Lake Como – Flying on Water

Our trip to Bellagio on board MV Milano was relaxed and quite delightful.

Bellagio is one of those “must go to” places that everyone tells you about, my experience is that normally these places disappoint me and yep, you guessed, so did Bellagio!

OK, it’s a nice enough little place, but like many “nice little places” it’s popularity proves its downfall. We found a nice restaurant for lunch and I did manage to find one little alley that wasn’t crammed with shops selling crap or heaving with people!image

Now, I’d been doing a bit of devious planning about our return trip. Where it had taken us two and a half hours to reach Bellagio, I’d figured that forty minutes would be better for the return journey!

You see, Lake Como is one of the few places outside the former Soviet Union where regular Hydrofoil services operate and as regular Blogonaughts know Dookes is rather partial to savouring different modes of transportation!

Years ago I rode the Jetfoil that used to operate between Dover and Oostende, but being an open sea service it was prone to cancellation due to adverse sea conditions. As Lake Como is a tad more sheltered, I was sure that our trip would be more assured!

Because Lake Como is so big, 46km/29 miles long, a high-speed service between the principal towns makes sense. For many years this has been provided by a fleet of Italian built hydrofoil fitted boats, which is pretty apt seeming as how an Italian virtually invented the hydrofoil!

Enrico Forlanini born in Milan on 13 December 1848 was an Italian engineer well-known for tinkering around with various concepts and machines, I think I would have got on well with him! He started playing with hydrofoils in 1898 and by 1911 had a vessel that exceeded 40 mph on Lake Maggiore, just over the hill from Como.

40mph in 1911, on this!

40mph in 1911, on this!

Err, what’s a hydrofoil, Dookes?

Oops! Sorry, I should have explained earlier…

A hydrofoil is best described as the boat equivalent to an aircraft wing and just like the wing of an aircraft provides lift to the aeroplane to make it fly, the hydrofoil wing (which is like a big letter C under the hull of the boat) passing through the water lifts the hull of the boat out of the water. This means that drag is reduced, the vessel moves faster and best of all energy is saved making the whole thing more efficient. On the down-side, hydrofoils are very demanding when it comes to maintenance and that makes running them a very delicate balancing act that most accountants balk at; fortunately, engineers love them and at the end of the day, wonderfully, I’m not an accountant!

Those blasted accountants are unfortunately winning the battle, the ‘foils are gradually being replaced by high-speed catamarans, which though not quite as fast are lot cheaper to build and operate. Anyway, in the meantime, hydrofoils are just so sexy!

Sexy eh?

Sexy eh?

Oh yes, by the way my love affair with hydrofoils can be blamed on that secret agent James Bond 007! In the film “Thunderball,” one of the stars was the “Disco Volant,” a hydrofoil used by the villain Emilio Largo, which obviously was blown-up by Bond in the end!

Disco Volante in "Thunderball."

Disco Volante in “Thunderball.”

Anyway, there we were waiting on the pier at Bellagio for the return service to Como, our tickets for the high-speed service safe in my top pocket. Mrs Dookes is used to me at time like this, I get all excited and stressed up at the same time!

There was quite a crowd, this was a popular service and we probably were not going to be able to pick and choose where we sat, bummer! Once we got on-board, we ducked left and found two seats right at the front of the vessel on the port side (left to the land-lubbers) right ahead of the hydroplane. Excellent!

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

The hydrofoil the pale blue thing sticking out of the side of the boat.

As we settled into our seats the vessel cast off and the two big 1,400 HP diesel engines propelled us towards the centre of the lake. Safely away from the landing stage the engines spooled up and the hydroplanes began to work, the spray around the windows dropped away as the hull climbed away from the water and we were literally flying above the lake! It’s a bit like being on an aeroplane as you speed down the runway and lift off the ground. I was as excited as anything, Mrs Dookes was less impressed. Boys stuff, I guess!

Looking out of the window at speed, we're flying on that hydrofoil!

Looking out of the window at speed, we’re flying on that hydrofoil!

We skimmed along the lake for around ten minutes before we made our one intermediate stop. Then the process of slowing is very like a water-skier who settles back into the water as speed declines, only in our case it was the hull that dropped back into the water to become a real boat again.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

Cut the speed and now the hydrofoil drops the hull back into the water.

OK, I admit that the hydrofoil doesn’t have the charm of the more traditional ferries. I love them for what they are, a brilliant example of applied engineering that really does the job very well indeed.

Yes, that’s right it doesn’t take much to make Dookes happy; just a big noisy machine generally!

We sped back to the delightful city of Como with plenty of time to partake of some lovely Italian ice-cream and have a little pause before enjoying a super evening meal in a fantastic little no-nonsense restaurant, but that’s another story!

Catch you soon.


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