Sunday 15th February 2004 dawned fine and calm, and the sea was like a mirror, a very good day to trial an R.N.L.I. Hovercraft on the River Mersey and to survey the coast line from New Brighton to Southport, for likely trouble spots and for suitable launching and landing sites.
We took R.N.L.I. Hovercraft H 001 Molly Rayner to the plateau at the side of Fort Perch Rock, and prepared to launch her. Our Instructor and Commander was Tony Stankus, R.N.L.I. Hovercraft Operations Manager. Once Molly Rayner was prepared for her trip and after a safety talk by Tony, Graham, Paul and I took up our positions in Molly, and we set off from New Brighton at approximately 1030hrs.
Tony raised the craft onto the hover and then began to power her forward. We ran down to the waters edge and just carried on out into the river. There was no difference in sensation in travelling over land or water both felt exactly the same to me.
We initially made our way to the sandbanks off Crosby, where Tony demonstrated the manoeuvrability of the Hovercraft and introduced us to the ways in which we could assist in the manoeuvres. The Hovercraft is susceptible to the movement of its crew and this movement is used to advantage when turning the craft and also helps in keeping it steady when under way.
The crew are directed by the Commander to move either to Port or Starboard depending on which way the craft needs to be turned, the most weight being in the direction of the turn. The movements are not dramatic but subtle sideways movements across the rear bench seat, introducing small changes in weight from one side to the other, or backward and forward movements to move the bow up or down.
Water ballast may also be moved forward or aft to trim the craft to its optimum operating condition.
Tony also demonstrated how the use of the downdraft and the speed of the craft is used to negotiate gullies, banks and depressions in the sandbanks and beaches. It was pleasing to see just how capable this craft was and why it was such a valuable life saving tool. It could go where no boat could go and into places where no person, survivor or rescuer should be venturing on foot. There was no need for the craft to have to settle down when picking up survivors, they could be lifted aboard whilst it was in the hover. without harm and without the crew having to get out of the craft.
Once the demonstrations and our practices were complete, we moved on to the beach in front of the Crosby Coastguard Station, where Coastguard Officers from the station were able to see the Molly Rayner close up and to question Tony on a number of issues.
Time was pressing and after bidding goodbye to the Coastguards and members of the public who had stopped to admire Molly and to comment on her need in the area, we began our survey of the coastline up to Southport. It is amazing the vastness of the beaches and sandbanks that are showing at low tide in this area.
We saw many people walking along the waterline, which in some cases, must have been a mile or more from the shore. It was all so easy to see just how they could be cut off or become endangered if the weather suddenly changed or they were involved in an accident.
We identified a number of suitable places for launching and for recovery and were able to navigate vast areas covered only by a few inches of water. Obstructions and dangers to navigation were spotted and noted, as this area has a number of wrecks and wreckage dotted around it which are not marked on any chart.
Southport Fairground soon appeared on the horizon and once it was abeam we made our way inland across about a mile of beach to rendezvous with the crew of the Southport Rescue Boat who were waiting to great us on the embankment.
We settled right in front of them, at the bottom of the embankment and they were able to come down onto the beach and inspect Molly. It was great to see their enthusiasm and interest in her and their questions, observations and experiences showed just how valuable the presence of an R.N.L.I. Hovercraft would be in this area.
Tony then demonstrated the versatility of Molly carrying out a few manoeuvres for them and for an admiring crowd who had gathered. Once again time was pressing and there was another crew to go out in Molly in the afternoon, so we had to being our journey back towards New Brighton.
On the way back, Tony instigated a number of exercises in which we gained valuable experience in the performance of the Hovercraft and its capabilities.
Time had flown and we were soon back in the Mersey and approaching New Brighton for a crew change.
There is no doubt in my mind and the minds of us all at New Brighton Lifeboat Station that a Hovercraft stationed here would be a very valuable addition. We all hope that the trials will be judged to have been successful and that we will be welcoming a new member to our R.N.L.I. family, in the not too distant future.