A couple of weeks ago when I was last in, I commented upon the hydrofoil footage in David Bowie’s film clip China Girl and it transpired that some of our listeners weren’t quite sure what a hydrofoil was. So today I thought we’d better rectify that.
We have a lot about ferries on Sydney Harbour in the Dictionary, but admittedly not so much about the hydrofoils. Luckily they were introduced to Sydney Harbour at a time when there was lots of colour photographs and moving footage. So there is plenty of coverage.The City of Sydney Archives and the National Archives have some great images.
So what is a hydrofoil? A hydrofoil was the fast ferry or jetcat of the 1960s. Boats that used hydrofoil technology were simply named after their engineering mechanism and called hydrofoils. The foil is a lifting surface that operates in water. The whole idea was that the hydrofoil would lift the boat’s hull out of the water, thereby decreasing drag, and allowing the boat to go faster. The first hydrofoil was introduced on the Circular Quay to Manly route in 1965 and it was the first hydrofoil in Australia.
The Port Jackson & Manly Steamship introduced the sleek modern transport to try to modernise the ferry route and boost patronage. The hydrofoil took half the time of the conventional big ferries (about 15 minutes compared to 35 minutes). They were fast yes, but tickets were also much more expensive for commuters. The first hydrofoil to ply Sydney Harbour was called the M.V. Manly III.
The following year, in 1966, the larger 140-seat Fairlight was introduced. This was followed by other hydrofoils. Like all our transport on Sydney Harbour, they had a suite of names. The hydrofoils were named after beaches. So there was Manly, Fairlight, Dee Why, Curl Curl, Long Reef, and Palm Beach. The wikipedia entry on Sydney hydrofoils has all the specifications.
Hydrofoils operated on the Circular Quay to Manly route throughout the 1970s and 1980s. I remember going on the hydrofoils as a kid. They were so exciting: the speed, the spray, those kooky hydrofoils that to me were magical.
By the mid-1980s there were hydrofoils capable of transporting 235 passengers, much larger than the original Manly III which could carry just 75 passengers. The last hydrofoil on Sydney Harbour was decommissioned on 18 March 1991. They were replaced by the Jetcat catamarans, but they too were scrapped on the Manly route at the end of 2008. So now hydrofoils are just a part of Sydney Harbour history.
Miss today’s segment? You can catch up via the 2SER website (update pending). Meanwhile, you can enjoy this video. Tune in 2SER Breakfast with Mitch Byatt on 107.3 every Wedensday morning at 8:20 am.