BBC Archive Report Monday, 1 October, 2001

Rivals prepare for speed challenge



          Nigel Macknight                        Russ Wicks       


British challenger Nigel MacKnight         American challenger Russ Wicks





It's the most dangerous speed record in the world, and many of those who have tried to break it have died.  The quest to be the fastest human being on water has inspired generations of speed fanatics.


When Australian Ken Warby propelled his jet boat to a staggering 317.6 mph, back in 1978, many people thought the limit had been reached.  In 1967, Donald Campbell was killed trying to break the 300 mph barrier. His boat Bluebird took off, flipped over and disappeared.




Ken Warby's boat


Ken Warby's garage-built boat is waiting in the wings





This year has finally seen the recovery of Bluebird, and the body of Campbell, from the depths of Coniston Water in the Lake District.   By coincidence, this renewed interest in one of Britain's greatest record breakers comes as three men are preparing to do battle over the water speed crown.


In the Australian corner is Ken Warby, still the fastest man on water, who has built a new boat to try to ensure he holds onto that 23-year-old record. But this time his son Dave may be the driver.


Their principal challenger is Nigel Macknight, who aims to bring the record back to Britain with his boat Quicksilver. Construction is underway, and his futuristic craft should be in the water next year.  But a third hat has now been thrown into the ring. American challenger Russ Wicks already holds the record for the fastest propeller-driven boat, with a speed of 205 mph.





Now he wants the big prize, and he has put together a consortium that includes aerospace and motor racing engineers. Their boat is still at the design stage. Nigel Macknight relishes the prospect of a three-way fight.


"The contest for the record was almost moribund, so it's wonderful it is all coming together in this way," he says. "Competition can provide a tremendous spur. It will help us all to raise our game as we try to beat one another." As the record holder, Warby is dismissive about his rivals, and says he will wait to see how they fare before he enters the fray.


"Nobody who is building a boat at the moment is going to break my record," he told News Online. "I would like to see it happen, then I will let my son Dave take out the boat and push the record up to 400 mph."


Sound barrier


And Warby believes that even higher speeds will be achieved in future.  "One day someone will go through the sound barrier on water," he predicts.  But although he says that driving his previous boat was "very easy", he is in no doubt about the risks involved in going for the record:


"It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication, and you do not want to enter into it lightly. It is extremely dangerous."  The Australian, who now lives in America, built his new boat in his garage. He thinks that if someone does take his record, it will be a lot easier to get sponsorship from his home country, as national pride will be at stake.  "But at the moment, we're just sitting and waiting," he says.








Sporting contest


You get the impression that he would relish a fight to retain his crown, and he has thrown down the gauntlet to his rivals.  "So far there is a lot of talk out there," he says.  "So let's see them put their throttle foot where their mouth is."


But Nigel Macknight won't be drawn into a war of words. His response: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have got to be sporting to one another."    Since the 1920s, the world water speed record has been held by Britain, the United States and Australia. So it seems appropriate that the old rivals are once again preparing to take to the water.  The spirit of Donald Campbell and Bluebird is still alive.



01 Oct 01 | UK  Quicksilver aims for speed record






On June 26, 1950, on Lake Washington near Sand Point, driver Stan Sayres and riding mechanic Ted Jones became the fastest men on water with a mile straightaway record of 160.323 mph in the Slo-mo-shun IV.   In July of 1952, Stan Sayres raised his own straightaway record to 178.497 in Lake Washington's East Channel.


Donald Campbell in a non-propeller-driven craft obliterated Stan Sayres record on July 23, 1955. Campbell's jet-powered Bluebird II averaged 202.32 mph over a kilometer course on Lake Ullswater in England.


In 1967 American Lee Taylor reclaimed the record that Donald Campbell had taken from Sayres.   Ten years later Ken Warby, an Australian made a successful attempt, which in 1978 he extended to 317.60 MPH.   Warby still holds the record, which has withstood all challenges.




1930's Record broken 11 times by Segrave, Don, Wood and Campbell
1931 (USA) Gar Wood first to break 100mph
1937 to 1949 (GB) Malcolm Campbell, 126.320 mph to 141.74 mph
1950's Record broken 8 times by (USA) Sayres & (GB)Campbell
1950 to 1954 (USA) Stan Sayres 160.323 mph & 178.497 mph
1955 to 1966 (GB) Donald Campbell 202.32 mph to 276.33 mph (1955, first jet-powered)
1967 to 1976 (USA) Lee Taylor 285.213 mph (1967, last record broken by USA)
1977 (Australia) Ken Warby 288.60 mph
1978 (Australia) Ken Warby 317.60 mph


1930's & 1940's (GB) Record broken 11 times by Campbell, Eyston & Cobb
1963 (USA) Craig Breedlove first to break 400 mph
1963 to 1982 (USA) Breedlove, Green, Arfons, Gabelich
1965 (USA) Craig Breedlove first to break 600 mph
1970 to 1982 (USA) Gary Gabelich 622.407 mph (1970, last record broken by USA)
1983 (GB) Richard Noble 633.468 mph
1997 (GB) Andy Green 714.144 mph & 763.035 mph

America's Cup:

1851-1983, Cup Held by Americans
1983 (Australia) Bertrand, Australia II
1987 (USA) Connors, Stars & Stripes
1988 (USA) Connors, Stars & Stripes
1992 (USA) Koch/Melges, America3
1995 (New Zealand) Coutts, Team New Zealand
2000 (New Zealand) Dickson, Team New Zealand
2003 (Switzerland) Coutts, Team Alinghi





ken-2.JPG (11077 bytes)

The Worlds Fastest Man on Water

The Record
317.60 mph / 511.11km/h
8th October 1978
"Spirit of Australia"
Blowering Dam
NSW Australia

Refer UIM certificate (Click Here)

spirit.jpg (83999 bytes)











Quicksilver   Ken Warby   Russ Wicks



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