March to August 2006
2nd March 2006 - 13:30
A quick diary entry for the model makers, anoraks, engineers working on a water-speed-record boat – and all other interested parties. A bit more detail of K7’s underside as requested.
It’s flat as a billiard table apart from the torn area at the front and the planing wedge.
Here’s the wedge. It has three angles, a small area at the front where a sacrificial skin has been fixed over it then it changes again about a third of the way back. It’s bare aluminium machined from a solid billet.
This is looking at the back end where the water-brake used to be. As you can see, the wedge is hollow and stuffed with bits of wood for some reason. We might be able to answer that if it comes off.
This is the short forward step that I mentioned earlier. It’s tucked under the bottom skin but over the leading edge of the planing wedge. Presumably to stop the water from tearing the wedge off. Good thinking, Ken.
And here’s where the paint turns from blue to grey. See what I mean?
So, ‘loss of original fabric’… not in the planing wedge dept. Not in the battery bays either. Take a look at these.
Here are the completely original batteries in the original battery boxes. The boxes have been cleaned and given a fresh coat of paint – stabilised in other words – whereas the batteries have been rinsed out with de-ionised water and given a thorough cleaning. They’re ready to go back in the hole as soon as we get the hull back together.
And finally, an interesting discovery from beneath the mud.
It seems that Donald was using Ken’s batteries on his final trip…
14th March 2006 - 14:00
Well, what a spectacular load of bo**ocks that was! Does anyone know the collective noun for a gathering of bureaucrats? How about a ‘dither’… That seems to fit, and what do you call several museologists in the same place?
Whatever – we just got more of what we’re used to when a group of either species sit around a table.
“What’s your timetable?” The dither wanted to know.
“Well,” we said boldly, “wouldn’t it be great if we had something to unveil by the fourth of January 2007.”
We’d agreed as a team that this is a perfectly achievable aim if we get stuck in but it only induced a state of shock in those who’d have to get their finger out to make the funds available. They couldn’t possibly consider something so radical and to make doubly sure they came back with a plan to ensure that we miss the June decision for which we all worked so hard before Christmas – no, I’m not joking.
‘We need to align our timetables’, they informed us, though this only seemed to involve them extending theirs by best part of a year and aligning ours accordingly.
More treats were in store from the museology contingent.
Knowledge of various grades of aluminium proved non-existent but I was told that the mud-line, still visible on Bluebird’s hull, ‘has a story to tell’ and whereas I agree to a point, I fear none of us would like to spend an evening with the sort of people who could get thrilled about it.
The buckets of mud so recently removed from the lower hull caused even more excitement as it seems we’ve created an archaeological dig in miniature. You just never know, there might be a washer or something at the bottom – familiar territory, I assume.
On the other hand, it has to be admitted that we blew it, as we ended up discussing such a range of options that we appeared unable to agree on what to do – a near fatal condition for a project team.
In our defence, the only reason we offered up alternatives is because having explained what we’re doing – again – justifying it and producing hard evidence that it’s all feasible; we still only evinced the usual raised eyebrows and shaking of heads.
The project team are in complete agreement that the public want to see ‘Bluebird in her prime’ but I have an awful feeling that once again, the public – for whom museums exist, don’t forget – are about to get everything they don’t want because the museologists and bureaucrats, in their usual smug way, know what’s best.
Strenuous efforts were made to convince me that my having met all the wrong museum types is entirely down to fate but it seems I’m suffering an extraordinary run of bad luck if that’s the case.
Then a selection of old favourites did the rounds…
“What about volunteer involvement after Bluebird returns to Coniston?” the dither enquired. “We need lots of volunteers.”
“Depends on whether you finish up with a dead boat on a plinth that will only be visited by damp tourists driven indoors by the rain and which only provides work for six people with a duster each,” I said shrugging.
“On the other hand, if you make it float, it’ll take a hundred people to get it down to the lake...”
Heads went down and notes were scribbled. But strangely, no one wanted to get into discussion except to suggest that if Bluebird were only to be visited by bedraggled tourists, they’d best have somewhere to hang their coats before entering the main hall because their wet gear will upset the carefully controlled humidity and presumably destroy something that thirty-four years of total immersion couldn’t kill off.
I honestly don’t make this stuff up!
“Give it a decent coat of paint,” I said frustratedly. “It’s a boat for goodness sake!”
Value for money came up again – that old chestnut. What if Bluebird doesn’t make any money? What if the museum can’t pay its way and the whole venture folds after HLF have coughed up?
“As with the volunteers,” I pointed out, “you can have as much or as little as you want.
“A dull and dusty exhibit that has to wait for a rain shower to coax people through the door is hardly going to stuff the village to capacity and offer the museum a chance to fleece the public of its spare cash in the same way as a gala spectacle on the lake, is it?”
And yet, the preferred recipe still seems to be wrecked boat for hundreds of volunteers to clean with cotton buds (assuming they’d want to) and a hope that thousands of people will pay to see it.
That way, it appears, no one has to be remotely ambitious, venture into the museological unknown or spend any money.
But, in the meantime, it has to sit about in its dull and dusty workshop with fluctuating temperatures, no humidity control whatsoever and far from adequate surface protection on acres of bare metal until a centrally-heated, climate-controlled hall is ready to receive it… how long is that likely to take?
Of course, it would be far too sensible to crack on in the light of these concerns and get the boat finished ahead of the building, especially as we can do it almost free as far as HLF are concerned.
We were taken to task for not having a detailed conservation plan.
Excuse me! It’s difficult, in the face of several years’ worth of head shaking from across the table without offering any real clues, to know what we can add to our two separate applications.
Tim Parr wrote the first plan, veteran of John Cobb’s endeavours and the Waverley restoration that he is, and I wrote the second one. It ran to thirty-six pages, a hundred colour photographs and had an accompanying CD. And as Chris pointed out, he can build anything from a total wreck to a running boat without breaking the rules.
Apparently we don’t have a display plan either – except that I clearly remember sitting in the hallowed halls agreeing a concept that suited everyone then pacing the floor frustratedly a few days before Christmas as we waited for the artist’s impression to complete the application. Where did it go?
We offered to work our gonads off – for a change – to have everything on the table in time for the June decision even if it means running the job 24 / 7 but we got no answer on that.
What seems certain is that there won’t be a decision in June – this side of Christmas so far as I can tell. Nor will funds be forthcoming to build the boat in time to unveil her on the 40th anniversary of the accident.
We can take Bluebird apart to eradicate all sources of corrosion but we can’t, under any circumstances, put her back together as we’ll be accused of starting the project whereupon our would-be benefactors would undoubtedly cut us loose.
Where we had what amounted to oxygen-free distilled water offering some protection to the void spaces we now have air with twenty-one percent oxygen munching at the surface but slap a coat of paint on there… heaven forbid!
Are we allowed to treat the boat separately and have them simply construct a museum building for us? Have a guess… so the future seems to hold the following.
||Bluebird is now stripped into a thousand pieces and will be left that way until further notice as well as the many offers of help having to be politely declined and the volunteers told to go home.
||The Ruskin museum will have to muddle by indefinitely without the one attraction that would cement its future and that of the tourism on which much of Coniston’s economy depends.
||Having addressed all the issues that supposedly scuppered our last application – volunteers, appointing our own expert and having most of the work done FOC to demonstrate value for money… And after cracking the technical, ethical and logistical problems associated with rebuilding the boat as per our TWO previous conservation plans, it seems we’re still being thwarted for no valid reason.
Does anyone have any suggestions? Because at this moment I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m on the right planet.
17th May 2006 - 15:00
Sorry folks, it’s been a while and this is mainly because I took advantage of the confusion to pursue our Norway project.
As you might expect, our midget submarine is proving difficult to locate. This is generally the case when the whole world has looked and come up empty handed. Still, it has to be somewhere – as I keep saying, it didn’t get off the planet – so we’ll have to go back and search some more. In the meantime we are the world’s leading experts on where it’s not! There’s a certain sense of deja-vu with this wreck hunting thing.
In the meantime we’re once again wading through treacle with the blue boat story. What’s happened is this. Despite our Herculean and completely successful efforts to have everything in place for a June HLF decision, we’re not going to get it. That’s been moved to September thus robbing us of any chance to have the boat ready for the fourth of January 2007. More deja-vu…
Now a request has arrived for yet another conservation management plan. It rather reminds me of one time I was in price negotiations over a part we supplied to Ford Germany. The buyers faced me across the table and asked me what the price would be, I told them but they only shook their heads and muttered amongst themselves in German.
Then they asked me again so I told them again. After about six tries the boss-man called a halt, addressed the buyers and said…
“Listen, guys. He’s told you the price is ££££, now how many times do you want to hear it said?”
We supplied over sixty thousand of those parts and we got our price…
Chris is preparing the new CMP to explain in different words that we’re going to wheel a boat out of here with all four corners firmly attached.
What will most likely happen in September is that the whole effort will collapse in a heap.
I’ve met a few people who’ve gone bankrupt, their business has fatally haemorrhaged into the overdraft account, they’ve run up the remortgages and the kids are in a school that they wouldn’t have been allowed near a year earlier.
But the poor, unfortunate victims all say the same thing – it’s a terrible weight off their shoulders – and that’s how we’ll feel in September when all this bureaucratic bullsh*t has run its course. There’s always a chance that we’ll find a visionary in a position of influence by then and something good will happen but don’t hold your breath.
So what happens then?
Simple, we’ll revert to ‘plan-A’ and build Bluebird privately. What a joy that’ll be, with no museologists or bureaucrats poking their frightened noses amongst the sparks and metal shavings.
All those craftsmen and engineers who’ve been waiting in the wings to practice their skills on such an amazing piece of history can have their day and the many eager people who are waiting to see the old girl in her prime will eventually be able to do so.
In the meantime, Chris is coming up next week because we are at least going to toe the HLF line one last time and give them a final chance to join us so there are many things to sort and there’s still much to do, conservation-wise, as all the bits we’ve taken off have to go back one way or another. Hopefully we’ll resume work in a fortnight or so.
6th June 2006 - 16:10
At the risk of speaking too soon it seems the goalposts haven’t given so much as a twitch for a week or two, though as we’ve seen, this can change in a heartbeat.
Third time lucky with the conservation management plan. Chris has crafted a beautiful document on our behalf to try and get across how we can put Bluebird back together without offending the tweed-types whilst all the other little bits and pieces seem to be slotting into position – for the moment.
One question that’s niggled in the background is whether any extra visitors will turn up at the museum once we install the boat.
Giving this some thought I remembered that a while back, Novie donated a chunk of money to help pay for a path to Donald’s grave because the influx of visitors had churned the cemetery into a mud bath.
Donald’s final resting place seems to be on the itinerary of every bus tour that passes anywhere near so I really can’t imagine all those visitors going to peer at a headstone then not bothering with the boat parked only a hundred yards away.
Another question answered…
Some infuriating nonsense was dished up by the tweed-types recently as our removal of the tail fin seems to have caused mild panic in their ranks. The suggestion seems to be that we’ve done irreparable damage.
You’d think we’d snapped the handle off a priceless Roman pot or something yet it must be said that duly appointed material scientists would foster far greater understanding between all concerned than the archaeologists provided. We’ll keep asking.
So, for any who missed it last time, we took the fin off to get at the corrosion underneath. Underneath the fin – corrosion – hidden away where we couldn’t see or treat it – get it?
We kept hearing about public access, conservation, preservation. Where were our volunteers? Was Bluebird slowly crumbling to dust? What about the flags on the tail? Isn’t the paint falling off?
From these questions a plan was hatched.
We had the volunteer team remove the fin to get at the underlying rot then conserve the original paint and flag motifs according to our museological training. That done we then installed it in the controlled environment of the Ruskin where the public have access. The perfect answer, we thought, but it seems not. We’ve broken it apparently!
Now, all you tweed-types, pay attention because this is important.
There was once a bloke called Archimedes who lived about 200BC and who is generally credited with inventing the screw. Not the Sunday-morning before the papers arrive variety, we’re talking here about the spiral job that allows two pieces of material to be firmly fastened together.
He was knocking about in Roman times – in fact if I remember my school history lessons it was a Roman who did for him in the end so he ought to be familiar.
Anyway, his legacy lives on in the form of six, five-eighths bolts with which Bluebird’s fin was once firmly attached to the rest of the boat.
You’ll find similar fasteners in many modern appliances. The motor car has thousands of them, for example, though in this application they tend to be more numerous at the opposite end to where the shopping goes. So trust us when we promise to solidly reattach said fin when the time comes using these bolts and in such a way that you’d never know it’d been off.
There now, that’s that sorted out.
The wild assumption that having Bluebird’s frame x-rayed was clear indication of our intention to run the boat was another bit of mild claptrap that bubbled to the surface last week.
Who are these idiots?
It was actually done to check on the extent of any internal corrosion – common sense, I thought.
How many priceless oil paintings have been x-rayed to see where and how the artist modified their work?
The Royal Armouries regularly x-ray guns before disassembly – not because they’re going to hold up a bank that afternoon, it’s just they don’t want an explosion of Tudor springs and levers all over the workshop when the cover comes off!
What about that poor bloke found frozen into a glacier a few years back? He’s been x-rayed enough times to give him cancer and even then, they missed an arrowhead in his shoulder until recently.
X-ray examination is a recognised and accepted technique in the museum world…
In the meantime, and changing the subject slightly, the main saloon of SS Great Britain has been slapped full of MDF architrave and B&Q chipboard by a squad of shopfitters in order to host lucrative wedding parties.
No doubt Isambard Kingdon Brunel would be intrigued by cordless drills, laser-levels and Philips screws but it’s an interesting departure from what I’ve learned about museuology!
We soldier on…
14th July 2006 - 13:00
A quick update, not that there’s much to tell and that’s disturbing in itself. Normally the phone delivers unending negativity, poisonous e-mails buzz about like angry wasps and moaning do-gooders deliver their offerings after daydreaming new ways to abolish common sense. But no – nothing at all at the moment. The goalposts are still doing their passable imitation of English oaks and there’s a healthy spot of retrospective-allegiance-building going on in certain quarters – all very worrying.
About the only upcoming event is a proposed visit late in August of some heavyweight bureaucrats – or dignitaries, perhaps.
I’ve been assured that we’re meeting practical, down to earth and most importantly, enthusiastic people this time so here’s hoping. I’ll report in due course.
The only other thing of note is that I managed to misrepresent myself in the last diary entry by making mention of the interior works to SS Great Britain.
Far from thinking that wedding parties and MDF are bad things, I think hauling such a beautiful and important ship half way around the world back to her home-port and breathing new soul into a rotted out hulk is wonderful.
She’d be utterly uninteresting as a corroding pile of girders much as K7 has little more than curiosity value as she currently stands – and if happy couples can have their day made special by such a historic venue then so much the better.
So for the sake of some materials and manpower the old ship has not only regained some of her former grandeur but she also helps to pay for her upkeep. Makes perfect sense to me.
Yet there’s an ever present whiff of high hypocrisy in the air…
Fine, let the museum community fit out the main saloon with modern materials – I’m all for it – but don’t, in the same breath, tell us there’s something sacrilegious about reattaching K7’s original front end.
Use MDF, Phillips screws, fibreglass and silicone in appropriate ways but don’t whinge when we ask a professional team of aircraft rebuilders to recreate Bluebird’s sponsons from the original drawings using genuine materials.
Right – that’s enough ranting – I’m off to enjoy the sunshine.