"A word on the spot is worth a cartload of recollections"
James Maggs, Southwold diarist 1797-1890

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Marie Marvingt, pt 2: France to Reydon in Suffolk by balloon, 1909

From Sports Illustrated, June 1961:

"The balloon held 900 cubic meters of hydrogen," she recalls. "It was called The Shooting Star and was the very last word in balloons. I'll never forget the trip as long as I live."

The Marvingt-Garnier balloon was virtually unnavigable. When The Shooting Star took off from Nancy [France] a rope connected to the ground tilted the gasbag and released pounds of precious hydrogen.The balloon sailed north from Nancy at an altitude of 1,000 feet over the German border, past the Krupp factories at Essen, past dazzled schoolchildren and peasants.

Because of the hydrogen lost at take-off, the balloon wouldn't rise higher than 1,200 feet. Near Essen the wind shifted suddenly and carried the craft northwest over Holland toward Amsterdam. "We were in the clouds most of the time," said Mademoiselle Marvingt, "but we thought after we reached Amsterdam that the most dangerous part of the trip was over. We knew we were losing altitude, but we knew that the Channel winds would sweep us over to England before nightfall."The wind did carry the balloon off the Continent and over the Channel. But the temperature dropped to below freezing, and the basket began to rise and fall dangerously close to the waves.

Before Marvingt and Gamier were five miles offshore they found themselves in the middle of a snowstorm.Marie threw out the last of the ballast, but still the balloon wouldn't rise more than 100 feet above the waves, often dipping until the basket actually was in the water.Night came, and the balloon continued bobbing into the choppy Channel. "My overcoat and wool stockings were no help," Marvingt said. "I was freezing. Besides that, we couldn't tell which way we were heading."

After battling the storm for five hours, the balloon suddenly lifted and rose through the clouds. Two miles distant Marie saw a light [of Southwold lighthouse] . It was the English coast. The balloon started to lose altitude and was headed toward the cliffs on the coast when an updraft caught it and lifted the pair over the top.

"It was still dark," Marie said. "We let out most of the hydrogen and put down in a pasture half a mile from the coast [in Reydon]. We barely had the energy to climb out of the basket. "

The Lowestoft Journal takes up the story:
The grounded aviator went looking for help and a man on a bike said she should have taken the ferry.

Another man later noted that he saw “a man with no hat on” gesticulating and talking rapidly in a foreign tongue – but shut his window and went back to bed.

Eventually four policemen were called to assist the adventurers. The next day, the balloon was packed up and, after purchasing several postcards, the pair left Southwold by train.

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