The fifth and emphatically final round of the hovercraft day out involved zooming round most of the National Hovercraft Circuit, missing out only the top of one field which had been set over for haymaking, splashing in and out of the lake across four transitions. I only managed three of those...
The following picture shows me on the water before our altercation. Hovering on water is, in principle, rather easier than on land, at least at first, because the water is relatively flat. This may not be true if there's a high wind, but in that case you've got extra problems on land as well. The snag is that water cannot be trusted to stay flat. If there's a hovercraft thumping in and out of it and blasting across the surface this causes waves which get caught under the skirt, creating the same sort of sticky navigational problems as bumps and hollows in a field, with the interesting extra twist that the watery ones move beneath you...
Crossing the lake for the second time I got a bit too close to the island in the middle and got caught up in the foliage. I started to rock the craft as I'd got used to doing when I strayed into the long grass on land, but miscalculated a combination of my high centre of gravity, the wobbliness of the hovercraft, and the waves in the water. I felt the whole thing start to topple and leaned the other way, but too late...
I ended up fully submerged with the hovercraft above me, administering a couple of sharp taps to the head which, crash-helmet notwithstanding, put a hefty bump on my bonce and a bruise on my cheek. My immediate preoccupation was the unplanned fundamentalist baptism, which was giving me a choice between rapidly evolving gills or finding a quick way to the surface. Not relishing death by drowning, or being born again for that matter, I hurriedly struck out towards the light and soon popped up, in a few feet of water and almost of many of underlying mud, alongside the inverted hovercraft. Ooops.
I swam and then waded towards the bank but once the others had established that I was about as functional as I'd been before immersion, they waved me back into the water to rescue the stricken craft, helpfully throwing a rope for me to tie on, so they could participate in the recovery from the comfort of dry land.
The next tricky bit was getting the hovercraft back the right way up. Even without me on board it had a lot more weight at what was designed to be the top - now pointing mudwards near the island - than under the skirt. The engine and tail were holding it upside down, so Simon Kemp, son of the organiser, took to the waves to help me turn the boat over and drag it back to shore.
Turning the boat was not easy because as you try to lift any load while standing up to your waist in a lake your feet, shoes, socks, shins and potentially knees and thighs are driven down into the ooze. I recovered my shoes by dead reckoning a couple of times, but started to realise they were not going to be much good thereafter.
Anyway we two Simons hefted the boat over eventually and with help from the rope-pullers we got it back to the edge of the lake - where it was inclined to stay, having collected a substantial amount of lake-contents en route.
The crew on land helped get the craft across the transition rather more slowly than I'd earlier hoped, as I dripped up into the field and the other Simon checked the skirt for damage.
Hefting the boat upwards displaced the rest of the water and showed that there was no damage underneath, but one of the fanblades had disappeared completely and another was broken partway along its length. There was no sign of the lanyard that had linked the dual ignition cut-off switches to my wrist, but it had done its job, stopping the engine promptly once I no longer had a good use for it. It's now somewhere in the lake, doubtless with several others, awaiting the attention of future archeologists who will, on past form, try to work out what primitive religious ritual it played a vital part in. ;-)
The ground crew dragged the hovercraft up into the field, and Jeremy started to strip down the engine. I was quite embarrassed about this and relieved to be told that it was expected to be a straight-forward repair; I was not the first to take a bath, and would doubtless not be the last; the yellow hovercraft was soon fired up and the other participants were zooming and splashing around before long, while Chris and Ingo helped me get warm and dry again.
I wrote down my email details for the others, and am grateful to Agnes, who was taking pictures of behalf of her family members and my fellow participants William and Ian, for many of the pictures above, and to Chris for taking the others.
© Simon N Goodwin, Warwick, June/July 2005