You can add HTML directly into this element to render on the page.

Just edit this element to add your own HTML.

Crossing the English Channel

​The Hollow Man     |     The Hollow Man Series, International Espionage

In the early 1970’s there were only a few ways to cross the English Channel. Before the “Chunnel”, one had to cross by plane, ferry, hovercraft, or swim. Flying was not everyone’s first choice, like it may be today, so the next logical choice for low and middle class travelers was the always on-time train network. Well, trains don’t float, so they all had arrangements with shipping lines to ferry train passengers from coast to coast. Problem solved.

My initial crossing between Calais, France and Dover, England was onboard a modern 150 foot passenger ferry. The sea was wobbly at best with a strong wind out of the east, slicing across the ship’s bow. With a draft of only 10 feet, the ship leaned leeward at 45 degrees for most of the 2-hour trip. After disembarking, the passengers walked like drunken sailors until safely back on our connecting train. If only the ferries had cruise ship gyroscopic technology back then to keep themselves balanced in the water.

On my return crossing, I spent the evening in Dover at a quaint bed & breakfast near the boat launch. An urgent call back to France required me to catch the first ferry across the next morning. I happened to mention to the proprietor during dinner that I was not looking forward to another 2-hour life boat romp.

“Oh, honey, take the hovercraft. It’s only 45 minutes across and it’s so smooth. You’re riding on air,” she said.

I called to update my reservation from the lobby pay phone. The familiar double ring sounded twice. When the clerk answered, I pushed a 50p coin in the slot and switched my reservation to the hovercraft. Back in my room, I watched TV until I fell asleep.

I made my way down the stairs in the morning. The front door stood open, allowing a soft breeze to enter the hallway behind me. The bed & breakfast proprietor was all smiles. She placed a full English breakfast in front of me; it was enough food for two days.

“Eat a good meal,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day, and the sea is calm. The crossing will be enjoyable. And do come back to see me real soon, honey.”

An hour later, I was standing on the beach looking at a deflated hovercraft. The fat inner tube was flattened so passengers could climb aboard. I fell in the queue with the crowd and ascended the temporary staircase. There was seating similar to an airplane cabin on each side of the vehicle. A hall connected the two sections at the front and the back of each aisle, effecting creating a square for passenger mobility. In the middle lay the hovercraft engines away from prying eyes.

I looked for a quiet seat far away from the other passengers. Seeing none, I walked down the hall to the other side of the hovercraft. A grammar school group occupied most of the left side, so I returned to the right side to squeeze between two rows filled with older couples. When we went on a field trip in grammar school, we were ushered into the recess playground. In Europe, kids get to visit other countries for Pete’s sake.

A loud rumble signaled the inflation of the inner tube and the twin engines high up on the back of the vehicle pushed us along the beach and immediately into rough waters. It turned out the English believed twelve foot whitecaps to be a calm sea. We rode up to the top of a wave and instantly slammed to the bottom just before climbing up on the next wave. Within ten minutes, every passenger was at death’s door. Most were too weak to rise for the bathroom and those who weren’t stood eight-deep waiting to throw up.

Every passenger except the school excursion, that is. A group of them began chasing one another around the square walkway. One vomited about ten feet from the front end of my aisle, looked at it, stepped over the mess, and kept running. The next kid slipped in it like he was sliding into second base and slammed against the front wall. He was on the run as soon as he recovered his balance. The next kid sees this and didn’t want to miss out on the fun, so he purposely slid and bounced against the wall. He got up laughing. Every kid after that slid, banged, and kept running.

Every. Single. Kid. Every. Few. Seconds. For. Thirty. Freaking. Minutes.

I was the last one off the hovercraft. My legs were as unstable as the sea and I had to sit in the sand before entering the building. A French customs officer joined me, no doubt because he thought I was burying drugs between my outstretched knees. I could have used some right about then to put me out for a few hours.​