Captain Graham Clarke

By a County Press reporter

Friday, September 7, 2007


THE Island hovercraft pilot who led a televised hovercraft expedition from the River Amazon through to Trinidad, Capt Graham Clarke, has died aged 77.

Dubbed The Last Great Journey on Earth by the BBC which filmed it in 1968, the team took an SRN6 hovercraft down the Amazon for the National Geographical Expedition from Manaus in Brazil to Trinidad via the River Negro, Casiciare Channel and the River Orinoco — a distance of 2,500 miles.

He successfully negotiated the notoriously dangerous Pongo Manseriche in Peru and the infamous Maipures and Atures rapids on the River Orinoco.

The expedition team included the BBC, the People newspaper, scientists, biologists, journalists, military observers, and the crew, including Capt Clarke.

He died in St Mary’s Hospital on August 4. A funeral service was held at St Helen’s Church on August 14 and afterwards at Brading Haven Yacht Club, where he was a staunch member, a former commodore as well as a trustee and more recently an Honourable Admiral.

Capt Clarke, who was born, a twin to Aileen, in Carlton, Nottinghamshire, on October 19, 1929, was educated at Loughborough College and Leicester College of Art and Technology.

He fought as a pilot with the Fleet Air Arm in the Korean War in 1951 to 1952 and survived going under the length of the aircraft carrier HMS Albion in 1955 when the strike hook failed and he and his navigator had to eject. He damaged his back in the incident, which affected him in years to come.

On leaving the Royal Navy in 1960, he was established on the Island at Great Budbridge pig farm until 1966, when his back problems demanded a change of employment.

He met Christopher Bland, of Hovertravel, and he became one of the first hovercraft ferry pilots from the mainland to Ryde.

He was appointed general manager and then made a director in recognition of his part in the development of Hovertravel and Hoverwork.

He married Suzanne Palmer in December 1954 and they had four children, Louise, Caroline, Julian and Patrick. He later married Jane Elliot in May 1981 and they shared a love of sailing.

Capt Clare leaves a widow and four children.

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