th 2014) From Madeline Maisey (need Old) She was the daughter of Capt Old the Hovercraft Capt. She says:
Just read about the Worlds First Hovercraft Service from Rhyl to Moreton. I remember it very well as my father was Captain Old, and I spent the whole summer there. Many memories. Madeline Maisey(Old)