Danny & The Hovercraft

Subject: Danny & The Hovercraft
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 1998 10:48:10 +0800

The story of Danny & the Hovercraft : -)

I've been asked to report on my attempts to get a different persepctive on
the mudflats of Roebuck Bay. Well, I've seen them from the underside of a
moving hovercraft, so I guess everything is going to plan... What happened
is this.
Broome Bird Observatory has a small hovercraft. It takes two small people,
or one big one; travels quickly and smoothly over expanses of glutinous mud
that take days to walk through; makes an awful noise but strangely enough,
hardly scares birds at all. Dangerous? Not a bit of it. It was used for a
couple of hundred hours during the June invertebrate mapping expedition in
Roebuck Bay, and not a single person was killed.

I needed the machine in October to map wader distributions at low tide in
some of the inaccessible parts of Roebuck Bay. Chris and Jan, the wardens
of BBO, were very helpful here. In retrospect some of their actions may
have been odd - they insisted that I took a mobile phone with me whenever I
took the machine out, asked for details of my next of kin and so on. They
also found me a pilot, Rob, and with his help we sorted out various
maintenance problems. Apparently it isn't supposed to have fuel of similar
colour and viscosity to vegemite.

All prepared, Rob and I headed out onto the flats. After ten minutes, we
were some 6 km from where we started, out on the sea-edge at a point I
could only reach otherwise with a three-hour walk (and from which I could
only normally return by swimming). The hovercraft was going briskly and
sideways (it isn't easy to steer in a strong breeze). Suddenly it gave a
mighty lurch. Rob was holding on the handlebars and stayed in the craft. I
had nothing to hang on to, so out I flew - landing in the path of the
hovercraft, which went right over me. Seconds later I was on my feet again,
completely unscathed; there was a neat Rogers-mould in the mudflats and Rob
was wringing his hands and saying "whatever you do, don't tell Jan". In
fact it wasn't his fault at all - the hovercraft had spontaneously
developed a large tear in the skirt and the wind had caught under this. If
Rob hadn't quickly gone to full throttle when I got thrown out, the
hovercraft would probably have ground over me rather painfully instead of
gliding over the top. On the whole it was an instructive experience. There
are rumours that hovercrafts crush lots of invertebrates but I no longer
believe this; if they don't harm a person when they go over the top, the
tough benthic inhabitants of the mudflats are probably immune to hovercraft
damage. I've also developed a new theory about what the waders of Roebuck
Bay eat - mud! It is a bit salty with a dash of hydrogen sulphide, but it
must be nutritious. I only swallowed a mouthful, but I wasn't hungry for
hours afterwards.

Sorry, I digress. Since the accident had happened in the area I had been
aiming at anyway, I did an hour of mapping - the sea-edge is most exciting
part of the mudflats when it comes to watching waders feed. We nursed the
damaged hovercraft back to the launching point, and while Rob guarded the
machine, I walked back to the observatory to fetch the trailer. Jan saw me,
and took note of my mud-caked whole. "Hi Danny", she said. "You're looking
very muddy. Did Rob run you over?" "Yes he did" I replied.

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