Let's be more honest, perhaps. It was indeed a rebuild, but
it happened in the spring, in a rush to get ready for the first
race of the season on May 1st. After the spontaneous dismantling
event at the end of the 98 season a serious hull rebuild was
needed. A lot of the previous structure was cut out and replaced
with foam and fibreglass construction. This at least moved the
join between different elements away from the main line that collects
impact damage. The base of the hull was finished off with kevlar
which is supposed to be more hardwearing. The kevlar cloth is
the yellow material in the photos. And it was all done with polyester
resin rather than epoxy. Kevlar is affordable and I'm told that
polyester bonds better to existing construction and is easier
to repair in the future. At my level in the game, those things
outweigh any arguments about carbon fibre and epoxy being stronger.
The new hull base meant a new steering column and so I also built a whole new steering control system, the way one would do it on an aeroplane. I even had the local motorcycle engineering firm set me up two rebored cyclinders and new pistons for the engine. What I didn't do was to rebuild the rudder arrangement - I knew it could be improved, but I ran out of time.
1st, 2nd & 3rd May 1999
The first meeting of the season always seems to be at Mere Brow in Lancashire. If you take a globe and a pair of compasses you can mark off the latitude divisions to calculate how far from normal civilisation this is. Undoubtedly it is so far north that the Coriolis effect is different.
Mere Brow is not a good course. Most of it is over water, which is normally good news as there is room to explore, test the craft and of course, to make mistakes. But at Mere, some of the water is in difficult narrow sections with no room for manouevre and an abundance of obstacles - one of which we shall come to later.
The first day I spent in the paddock finishing off the craft. I was ready for the first race of the second day and sat at the back of the grid intending to take it easy. I even waited for the others to move off before opening up. But there are only two throttle positions that work on an integrated hovercraft, or at least only two that I have found. By the end of the first turn out on the lake I had overtaken some of the back markers and was on a high speed run alongside another craft as we headed for the canal entrance.
There is a surprising amount that I remember. I remember believing that I had managed to avoid the tree. And then I remember having a semi conscious debate with myself about whether to pull the ripcord on my inflatable lifejacket, part of me maintaining that this was worth considering - on account of being underwater with a hovercraft on top. I was still working on the problem when I floated free. I stood up and waded ashore, much to the amazement of the Red Cross man, who was about to send for a stretcher.
I couldn't walk properly for a week, and the pain in my chest took four weeks to go. I had suffered what motor racers refer to as a rapid deceleration accident. I think I was lucky, though; what seems to have happened is that the hovercraft went into the hard part of the tree, while I went through the soft part.
Mere Brow is not a safe course. It was my own silly fault that I got it wrong, but what is a tree doing on a race course? In any other sport, the trees are ten metres away, behind the straw bales and the pile of tyres. At Mere Brow, people were saying that many drivers don't come to this meeting, but its assumed that's just because they haven't got ready for the start of the season. Months later, I would be talking to another hovercraft racer: "I'm the guy who drove into a tree at Mere", I said. "Which one of the four were you?", he replied.
Mere Brow is not the way to start the season. Someone ought to stand up and say that it is not suitable for novices, inexperienced drivers or for anyone with brittle bones, dependents or a promising career. Mere Brow is only for the safe, sensible, cautious sort of person. But none of those have hovercraft.
31st July & 1st August 1999
Not a bad meeting really. Craft was rebuilt. New triple rudder system installed which gave much improved control. Fuller report to be posted soon.
28, 29 & 30th August 1999
See Hovercraft Club of Great Britain site for details. Follow links below.
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How it began: the 1998 season
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