My wife and I were on holiday on the island of Tenerife in 2010 when all aircraft were grounded because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.
The call was clear and precise and the guy was moving about quite frenetically. He shouted ‘The group I was talking to twenty minutes ago, if you don’t mind going by boat you have fifteen minutes to get to reception – there will be no waiting.’
We needed to go – by any means just as long as we were moving nearer to home. We were ready (just a few last minute things to pack) in ten minutes. The guests in the hotel were being shipped in groups of various sizes and by various means; our group was of fourteen people and we were soon in the mini-bus and heading down the coast road I think we all expected a larger ship – we had heard of cruise liners being used – but our means of escape was to be somewhat smaller. The ‘ship’ was a coastal protection vessel and not overly big, but we were assured it was extremely fast and it would get us to Spain, which of course was so much nearer to home. The route would be straight up the west coast of Africa, mostly with land in sight.
We were told not to expect hotel comfort or food – the captain knowing the situation on Tenerife only too well had kindly offered to help with the use of his boat. He was pleased when two couples refused to board. I didn’t blame them; they were elderly and clearly needed a bit more comfort that would be provided on this transport. That meant a little bit more comfort for the remaining ones. The ship had a fair turn of speed and was well-stabilized. We were told we could move around the vessel, but not to interfere with anything, or any of the crew if it was obvious that they were about their duties.
I had noticed a cover over an object at the front of the boat which I assumed was a gun, and I was right: as soon as we reached open water the cover was removed and the gun made ready for action. It was about two hours later, my wife and I had just had some refreshments and were strolling around the deck where I got talking to an officer. I told him I was in the Royal Air Force many years ago, and he was happy to talk to me. I asked him about the need for the gun being made ready for action. He told me it was merely precautionary and there was nothing to worry about. It seemed that some terrorist group had reportedly acquired a submarine from somewhere and had made threats to attack any vessels off the west coast of Africa, as far as the Med, which was not flying a flag of their liking! He said he thought it was rubbish but it gave the crew something to do. I asked him also about a large spherical object mounted some way behind the gun.
‘That, my friend, is a new experiment we have to try out. If it works as expected, it will probably replace conventional life boats.’ I was intrigued and asked if I could take a look. I was more than surprised when he agreed and he seemed more than pleased to explain it to us. Without going into too much detail, he explained the principle of the device. He told us that the substance that the sphere was made of had a strange reaction to water – in fact it hated water. This, he told us, was to do with capillary action, reverse osmosis, and unstable molecular relevance with respect to water. I had no idea at all what he was talking about and I wasn’t sure that he had either. He invited my wife and I to look inside.
It was maybe twelve foot across and had two very comfortable seats. There was no obvious means of steering or forward motion control. It apparently had worked in tests and was controlled by weight distribution from inside. It seemed that the physical reaction of the outer material when near water could produce incredible speeds in total safety and comfort. If it worked as expected with sea trials, as it had under land testing, much larger ones would be made and sea travel would become much safer in the event of a ship having to be abandoned ‘I will go outside for a few minutes to let you two experience how it feels to be enclosed. It will be useful material for our reports.’
It was only moments after he went outside that we heard and felt the explosion. The capsule we were in was catapulted from the ship about three hundred feet and came to rest without causing my wife and I any distress whatsoever. Looking back at the boat did cause us extreme distress though; the ship was rapidly sinking, it had been torpedoed.
I discovered that by moving the ratchet on the right-hand side of my seat forward our weight was transferred forward and caused forward motion. If I moved it backwards, the motion reversed. I pushed it hard forward and the reaction was amazing. We found ourselves being transported at high speed similar to a hovercraft – but with no noise at all. We could see out quite clearly and although the sphere was riding the waves, we had no sensation of movement. I pushed the control further forward and the response was incredible: this machine clearly hated water and it was being propelled forward at an incredible speed. We kept land in sight, crossed the entrance to the Med and out passed the Iberian peninsular, round the west of France and into the English Channel. We came ashore on a quiet bay just west of Portsmouth.
Moving inland we were delighted to encounter a private flying club. We could clearly see a two seater light aircraft just being refueled. We scrambled over the fence and, keeping the terminal building in line with the aircraft to shield us from view, we sprinted for the aircraft, making it okay without being spotted. I quickly familiarised myself with the controls and we were soon speeding down the grass strip and into the air. I now needed to pick up the M1 motorway. If I located that okay, I could soon find the A1 and follow that to Robin Hood airport where our car was parked. It was my wife who recognised the M25 first – we were clearly on track. Flying at about 1,000 feet, we could easily follow the roads and knew that we had no aircraft to worry about near Heathrow—they had all been grounded.
The M1 junction soon appeared and shortly afterwards the A1. These two roads run parallel up England before joining in Yorkshire near Leeds. Robin Hood airport was a Royal Air Force base up to a few years ago, Vulcan bombers flew from here and needed a very long runway. I knew it would be easy for us to spot the runway and land, especially with no other air traffic to worry about. It didn’t take us long – I literally flew up the A1 until we spotted the airport. I did a quick circle of the runway just to be sure there was no other light aircraft about, and then landed very near to the passenger terminal. I then taxied ‘round the terminal building until I was near the car park in front of the building. We jumped out of the aircraft and, clearing the adjoining fence without any problems and found ourselves in the car park.
Although we had lost all our luggage, I still had my car keys in my pocket. We exited the car park and were soon on the M62 motorway, with less than an hour to home. After a lovely cup of tea and a nice warm bath, we tumbled into bed. It had been quite a hectic and truly amazing journey. Would anyone believe it?
The next morning I awoke, threw back the curtains, and opened the sliding doors of our bedroom – the Atlantic breakers were noisily crashing into the rocks below the hotel swimming pool.
How much longer are we going to be stuck in Tenerife? I wondered.