The Hovercraft Courier
Many Geelong locals have long had a fascination with seeing some sort of ferry return to our bay. As soon as the idea is floated, plenty of suggestions are put forward of the type of vessel that should be part of the plan, from fast catamarans and hydrofoils to wing-in-ground-effect vehicles. One forgotten futuristic vessel that literally did get off the ground was a hovercraft known as the Courier. This hovercraft commenced operated between Port Melbourne, Rosebud, Frankston and Portarlington in 1987.
The craft itself was built under licence by NQEA Australia of Cairns during 1986 and was based on the successful British Hovercraft Corporation’s AP1-88 Hovercraft. The Courier was said to cost $2.8 million to construct at the time and its main focus was to be used as a commuter service linking the Mornington Peninsular with Station Pier. Portarlington was added to the schedule in the hopes of attracting some tourist trade as well. Despite the speed and novelty of the hovercraft patronage was not great and the owners of the craft soon discovered it was quite an expensive craft to operate. Travel time between Portarlington and Port Melbourne was around 45 Minutes, the initial timetable saw the service leave Rosebud at 10:35, Portarlington at 11:15 Port Melbourne at 1:00 and Portarlington for Rosebud at 1:45. Outside of the Portarlinton run the Courier concentrated on the Rosebud, Frankston, Port Melbourne route in a bid to attract city commuters.
There was grand plans at the time if the service ever became successful, it was hoped that one day comfortable terminal buildings could be built at each foreshore providing kiosk and tourist information facilities. On board the craft would be a licensed galley serving food and drinks. Many of the plans drew comparisons to air travel with an equivalently comfortable ride in aircraft style seating and plans for the booking system to be taken online to connect to travel agents. The vessel also had a audio system installed to provide commentary about the voyage.
Unfortunately not long after the service started the Courier’s engine bay caught fire after a fuel line came loose while docked at Portarlington. Luckily all the passengers had already disembarked and the damage was able to be repaired. The courier eventually returned to service on a reduced frequency, but the fire setback and high costs with little patronage proved too great for the already struggling service and the Courier was later sold off to Spain for a tourist services between Malaga, Ceuta and Benidorm in the late 1980’s.
First designed in the early 1980’s the AP1-88s seated around 100 passengers in a twin aisle configuration and have become one of the most successful of hovercraft designs, being used in both civilian and military service all around the world. AP1-88’s have also been a popular vessel on the last UK hovercraft service still in operation. This service is on the strait of water known as the Solent, between mainland England and the Isle of Wight. It is this service where our Courier ended up servicing between 1990 and 2000 under the same name.
After its UK service life it is said that the Courier was re-engined and sold on to Cuba in 2000 for £1m. At the time of writing we were unable to find out the eventual fate of Courier or if she is still operating under a new name. We do hope she is still is service somewhere and not on the scrap heap as despite her short life on our bay, the Courier will go down in history Australia’s first amphibious commercial passenger service.