The dictionary goes on to explain that in certain situations a hydrofoil can produce a substantial decrease in resistance (i.e. fuel costs) and a substantial increase in seakeeping capability over conventional displacement craft. Of this, more later.
The idea of a hydrofoil was, under several names, first trialled more than 30 years before WWII. The Germans used the principle on some of their fast attack craft, with some success but diesel engine power to weight ratios were, at that time, not good enough.
The idea was revised by several Italian designers of the 1950s and, as with most new inventions, raised interest in various armed forces, notably those of Italy, Canada and the United States. The Soviet Union was also interested but not as combat craft.
With the design work by naval forces as an accelerator, hydrofoils were soon in use as fast ferries in various parts of Europe, particularly where wave-length ratios were usually small, such as in the seas around Greece and Italy.
Experiments soon found that, while a loaded ’foil needed great power and fuel use to transfer from displacement mode to ‘on the foil’ it ran very fast and reasonably economically once it was up and ‘flying’. Because of this it was soon realised that ’foils were not good bargains on short passenger trips but could be very effective over longer, non-stop legs.
The Port Jackson and Manly Steamship Co, then under the control of the late John Needham, had a real problem with its Manly ferry service in the late 1950s. All its large ferries were old and all had been hard-used during WWII, with inadequate maintenance. The company had modernised the old steamer Barrenjoey (1913) creating the modern-looking diesel-electric North Head in the early 1950s and had pretty well run out of money in the process. More money needed to be spent and there was little.
As Needham explained to me, “Hydrofoils were a new idea and may well have been the Manly ferry of the future.” The company ordered a new small hydrofoil from Hitachi in Japan where it had been built under licence from its Italian designers.
Manly (3) arrived as deck cargo on Kanto Maru on December 31, 1964. She cost 140,000 pounds and she was Australia’s first commercial hydrofoil, although several smaller craft had been imported for publicity ventures on Port Jackson. She began ferry services on January 7, 1965.
Manly was too small to provide an effective ferry service. Her 72 passengers required a crew of three and she was best used as a trial horse and as a novelty. She ran short trips around the harbour and provided a prestige 15 minute premium peak hour ferry service from Manly. Her survey allowed her use between Jervis Bay and Port Stephens but she rarely went to sea.
One notable trip was to Melbourne. She was sent to Port Phillip in February 1967 to run tourist trips but the venture was not successful and was not repeated.
Encouraged enough by Manly the company looked at bigger versions and the Coalition’s Transport Minister, Milton Morris, spoke of 200 passenger versions. The company soon ordered a new, large ’foil from Rodriguez of Italy.
In November 1966 the $500,000 Fairlight arrived by ship. The new 140 passenger ’foil was the first of five large hydrofoils to arrive between then and mid-1975.
Fairlight which carried the name of one of the run’s early paddle steamers, was joined in 1970 by a semi-sister Dee Why which also earned the name of one of the famous Manly ferry steamers. Curl Curl arrived in 1973 and the little Manly became spare boat. In mid-1975 the Palm Beach, ex-Hong Kong– Macau ferry Patane, arrived. The service now had five large ’foils which should have allowed for overhauls and reasonable problem control but there were two large problems.
In 1974 the Manly ferry company gave up and sold out to Bramble Transport Industries. High sounding rhetoric about ‘service’, mouthed by Bramble’s principals, was not supported by action.
The big ferries were run down and the ’foils were sold to a finance company and then leased back while Brambles worked to force the State government to buy them out – the company having more interest in the ferry company’s Bass Strait service contracts than in carrying passengers.
Eventually the state government took over the service after a well-orchestrated campaign from Manly residents. It took over the two diesel-electric ferries Baragoola and North Head but not the much newer steamer South Steyne which had undergone a most amazing ship fire. I was never able to find out the circumstances of this fire although I met a bloke in Balmain whose knowledge of the matter seemed to be remarkable.
Back to ’foils.
The state government took over the service and, apparently, then found out a little later that the public had not actually bought the ’foils. They were owned by a separate finance company. They were, of course, for sale.
So, in 1974 when the Public Transport Commission was formed, the Manly service had two old large ferries, with two smaller, large inner harbour ferries building and five hydrofoils with one small ’foil not fitting into the service.
There were many problems operating hydrofoils over the comparatively short distance that the Manly run provided, the long turn around time at each end cost overall time.
A special pontoon at each terminal was needed for handling passengers and the vessels had to be lifted clear of the water about every 12 weeks to clean off the growth that slowed their progress and cost extra fuel. Cleaning was done on a special floating dock pontoon and the lift was by crane.
Perhaps it is just as well that the hydrofoils departed because from 2000 onwards, Sydney the ‘port’ no longer had a crane capable of the lift and most of the Sydney docks have been abandoned.
Perhaps one of the many important reasons why the ’foils and the other ferries often spent months laid up at Balmain was the sheer bloody-mindedness of the members of the Painters and Dockers Union employed there.
During my 30-odd years time on Port Jackson I felt the effects of my union ‘brethren’ of the Ps and Ds many times. They did little to help the Union cause and had little obvious interest in co-operating with the other maritime unions!
*Graeme Andrews’ book The Watermen of Sydney can be had from Boat Books, ABC books and all good book stores. Mail order enquiries may be made to Stannard Marine at 02 9418 3711.