The Italian Hydrofoils
In May 1972 the first high-speed passenger service on the London River was opened for a six-month experiment. The vessels were RHS-70, 71-seat V-foil hydrofoils constructed at the Leopoldo. Rodriguez shipyard at Messina, and the service operated between Greenwich Pier and Tower Pier. There fierce battles were fought with the many private tourist boats already competing with each other for access to the piers. These new craft were not well-suited to the peculiar hazards of the tideway; trading in the livery of the Thames Arrow Express, they reached and maintained 32 knots with ease, but their splayed legs and wide foils made them quite difficult to manoeuvre alongside the boarding pontoons in conditions of strong tides, heavy swell and high winds. They were also prone to picking up large baulks of timber, small trees and discarded prams, half-submerged dinghies and the like floating in the river, resulting in these fast craft subsiding back into the water and continuing their journey at a sedate walking pace.
Greenwich Foot Tunnel Map Photo Gallery
The British Hovercraft
The Italian hydrofoils were replaced by two, later three, British Hovermarine HM2 fixed sidewall hovercraft that had a capacity of between 60 and 65 seats and excellent reliability and manoeuverability. Their only vice was a tendency in strong wind against tide conditions to raise a skirt in a heavy swell and release a high-pressure spray of dirty Thames water over the unsuspecting tidily-suited commuters queuing patiently on the pontoon with their folded newspapers and furled umbrellas, and soaking them thoroughly. The hovercraft performed well at full capacity through the rail-strikes of 1973-74, but ceased operations as soon as the strike ended and consumer enthusiasm fell away. By then, the monthly GLC/LORICA cost-benefit analysis was beginning to give steeply negative readings.
The Russian Hydrofoils
In May 1974, two 58-seat Russian Raketa hydrofoils began a daily commuter service from Gravesend to Tower Pier and in October 1974 were switched seamlessly to replace the hovercraft on the Greenwich-Tower-Westminster service. Other Russian demonstration hydrofoils arrived, first a 102-seat Kometa and various six- to eight-seat water-taxis. The Russians also had problems with debris caught in the foils and propellers, and LORICA negotiated free vodka for all evening commuters whenever there were delays in securing a tow home.
The US Jetfoil
Finally, from June 1977, a 42-knot 110-ton Boeing Jetfoil with a seating capacity of 200 passengers was was tried out on the river and given a license to run a daily service from St Katherine’s Pier to Zeebrugge, taking three-and-a-half hours each way. There were navigational concerns about such large vessels travelling fast in narrow channels and over old tunnels, and the service was suspended.
The Thames Arrow (1972-1973) was a revolutionary Italian design, but the projecting hydrofoil caused problems at the piers.
The Russian Kometa (1973-1974) replaced the Thames Arrow. It proved to be too unwieldy and was replaced by two smaller Russian Raketas.
From July 1973 to October 1974, three British sidewall hovercraft provided daily services between Westminster, Tower Pier and Greenwich. In the background is the Danish Royal Yacht on a visit to the Royal Naval College.
In June 1977, a new high-speed daily services down the Thames was inaugurated between St Katharine’s Pier and Zeebrugge, taking three-and-a-half hours each way using a US 42 knot, 110-ton Boeing Jetfoil, the Flying Princess, with a capacity of 200 passengers.
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