I first became interested in small hovercraft about ten years ago, after watching a Top Gear programme on television with Jeremy Clarkson showing the Hovercraft World Championships which was held in the UK that year. At that time money was tight so the thought of owning a hovercraft soon went to the back of my mind along with all the other dreams that seem to never materialise.
I had spent more years than I care to mention in the motor trade, working in body shops as a panel beater/sprayer. Over the years in my spare time I have built several kit cars, restored a number of cars and motorbikes. I was into building radio controlled planes for a few years, these I always built from plans rather than kits as I enjoyed the building process more than flying them. I like having projects on the go and in the Summer of 2008 I started to think about what I wanted to do next. I wanted to do something that I had not done before. I started to think possibly about building a boat, maybe a trike or a chopper. Then I remembered how much I wanted a hovercraft and set about researching what was available. I started searching the internet to see if any kits were available, prices etc. I soon came across a hovercraft forum called the Hovercraft Club of Great Britain (HCGB). This site proved to be invaluable with the wealth of information available from its members. Initially I was going to build a small hovercraft of approximately 3 metres in length. These smaller craft are used mainly for racing and are not suitable for using in the sea. As I live next to the sea and the nearest hovercraft racing events were 500 + miles away from where I live, it made more sense to build a hovercraft that could be used safely in the sea.
After further research I decided to build a Sevtec Surveyor. The surveyor could carry up to five people, could cope with a two foot swell at sea, and used a lawn tractor engine for power. I ordered the plans from the USA and within a couple of weeks they had arrived through my letterbox.
I had soon ordered the materials to build the hull, as I wanted to crack on with the build so would be able to use the hovercraft the following Summer. I started to build the hull in October 2008. The hull was fairly straightforward to make. It is built from lots of flat panels that are joined together by fibreglass tape at their seams. Each panel is initially cut out of special foam and then a fibreglass skin is added to each side, which adds considerable strength to the panels, but also keeps them light. The process is slow, but is the easiest way of producing a one off craft.
By May of 2009 I had the hull finished and ready to fit the mechanical bits and pieces. I was surprised by how long this took. I had initially thought that another couple of months and the craft would be in use. “How wrong was I?”! I spent the next six months making the engine frame, fan guard, making the skirt and fitting all the electrics. This process seemed to go on forever. I also had to build a trailer that I could transport the craft around on. Eventually everything came together and the day arrived for its maiden flight. My Wife & I transported the hovercraft on the trailer to the other end of the village to the slipway at Murray Square. Would it fly? Would it float? Could I control it? What if it breaks down in the middle of the loch? How would I get the craft back to shore? Some of the many questions I had going through my head just before I took it out onto the water for the first time. The hovercraft is like a people magnet, no sooner had I started to unload it from the trailer people seemed to arrive from nowhere. I had initially chosen this site for the maiden flight as it was away from the centre of the village so less chance of having an audience as I was sure to crash into something.
I tried to fly the craft around the car park but there were too many obstacles, so I got brave and headed down the slipway and across the pebble beach towards the loch. As I left land and ventured onto the water I thought to myself there is no going back now. I had a couple of short flights near to shore, just in case of any mechanical problems. Everything seemed ok so I headed towards the top end of the loch which meant flying along the shore line of the Village of Lochcarron. I was dreading it as I knew there would be a lot of people watching and from past experience that is when things tend to go wrong. I made it to the top of the loch before turning around and heading back to Murray Square. The hovercraft had now completed approximately 4 miles on the water. I then beckoned my wife Becky to get into the craft and I took her across the beach towards the water. Becky was terrified as we left land and set off across the water. I didn’t take her very far as she was obviously not happy out on the water on a cold frosty day in December. There is a video of this event
Over the next few months I made several minor alterations to the craft. These included changing the rudder design and fitting five rudders, fitting a GPS system and reducing the width of the fan guard. The alteration that I feel made the biggest difference was changing the exhaust system. The hovercraft was way too noisy and after being on it for an hour or so your ears would be ringing. I set about making a 2 into 1 exhaust and fitted a motorcycle silencer. Now the only noise you can hear is the 72 inch thrust propeller and the 24 inch lift fan spinning, which meant there was no need to wear ear plugs while on the craft anymore.
I could not have built my first hovercraft if it was not for the help and advice I had received from John Robertson, Steve Holland, Ian Brooks, Bob Rasmussen, Park Oliver, who are also owner / builders of Sevtec hovercraft.
Also thank you to Malcolm & Sheila Cudby for letting me use their workshop to build the hull in.