Ferry service was never as wild as it was between Britain and France in the second half of the 20th century. Given that the Channel Tunnel wasn’t completed until 1994, there were two real options that you could utilize on your trip across the world’s busiest shipping lanes. You could take a conventional ferry service, which saw your car placed on a RoRo-style ship before you crossed the English Channel. Nothing wrong with that…sea-going ships have been in use in the Channel for about as long as humans have lived in the region…but if you really wanted an experience, you drove down to Dover, UK or to Boulogne-ser-Mer in Northern France and you waited in line to be one of the vehicles loaded onto this creature, the Saunders-Roe Nautical 4 Mountbatten-class hovercraft. She’s a beauty, isn’t she? 185 feet long, seventy-eight feet wide, weighing in at 320 tons at the maximum in Mark III form, and powered by four 3,800 shaft horsepower Rolls-Royce Proteus marinized gas turbine engines that often liked to belch some impressive flames out of any of the four rear exhaust ports. Four steerable 19-foot propellors got the motion going while a twelve-ton skirt keeps the air where it needs to be, directly underneath for lifting purposes.
Between 1968 and 2000, the SR.N4s were used as ferry service vehicles and only had one fatal incident, when GH-2006 Princess Margaret hit a seawall while attempting to dock in rough seas in 1985, killing four. The hovercraft were withdrawn mainly due to fuel cost and the inability to handle any more than sixty cars, and have since been replaced in form by the standard RoRo ferries and by the Channel Tunnel itself. Out of the six Mountbatten hovercraft, only one remains, the Princess Anne, which is on display at the Hovercraft Museum in Lee-on-the-Solent, Hampshire, England. They had the Princess Margaret there as well, until March 2018, when it was scrapped. Kind of a sad end to such a radical machine, don’t you think?