We were at the Greenbelt Festival over the weekend, and among the talking points was the presence of HoverAid, who were giving hovercraft rides up and down the ornamental pond at Boughton House. I was, I will admit, predisposed to like HoverAid. For one, they work with hovercraft, which are second only to jetpacks as a badass form of transport. And secondly, they mainly work in Madagascar.
Large parts of Madagascar are more or less inaccessible, unless you’re prepared to travel on foot. The West coast is particularly remote. There are no roads to speak of, and those that do exist are impassable in the rainy season. The wide silty rivers aren’t navigable either, so the region is cut off and its communities isolated. You can fly in, but that’s expensive and you can’t carry much with you. Or you could take a hovercraft. Flying 2mm above the surface, a hovercraft can cover land or water, sand or swamp, even rapids. It can skim over floodwater without fear of hitting underwater debris.
But of course not many people have access to a hovercraft. Unless you live on the Isle of Wight, it’s not a common technology. So HoverAid have specialised in this niche technology, and operate a fleet of five hovercraft in Madagascar. They work alongside other agencies to deliver medicine and mosquito nets, to take volunteer doctors on tour around the villages, provide clean water, and coordinate flood relief efforts.
2016 marks their tenth year in Madagascar, with a permanent base in the country. In Britain, the work involves coordinating volunteers, and community outreach and fundraising – including giving rides to curious bloggers and their young sons. If you’re in the Cambridge area and have engineering skills, you can join their working parties to refurbish newly acquired machines and get them ready for service.
There’s an R&D side to it as well. The River Rover mk4, used in Madagascar, was initially developed by HoverAid, specifically for use in developed world contexts. More recently, it partnered with a UK firm to design a hovercraft that can be delivered by helicopter. Madagascar is regularly hit by cyclones, and they can now fly a vehicle in to assist with floods.