The Need for Speed
In the village of Coniston, in the Lake District, is a memorial to a very brave man. Donald Campbell was killed in 1967 trying to break his own World Water Speed Record (WWSR) of 276 mph. His beautiful, high-tech boat, Bluebird, was designed and built like a state-of-the-art jet fighter. Tragically, travelling at an unprecedented speed of over 300mph, it left the water. Horrified observers saw the boat somersault and plunge back into the lake, killing Donald instantly.
The WWSR is an incredibly dangerous pursuit with, sadly, a very poor survival rate. The interactions between boat, air and water are complex and finely balanced. This means that, even though the water record stands at less than half the land speed record, it is a much more dangerous endeavour.
So who holds the record now? Well, Ken Warby is very much alive. In 1978 the Australian took the WWSR to a remarkable 317 mph. It has stood there ever since, for a massive 36 years. Even more remarkable is the fact that Ken’s boat, Spirit of Australia, was not built along jet fighter lines nor constructed of exotic materials. He designed it himself. He built it himself. From wood. In his own backyard. He covered it with a tarpaulin when it rained. It’s a completely different approach to the highly engineered campaigns of other record-breakers, including Campbell. Warby’s is a seat-of-the-pants, entrepreneurial, try-it-and-see way of going about things. Sometimes it just works.
© Patrick Macdonald 2015