hovercrafter stops in Terre Haute
August 16, 2004
By John Chambers
| COAST-TO-COAST: Robert Hodson pilots his hovercraft
along the Wabash River as he approaches Fairbanks Park on Saturday.
Robert Hodson traded his house for a hovercraft.
Then he flew from England to Georgia so he and the
$200,000 amphibious vehicle could begin a coast-to-coast tour of
the America's waterways in April.
Hodson floated from Louisiana to the Wabash River
banks Saturday and will spend the next two weeks in Terre Haute
while his craft undergoes a little "tender love and care at
Inc." After repairs, he will continue to Tennessee before
traveling West to finish his trip around October.
Hodson has weathered southern heat, storms, almost fell 90 feet
off the edge of a dam and was even searched by the FBI. "I've
always been fairly transient in what I do," he said. "I
think for the folks that really know me, it's not such a strange
Federal officials searched Hodson's British boat,
telling him they were looking for nitrate he could use to blow up
a dam. Hodson said he only wanted to see the country the way early
explorers saw it.
Part of his trip will lead him through the route taken
by Lewis and Clark. One difference is Hodson navigates with a cell
phone and electronic computer charts.
"I've got GPS on board which has really saved
my bacon," he said.
His 2-ton craft has more than 200 square feet and
uses fans to trap downward air in a skirt, lifting it above the
surface. Hodson has used it to travel into areas such as swamps
to see 14- to 15-foot alligators.
He hitchhiked from Key West across the United States
to Alaska 20 years ago. Now age 39, he has noticed the country's
hospitality and friendly conversation.
"When you've got a hovercraft, it's easy to break
the ice," he said. "The size of the world is in its detail.
It's not the parameters."
He doesn't always have to sleep on the craft and sometimes
locals will give him diesel fuel for free.
Hodson hopes to travel a total of 20,000 miles, spending
the winter in Tennessee or flying back to England for the holidays.
His journey would complete the longest hovercraft
trek in history, said Chris Fitzgerald, president of Neoteric Hovercraft
Inc. and chairman of the World Hovercraft Organization, both based
in Terre Haute.
Hodson brought his craft, "Wings of the Dawn,"
new and the hovercraft has traveled 4,000 miles without breaking
"Duct tape and cable ties do sort of get you
out of a number of problems," he said.
Neoteric will work on electrical problems and make
other adjustments such as equipping it with a better front windshield
while Hodson is in Terre Haute.
"Hovercrafts are noisy, often spray dust and
water and can be as hard as an airplane to learn to operate, but
the crafts can travel on almost any surface, making them helpful
in rescue situations," Fitzgerald said.
"This makes ice rescue almost a recreational
activity," he said.
Marquis Songer and Eric Whitesell are both building
their own hovercrafts. They developed interest in them after Terre
Haute North Vigo High School started teaching about hovercrafts
in 1994 as part of its mechanical curriculum. Several Valley institutions
now have craft programs.
"Mainly, it's more like a club," Whitesell
said of hovercraft racing events and those with the same hobby.
Hodson hopes to record his adventures and update his
Web site while in Terre Haute. He hopes to meet Wabash Valley residents
or even talk to students at schools.
He is online at www.hover-adventure.com
or contact Neoteric
at (812) 234-1120 or email@example.com
for more information about Hodson's visit.