July 09

 

An email plopped into my inbox today to tell me a saddo I’d never heard of wanted to be my new best buddy on Twitter-Face or whatever it’s called. If he’d really wanted to get pally a phone call would’ve been nice; or perhaps a mail that didn’t go via some anonymous server beneath the Urals... I deleted it on principle.

Once upon a time humans huddled amid the smell of sweat, ale and smoke to sing songs and back-slap for real but these days the masses dive headlong into soothing, software worlds where they’re made to feel they’re good at stuff they’re really crap at. What’s that Guitar Hero bollocks all about, for example? Marillion didn’t make the beautiful music we use on our DVDs by thrashing away at their Nintendo Wee-Wees in fantasy land. They’re real blokes playing real instruments in a studio they bought with the fruits of a lot of damned hard work. If you want to be a guitar hero buy a bloody guitar and learn to wring a tune out of it!

The trouble seems to be that getting along with people – like playing the guitar – requires practice and dedication so what most prefer is a spiffing piece of software to knock the sharp edges off life’s harsh realities. That way anyone can do it so the masses sign up in droves.

I can’t play guitar, nor am I golfist, but I do know who Tiger Woods is… Is that his real name? Did his parents watch the growing bump, play the name-game and come up with ‘Tiger’ for a boy? Ocelot for a girl, perhaps? Anyway, there he was advertising the same old Wee-Wee machine by, so far as I could tell, swinging his TV remote around his head to open a portal to fantasy golfland. Yet a little research revealed that a Wee-Wee machine will set you back a couple of hundred quid when you can buy a golf-bat and suitable balls on eBay for little more than the postage cost. Just think, with most of the cash still in your pocket you could get out in the fresh air, take a spot of exercise then buy some like-minded golf-batters a pint after you’d trudged after your balls all evening. How novel would that be?

Between working from home, waiting for the online supermarket to deliver your water-free ham and downloading enough entertainment for the weekend where’s there time to step outside and check out the hole in the ozone layer?

We view our pot-bellies with dismay too but whereas the local rambling or cycling club endures eternally paltry membership, spanking-new gyms pop up overnight like mushrooms tempting people to solitarily sweat before widescreen Sky News or on iPod life-support until their computers come back within range. My dad innocently calls iPods ‘Podeyes’, which rolls off the tongue much better if you ask me…

And imagine what all these gym-goers would do if flat screen TVs and earbuds were banned overnight. How would they cope if they had to actually speak to one another?

Chatting up girls in the gym used to be like shelling peas. Hop on a bicycle beside your intended prey; work up a sweat then turn to her and say,

“Why are we doing this?” in a determinedly suffering sort of way.

You’d get a smile no matter what and the final outcome rested on your ability to convert such an effortless opening into an event requiring lube and baby-wipes. It was a damn-sight easier than scouring the Internet for the girl of your dreams on Datebook-Facebollocks then trying to tick her many and varied cyber-boxes before the server under the Urals deigned to put you in touch for real. Speak to a girl in the gym these days and she’ll shrug like you’re talking at her through a sheet of double glazing then turn up her Podeye in case you try it again.

Never mind pig-flu, we’re being subtly incapacitated by a software pandemic.

It’s a said state of affairs but if you can’t beat ’em best to join ’em so to stay current we propose two additions to the Bluebird Project experience. First of all we’re developing an anorak-networking site on which you can post photographs of mundane rubbish and share mindless small talk. You’ll also be able to download innumerable, pointless applications so even the most ham-fisted numpty can perfectly set pretend rivets in awkward corners and drive a jet hydroplane at record breaking speeds. Beyond that we’ll have a ‘virtual’ return to Coniston where you can be one of the team or even K7’s pilot and compete in real-time with everyone else for the kudos of being the first to get the old girl planing again.

This way we’ll never actually have to see our project through because as well as all being really good ‘friends’ we’ll also be world-class guitarists, golfists, hydroplane pilots and pallid hermits who never see daylight, much less one another.

Then, having revved up our socially destructive juggernaut, we’ll start offering rehab. For a fee you can spend a therapeutic week in our workshop being systematically pummelled back to health by the lunatics under our roof. Bring your weaknesses and let us exploit them. It’s no good being too fat, not tall enough or fessing up to even the mildest sexual kink – or lack of any. The guys will have your life.

For example, John took off his trademark sweatshirt for a moment as the weather warmed up but failed to keep it safe so now it’s nailed to the ceiling…

 

…while Dr Ramsay looks after our physical well being with regular surgeries.

 

We’re on an intense schedule these days but every once in a while we need to stop building a boat and do our housekeeping. Remember this old warhorse?

 

We nicked it off a bloke who used to rent an industrial unit across the yard. It originally had a petrol engine but that went off with a bang one day so he took it to bits and never put it back together. We disappeared it when he wasn’t looking and chucked the petrol motor off. Then, lightened by fifty quid on eBay for a second hand 3-phase motor, and guided by Tony and Rob’s electrical expertise, we built a credible compressor for next to nothing. Unfortunately it had about as much puff as my dear, departed granny and was done by the time a half-dozen air tools started sucking on it. Not such a problem in the early days but we gradually outgrew it until work often came to a standstill because no one had air.

To the rescue came a local machine shop where we found this lovely piece of kit…

 

…our beautiful, new Hydrovane. They’d taken it as part payment on a job then realised it was too big for their requirements so they helped us out by letting it go for a snip. Smooth, quiet and able to deliver enough air to keep a small town oxygenated our resident sparkies, Tony and Rob, soon got a tune out of it. We spent a few evenings making a really tip-top job of installing and commissioning it so now we can run every air tool in the workshop flat-out and all it does is purr gently beneath my bench. It was time and effort well invested as the number of rivets going in is increasing steadily.

Here’s F-2 as we found it down in the bilges at the back of the hull with slabs of lead bolted either side. There’s a great scene in that ‘Price of a Record’ film where Donald explains sandbags strung to the hull to move the centre of gravity aft about a quarter of an inch – more like a foot and a half – then replaced by specially cast lead ingots secured to frames in the boat designed for and awaiting such an eventuality. What a little fibber he was. The lead sandwiched F-2 atop a couple of squares of plywood. Its not flying violently out of the crash is nothing short of miraculous.

In fact F-2 got off lightly though in a somewhat beaten up state and impossibly wedged between a pair of frame tubes until the grand-poobah of museology, Mr Chris Knapp, got it loose with a crowbar. We didn’t dare use such a crude implement on our partially deconstructed museum piece back in 2006 and as it happens, Chris and I discussed this recently. Despite his insistence that he sensitively loosened F-2 in a controlled fashion using an approved leverage device whilst properly recording everything in the conservation log we distinctly remember him heaving like buggery on a crowbar until, with a loud bang, the bulkhead exploded out of there in a shower of fractured rivets.

 

Reality dictated that day that there really was no other option. It wasn’t coming out gently and none of us were brave enough to do what Chris had to do. Once out of the hole we were OK again and it was quickly given the usual treatment…

 

…stripped of paint and other nasties then handed to Doddy for some advanced whackery.

 

Following much bashing, blasting, fettling, cursing and several bouts of exasperation ahead of the paint shop it was ready to go back in the hole looking considerably better than when it came out.

 

Apart from some rivets being up-sized it’s completely original right down to the splits where the bolts holding the lead ingots tore through when the boat rolled. We have a cunning plan for putting the lead back whilst conserving the damage inflicted in 67. Much choccy sauce and pins later F-2 went home to stay.

 

But even this wasn’t enough because the more observant will spot some rot around where it meets the upper frame tubes. This was caused by torn, exposed edges left under water for thirty-four years and has been retained in the interests of originality because, lest we forget, K7 is a priceless museum piece and we’re not ‘restoring’ her; we’re using that ‘conservation-led approach’ the museologists and the Hapless Lottery Failure insisted upon way back when. If you look around the back you’ll see a different story.

 

We meet the occasional person of… shall we say, limited intelligence, who simply cannot grasp how you can take all this old metal and put it back to use. They assume that just because it was wet for three and a half decades something must have rendered it invisibly useless and by using it again we’re building some insidious fault into the boat; so here it is again from the top.

The original bulkhead is made of 1.6mm thick material and always was. In the grand scheme of things, K7 didn’t have many miles on the clock when she crashed so fatigue isn’t an issue. Most of that 1.6mm remains but in places it’s rotted to less than what it once was. To counter this we add another 1.5mm skin spanning from good material on one side of the rot to good material on the other and pick up the steel flange-plates on the frame on the way by for good measure. This offers all the strength of the new bit, which is as strong as the old bit used to be, plus whatever strength remains in the original so we have more strength than ever there was. Simple, yes?

Speaking of people who just can’t grasp a simple concept, planning K7’s homecoming is also part of the regular agenda these days, though it’s still early in the process, but at last the TV production companies seem to have got the message. No longer are they calling to congratulate us on becoming their latest client and won’t we all look great on telly… We’re down to a couple of serious players with whom we’re negotiating a spectacular, homecoming event for one and all to enjoy in exchange for exclusive access to what the team is up to on a daily basis. They could be in for a shock with us lads, mind you.

A recent volunteer spent a few sessions with us then confessed to having been convinced that behind the project there simply had to be a bloke with a clipboard and leather patches on his elbows. There’s not – but you can see where they all get the wrong idea. That said you don’t have to look far beyond our comedic exterior to discover that we’re actually deadly serious.

Remember this panel?

 

Even back in the Hapless Lottery Failure days it was obvious we could save this part of the boat. It lay preserved in mud and came up virtually unscathed but they were too stupid to see past the flaking paint. It was a little crusty in places, however.

 

The metal was dished in between the diagonal frame tubes and badly stretched around that circular opening, cut to provide spanner access when installing the water brake, stabilising fin, etc. Corrosion had also taken its toll around where the jetpipe emerged past an unforgivable semicircle of stainless steel holding the rubber water baffle with no yellow yak-shit to referee the metals. Stainless should be served an ASBO when left in the damp with aluminium.

First-off we bolted the panel to a purpose-built steel frame so it couldn’t pull itself into silly shapes once the welding began then sorted the rot.

 

We select then mark out the minimum area we’re prepared to lose with a marker pen.

I get the staggers whenever we do this because I once had a terrible encounter with a marker pen. You see, somewhere in my genetic code lurks a message requesting varicose veins, the first batch being dutifully delivered when I was only nineteen. We’re not talking a little cosmetic deficiency here either. These were like tubular, Amazonian tributaries forming what looked like a spare brain behind my right knee and presenting a diving health risk because the blood and bubble mixture meandering up such convoluted backwaters after a long dive is prone to clotting; and that’s not healthy. My doctor watched awhile then referred me, at the age of twenty-eight, to a surgeon called Mr Holmes to see about having them chopped out. Surgeons prefer Mister to Doctor in an act of what he described as ‘inverted snobbery’ going back to the old order of barber-surgeons who would cut you for gallstones and the like. Their legacy is that red and white stripy pole outside the barbers shop representing blood and bandages that I just can’t imagine would encourage anyone to check out their wares then or now.

Mr Holmes was an affable, corduroy type; very tall and thin with thick glasses who spoke softly and stooped slightly as he examined my faulty leg.

He quietly explained, as though to himself, that human limbs are possessed of both deep and shallow veins and how the culprit in my case was a failure of the non-return valves in the shallow veins. He likened them to cupped hands staged regularly up the pipe that work perfectly in those animals happy to move around on all-fours; but humans chose bipedalism before evolution could redesign things so all it takes is a weak valve to pop inside out and two lots of blood start stretching the one below. That one then goes off with a bang dragging the pipe downwards until you have a leg full of blood-filled rubber tubing. ‘The juiciest veins I’ve ever seen’, Mr Holmes enthused as he explained the cut he’d make in the groin then another in the ankle to open both ends of the shallow vein. I watched his eyes glaze with lust at the thought of getting loose with his knife.

Once through the skin he’d pass a length of ‘fishing line’ down the severed pipe and attach a ‘hook’ at the bottom to strip out the vein from bottom to top by pulling it inside out. The knotted, rubber tubing that branched off partway up was a failed offshoot of the shallow vein to be carefully dissected out through a dozen knife wounds from thigh to lower calf. It all sounded straightforward and fascinating too though I had no desire to stay awake and watch. Then, having warmed to his topic, Mr Holmes seemed transported to theatre, forgetting I was there as he incised deftly with his marker pen.

At the hospital I may as well have passed on the anaesthetic and stayed awake for the procedure because I can tell you, without fear of contraception, that nothing he did afterwards stung like the Picasso tribute he scribed on my scrotum with a spirit marker. Oooh!

Anyway, we digress – back to the tale. We mark out the piece of rotten aluminium that has to go then turn it into LOOF. For those who’ve just tuned in ‘LOOF’ stands for Loss Of Original Fabric; a term born of a clueless Hapless Lottery Failure ‘expert’ who told us we couldn’t rebuild the boat without scrapping most of it. Wrong – as usual. But there is an occasional cheat involved because if the area is small enough we can grind it to nothing so it ends up inside Henry Hoover rather than the LOOF box. This bit came out with the panel saw and went in the box.

 

The replacement patch was then lovingly crafted from 2mm H22 using the tooling we made to form the lip of the cockpit opening back in 2007 and then fettled into place. These patches must touch all the way around so in theory you don’t need any filler to weld them in. You can simply fuse the edges together but we usually add a bead of filler so the finished surface can be polished to perfect uniformity without any low spots.

 
 

The result is very satisfying and we had the corroded section beneath the jetpipe back together in no time. Other corrosion pits not severe enough to warrant a patch were treated in the usual way.

 

This part of the panel is actually a throwback to the 54 design and where it’s rotted the metal is tucked redundantly inside the structure anyway, which is why it rotted. It didn’t really need treatment as the water was kept inboard of it by the line of rivets you see running left to right but it wasn’t pretty so out came the die-grinder in search of good metal beneath.

 

Then followed a round of welding and fettling…

 

And another problem solved.

 

We plugged away for a week or so until the panel was looking much healthier but one problem remained.

 

If you look carefully around that hole in the lower panel you’ll see that the metal is still dished in around the horizontal and diagonal frame tubes. That hole created a weakness in the panel and the middle was stretched inwards as K7 did her tumbling thing. It would probably have mattered little in terms of bringing the boat back to running order but a fair amount of tension remained in the metal because of it especially around that opening. It would be too stupid for words to leave residual stresses where they might cause cracking later because once that transom goes in there’s no getting it out again.

Most of the guys when seeing the various metal-shaping techniques for the first time viewed them as some kind of black magic. They’re used to it now but to this day I still think the shrinking dies in the big power hammer at Kirkdale 2000 are astonishing. We took our stretch over there and there it was – gone in an instant.

 

Here it is; another fully repaired, original panel ready for the paint shop. And take a moment to appreciate it for what it is. We only had the privilege if mending it. We didn’t make it. That was down to the craftsmen of Samlesbury Engineering and what a piece of work it is.

 

And in case you’re wondering what the pins are for around the opening we decided to go all belt-and-braces by making a stiffener for the back.

 

That’s really what they should have done in the first place so it’s done now.

By the way – once the shallow vein has been ragged out of your leg by a six-foot-seven corduroy masochist with a hook and a length of fishing line your body still manages perfectly well. The deep veins just work-out a little to take up the extra blood flow and after a few months all is as it once was. The worst part of convalescing is settling comfortably on the pot of a morning without wrenching the staples reattaching your scrotum to where it was cut free of your upper leg.

Here’s a piece of news – we’ve been fastening floors onto the boat with glue and rivets. Yup – the floor-age is coming to an end and we’re building once again. We started gently with this lovely example.

 

See the corrugated piece standing vertically? That came out of the horizontal gap where there’s no floor and it’s special. It’s what the aft planing wedge attaches to and for no good reason whatsoever it didn’t rot. The drawings don’t call for a different material nor was it afforded any special protection we know about. It just didn’t fizz away in the bilges, which is especially fortunate considering what it does. It needed the odd patch here and there but nothing significant. This is the biggest repair we made and it was a simple matter. You can see another small area marked out back-left with Mr Holmes’ marker pen awaiting surgery.

 

But that was pretty much all it needed so once painted all we had to do was slap on some chocolate and bash in the pins.

 

Oh if only all of it was so simple but we did reach another milestone last week. Remember this horror story…

 

Well it looks like this now.

 

What a task that was! Consider this. That pair of panels has been reattached to the frame and the tray below that holds the fuel tank using the original rivet holes. They’re either an eighth of an inch or five, thirty-seconds of an inch in diameter. You only have to be a quarter of a hole adrift and the pins won’t go in and they have a certain leeway compared to a rivet. The corrugations also stand precisely an inch high. Considering that pretty much every square millimetre was damaged in some way this remains our biggest technical achievement to date. We added some strength here and there too in the form of the green, transverse L-sections you see below attached to the frame tubes.

 

For a minuscule weight penalty they provide fresh metal for extra rivets because although we’ve saved the original holes so we know the floor is back in precisely the right position some of them are a bit weary of the repeated application of pins. The new angle-pieces allow us to drill fresh holes to supplement those pre-existing. They also significantly reduce the open span of the floor corrugations between the frame tubes making the floor, albeit severely damaged then repaired, stronger than ever and of course everything has a liberal coat of choccie sauce in every joint.

Bet you didn’t think of this either… We’re putting alloy rivets through an alloy skin into a steel tube. It’s the dreaded dissimilar metal malarkey all over again on a small but oft-repeated scale. To get around it we apply choccie sauce to every single rivet using what’s become known as the ‘chocolate tampon’ before inserting them. It’s laborious to say the least but long after we’re all gone future students will struggle to fault our work.

 

No deadline – we are the customer.

 

 

 

Another dissimilar metal issue concerns the alloy tails of the original rivets left rattling about inside steel frame tubes after we dismantled our big tin boat. That’s an easy fix too though it did call for much careful development of the Bluebird Project patented ‘rivet spoon’. Take a look through the round window – that 10mm hole opened in the end of the frame tube – and you’ll see a heap of 1954 rivet tails.

 

You can’t vacuum them out because Henry Hoover can’t get enough air moving in there to make them dance so we spooned them out instead.

 

The process is now developed and signed off. Once the tubes are cleaned of rivets and the dust blown out we pour a nip of Ardrox in there to inhibit the inner walls, though they’re mostly in mint condition anyway, and then close the hole with a rubber grommet to allow future boroscopic inspections.

Meanwhile work continues elsewhere. Here’s an interesting and rewarding snippet. Check out the pic below and in particular where the diver (wearing a black drysuit) is poking his finger. Those of a seriously anoraky disposition will know at once that the length of square tube is in fact the F-19 lower crossmember and that it came out of the lake complete with Donald’s throttle pedal in early 2007. What you may not have noticed first time around is the four little upstanding bits between two of which our diver has poked his finger.

 

 

Here they are again.

 

At long last they’re ready to go back in, only the paint shop awaits. The nearest four are the same originals as in the first shot; the furthest two are replacements for the ones we didn’t get back. They’re little wedges that fit between the frame tube and the floor corrugations though they weren’t riveted into the floor for some reason. The little green square on the right with four blue pins sticking out of it is a luxury item of our own invention. The bottom of the frame is so uneven at this point – and clearly always was – that it had already caused cracking in the floors even before Donald broke his boat. We put a shim in there to level things up because if that floor ever let water in and we tried to blame Accles and Pollock I suspect we’d not be readily believed.

The great news though is that we’re building again and at a most impressive pace. The original plan called for a three-year programme. A year to strip what we had, a year to clean and mend the bits and the third would be spent building for real. This is our third year so by December, in theory at least, we should have a complete middle hull with the spars in. I say, in theory, because from this target we must deduct four months worth of Saturday production resulting from our return to the lakebed in early 07 in search of the missing frame section, and, three months of full production this year mending squashed floors that weren’t part of the plan. It’ll be interesting to see how the schedule pans out by the end of the year. On the upside there’s lots to report as bits are being clashed on every week now. Back soon…


 

August 09

 

I remember the days when I courted controversy. Slagging off the HLF because, let’s be honest, even with the benefit of hindsight, they were bloody hopeless and have done little to redeem themselves since. Or flagging up how what the public really wants to see and what the museum community tells us we want to see are at such disparity that it’s incredible they get away with it. I certainly never imagined I’d be moaned at for taking the wee-wee out of Wee-Wee Machines… It seems I ranted too late though – the disease is terminal, you’ve all bought one. Then, to make matters worse, the ink on the diary was hardly dry before the Archbishop of Westminster said all the same stuff in the Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5956719/Facebook-and-MySpace-can-lead-children-to-commit-suicide-warns-Archbishop-Nichols.html

That was all I needed. The diary is just meant to be a bit of fun (and please, anyone buttonholing me in a restaurant or wherever, ‘blog’ is not a word and never will be so long as I have breath in my body. It sounds more like something you’d snort out of a bad sinus infection). I’m just glad our diary got there ahead of the Archbishop or the last entry would’ve needed rewriting causing an even bigger delay than the one everyone was sick of to begin with. I wasn’t quite in league with all of his preachings either.

I do appreciate, for example, how Internet dating has replaced Mrs Homely secretly lusting after Mr Bland next door on spotting his beige tank-top bobbing amongst the veg’ patch. She’d then likely drop her clothes pegs and quietly orgasm at his first invite for a cup of tea over the fence. Not everyone is so keen to prey on Podeyed, gym-babes so the good old Interweb is doing them a service. I can’t get away with his assisted-suicide ideas either. I treated the partner I adored through the early years of the Bluebird Project to a lethal injection a few years back and vividly remember old Tess-the-Dog gazing at me trustingly as she went to sleep forever. I’d gladly do the same for any human I cared for as much as I did my canine companion of fifteen years.

 

 

But that all pales to nothing compared with the trouble I landed myself in a few days ago…

Much as I infuriate my wife by discarding dirty washing on the bedroom floor and leaving pieces of dismantled machinery in her kitchen she reciprocates by ‘saving’ money in the sales and telling me everything I shove in the dishwasher is on the wrong shelf.

We each have our specialties and one of hers is adding seldom-used items to the online shopping list then failing to remove them the following week. We once had an entire fridge shelf full of tomato puree, ten jars of Branston Pickle, twenty tins of tomatoes and so much ketchup I considered offering a job-lot to McDonalds. It’s been a while since this happened but whilst hunting for snack materials to assuage my lager-induced munchies recently I ran foul of a barricade of curry paste. On discovering literally dozens of jars of the stuff between me and anything I could eat straight from the tin I started stacking them on the worktop. Then, having scoffed a tin of beans earmarked for the baby’s lunch next day, I was about to put them back when the schoolboy in me decided a spot of mischief would finish the evening nicely.

Zipping the first jar into Rachel’s handbag made me chuckle as did the one I squeezed into the tea-caddy. Others went into coat pockets, various cubby holes in her car and a host of other, inventive places. It was the one I stuffed behind the washing machine door that did the damage. I mean, how was I to know that the damp washing inside was yet to be rinsed and spun? Not being checked out on washing machines I thought its contents were bound for the dryer next morning and yet another cunningly concealed jar would thud innocently and unopened onto the carpet when she opened the door as I made the point (in my trademark, child-like way) that we were once again inundated with something we’d never get through this side of Christmas.

Not so, and worse still, at some point during the spin cycle the jar was freed of its lid and entirely divested of its contents.

Picture the scene… Take a load of light colours, wash and dampen, then add a jar of curry paste at the onset of the spin cycle. Much as I’d love to show you a pic of the resulting, God-awful mess it would’ve been easier to access Chernobyl’s wrecked reactor than get near our washer that morning. The resulting carnage took a whole day, six wash-cycles and a box of Persil near-boiled at 95 Celsius to fully banish the whiff of Indian takeaway. Safe to say, I was off the team…

But it was also the day we finally nailed K7’s seat into the cockpit and with each outraged text from the missus I just couldn’t help thinking of Donald’s words,

“Too much time to grow up and grow old… It’s a sad day when the man loses the enthusiasm of the schoolboy.”

And that’s what we were like – schoolboys – at seeing the seat only one step from rivets and glue. It’s strange... an outrigger is an outrigger as a frame tube is a frame tube but the cockpit seat, Donald’s seat, is a different matter altogether… It’s a personal item and suddenly we’re handling so much more than just pieces of bent metal. How’d you like to have been sat amongst what happened here?

 

 

 

That curved piece of frame tubing is the F-17 crossmember. The seat is immediately behind it. Or rather the aluminium structure that once supported the foam and plywood cushion recovered after the accident and now lost.

Rob – recently promoted to head of the riveting dept – took it to pieces.

 

 

Then John gave it a tweak here and there and turned it into this.

 

 

Still a pile of junk but at least recognisable for what it once was. We dry-built it into the frame to see whether it still fitted.

 

 

Back in the day these were the shots that instilled a hint of confidence in the few who followed our endeavours as we wee-wee’ed on the rebuild-sceptics’ parade but it was still an awful long way from a finished job.

OK – so it looks like everything fits nicely, but really we had gaps everywhere and none of it was straight. There’s no way we could’ve riveted it like that so we did what we always do in such circumstances and abandoned it and went onto something else.

One thing we’ve had the opportunity to do as part of the rebuild is treat the structural discontinuity at F-15. The entire front of the boat was hung on the four corners of F-15 and that wasn’t good. Immediately aft is the main spar solidly bolted to additional frame tubes with shear plates welded into the gaps but where Donald sat was a big open space so he’d be comfy. The problem is that less structure meant less strength in this instance and the boat may as well have had a dotted line around F-15 saying ‘cut here’. To make matters worse, way up at the pointy end the front spar clung to the forward ends of the sponsons and delivered horrid pitching and twisting forces to the frame every time K7 rocked and rolled.

There’s evidence that the frame was known to be weak at F-15.

Hefty chunks of alloy were found attached with industrial-size rivets across the upper corners of the frame so someone obviously thought it needed beefing up.

 

 

What you see here is the upper, left corner of F-15. It would be at your left shoulder were you sitting in the cockpit. The steel gusset that used to tie the vertical frame tube to the horizontal is torn through at forty-five degrees but notice that someone has riveted a substantial piece of aluminium to the back of it. This wasn’t part of the original design – it seems to be a fix for something – especially as the other half of the aluminium came up riveted to the cockpit wreckage. Below is the entire failure. Rivet holes are clearly visible on both sides of the rip in the gusset. Perhaps cracks had started some time prior to the crash.

 

 

We mended this problem in the frame rebuild by upsizing the gussets to the whole width of the frame tube and adding additional ones in the lower corners too. It was always our plan to have the ageing Norris brothers design appropriate evolutions into the frame and we asked the HLF to fast-track our first application for this very reason. They refused.

Whilst working on these problems down at PDS this charming gentleman turned up (left, of course) who reckoned he knew a thing or two about spaceframes. He certainly talked a good job.

 

 

Our crew went for internally sleeving and pinning the damaged tubes while PDS preferred adding gussets in the corners. This bloke listened to our ideas for sorting the frame and never once said, ‘That’ll never work’. Mind you, he didn’t say it was a winner either.

So, that was the frame mended, and other things were playing into our hands too where the discontinuity at F-15 was concerned. The seat formers, for example, were sort of the right shape again but what meagre strength they once possessed vanished in the crash. Crumple a sheet of cardboard and it’s had it. Beforehand you could fan yourself with it on a hot day but scrunch it into a ball then flatten it again and it’s knackered. That’s what happened to the seat so if ever someone was to sit on it again we’d best think of a fix.

The seat formers were consigned to the heap of half-finished jobs while the new bloke knocked a couple of these out of a sheet of tin.

 

 

It’s a new former but it’s 2mm smaller than the original everywhere. The reason being that once it’s installed the original skins will stick on the outsides like wallpaper and cover the new parts completely. This means the original formers can be re-used so in the finished boat Donald’s seat will be the same one he sat on all those years ago. They also let us rivet the springy originals nice and flat so they can’t misbehave. But the best bit is that they’re a hundred times stronger plus they attach all the way down F-15, along the cockpit floor then back up F-17 solidly tying three frame stations together.

Did someone mention the cockpit floor? It came out of the lake a smidge crumply.

 

 

Something, and I’m still not sure what, slashed halfway through all three skins on the right-hand side before crushing what remained. Nothing daunted. Our battle-cry, ‘it’ll fix’, rang out confidently. Er, sort of... We looked sadly at the remains and asked, “How’re we going to fix that bugger?”

Weeks and months later we’d persuaded it straight again and popped a few pins in to stop it clattering to the floor every time we rolled the jig.

Now we had something to work with so we blew the dust off the seat components and took another look.

K7’s reinstated cockpit.

 

 

It was all going so well until we discovered that two of the starboard outriggers were wrongly positioned. If you look carefully you’ll see they’re missing. We sent them back to the paint shop after some remedial action. Still… looks OK, doesn’t it. Not bad considering it’s been in a crash.

 

 

You can see one of the new formers to the left. The right-hand one isn’t quite finished in this shot, which is why it’s not green. The shiny, alloy sections spanning the gap are spacers to hold the formers a precise distance (584mm) apart whilst setting them up in the hole and you can see the cockpit centreline marked on the floor. From there it wasn’t too difficult to pin the new parts where they’ll eventually be riveted then hang all Donald’s old scrap off them so things looked right.

 

 

Incidentally, that opening in F-15 at the back of the cockpit was to access the bottle of breathing air. The bottle holder lived under the main spar and it must’ve been a small cylinder if they ever removed it through that hole. It should’ve come out for hydrostatic testing and re-certification every few years and would have been much easier to get at with the main spar removed but whether they bothered… The holder diameter suggests about a 7 litre bottle and considering its vintage it was probably only blown to around 160 bar. Not a lot of breathing gas 40m down.

The rebreathers we used on the 2001 exped’ had a pair of 3L bottles onboard, one containing a helium mix, the other, pure O2, and we typically carried another offboard 10 or 12L bottle of bailout gas. Usually oxygen-rich so we could decompress quickly and get out of that freezing lake quick-as if the ’breather packed up. Credit to the Buddy Inspiration rebreather in one of its earliest incarnations – we didn’t have a single bailout incident in all the dives we made and that winter of 2000/01 was so cold we often had to defrost our units in the cars before we could go diving.

We did suffer the occasional mishap though and one I recall was a sudden loss of diluent gas early in one of my dives. If you’re reading this you’re breathing approximately 79% nitrogen, 21% oxygen. You can’t breathe pure O2 for long because it’ll oxidise your lungs so it has to be diluted. Nitrogen is nature’s diluent but it’s narcotic at high pressures and Coniston Water is just deep enough to make you feel a little strange if you breathe air at the bottom so we added a toot of helium to keep our heads clear. We were also deep, mixed-gas, rebreather divers and as a matter of pride we only ever breathed air when nothing more exotic was at hand.

Those of us with kids have experience of inert-gas-narcosis. Every pregnant woman I’ve ever known has vowed (usually only when having her first) to birth using nothing more than gas and air. You never hear of blokes going for a vasectomy on that basis…

Nitrous oxide – the stuff today’s youths squirt into their car engines to make ’em go as fast at the petrol gobbling monsters us middle-aged gents enjoyed in the eighties before speed cameras and catalytic converters.

It’s nicely narcotic at atmospheric pressure but not in the same league as pethidine, or diomorph’. By the way, if you want to try it, buy a tin of squirty cream and stand it right-way-up in the fridge ’til all the cream runs to the bottom. Once it’s settled take a good lungful of the propellant gas. It’s N2O and you’ll feel all wibbly-wobbly for a moment – shouldn’t really be telling you this.

It’s the same as nitrogen at depth.

When diving, the narcosis problem is managed by adding helium, which isn’t narcotic at all but the helium molecule is so small it finds its way into the ‘slow tissues’, cartilage and the like, where nitrogen doesn’t normally seep unless you stay down all afternoon. The consequence is longer decompression times and, as the other problem is your body not being very good at regulating its temperature when saturated with helium, long deco-hangs often resulting in much shivering and numb fingers.

All of this became irrelevant the day my entire diluent volume buggered off surface-wards past a failed O-ring. Not wanting to abort over such a trivial matter some swift mental arithmetic told me my bailout gas was breathable at MOD (Max Operating Depth) so I plugged it into the ’breather and carried on. What I forgot to do was shut off the now empty dil’ bottle so it flooded as I descended and cost me the small measure of buoyancy it provided for which I was carefully trimmed. No big deal… until I got to the bottom and found I had an annoying tendency to roll to the right.

This was manageable when hanging onto the downline and easily countered whilst swimming out along the ROV tether to that morning’s piece of scrap but the moment I came to a standstill I fell over. And what do you do when you’re falling over? You put out a hand to save yourself. But I was at the bottom of the lake, which is covered by about a metre of the finest mud imaginable. I’d also lost all my helium so the old grey matter was on a nitrogen-fuelled go-slow. The result was that my arm plunged shoulder-deep into the ooze and I went splat, face-first, after it. My torch was strapped to my right wrist so total darkness descended a second before my head vanished into the mud. Following a momentary and futile struggle whilst fluently cursing my ridiculous predicament I then stupidly tried to push myself free with the other hand only to end up with both arms and most of my upper body deep in the mud.

 

 

I couldn’t see anything so I stopped for a befuddled think. Concluding that with nothing to push against more buoyancy was the only answer I fished about for the inflate button on my wing, a gas-filled bladder used to trim the diver’s buoyancy at depth with sufficient reserve to drag you off the bottom if things go awry. It took a bit of finding in the glutinous muck but I was eventually rewarded with the hiss of incoming gas followed by a swift unsticking that almost left my mask half a metre under the silt. But by now I was far too buoyant, totally blind and heading upwards, feet-first, with everything expanding and inflating as the coagulated snot from my ’breather drained slowly back into my mouth. Much frantic dumping of gas from wing, drysuit and rebreather quickly ensued as I shot upwards working the problem like a one-armed paperhanger leaving a contrail of mud until finally gaining control around the 20m mark. Needless to say, the dive was aborted soon after.

Where was I?

Ah yes, the seat. We closed the rivet holes we didn’t need, performed some interim titivation then threw it in the corner until next it was needed because it couldn’t progress until we sorted the cockpit floor. We can pin stuff together and it’s OK so long as there’s only one skin meeting another and even then the tolerances can soon add up to an appreciable error. Once it’s riveted you’re working with a constant again so we had to get the cockpit floor nailed down to do any more with the seat.

We made much of the middle floor because it was by far the most badly damaged piece we’d reclaimed and mending it was a real achievement but for complexity in the build it falls to second place when compared to the cockpit floor.

This differs in having an inner skin, presumably so Donald wasn’t walking about on the corrugations. Where the middle floor was concerned all we had to do was repair and realign the tortured panels with the frame and keep the heights right. It was in a bad way but the objective was relatively straightforward. It was riddled with corrosion too, which on the face of it is a bad thing but when inserting patch repairs we could lose all the stretching and deformation from what survived. The patches effectively hold what’s left in the right shape so it’s cheating in a way. But the cockpit floor didn’t need patched so much leaving us with damage we had to fix rather than lose.

The cockpit floor had to be matched not only to the frame but to the inner floor too, which was both equally crumpled and had to be made to work with the frame again in its own right. It was tricky to say the least.

We started with this mess.

 

 

What’s unfortunate from our perspective is that, apart from the obviously shattered corner, it’s probably only about three inches out of true everywhere else so when you see it mended it doesn’t look much different. It did look a bit worse as it came apart and was cleaned of paint and Yak-shit though. The inner floor came up shiny as can be making the damage more apparent.

 

 

It’s also made of extremely thin and unbelievably tough alloy that doesn’t weld, no way, no how. The torn section was found to have shattered like a wine glass in places and pieces were missing. There’s still an occasionally painful splinter of it deep in my finger from the day I explored the damage without gloves that’s ever likely to remain there.

 

 

We had a good go at working out a repair process but in the end we had to admit defeat and let in a whole new corner of the nearest, weldable material. The problem was that welding a patch into a hole like this caused the cooling material to pull inwards in every direction so the welds fought one another until the metal just cracked somewhere else.

 

 

 

No amount of pre-heat, post-heat, annealing or anything else gave us enough elongation in the native material to allow it to cool without failing so all we could do was go right out to the edge of the panel. By replacing the whole corner the welds had nothing to pull against and it worked.

 

 

We lost slightly over a quarter of the original and it was a big sacrifice but it allowed us to save what was left.

The corrugated inner was utterly buggered too…

 

 

Here you see the panel from beneath the right-hand side of the cockpit floor and the cause of the damage remains a mystery to this day. It’s upside down in this shot so the upper edge you see here normally runs down the centreline of the cockpit whilst the edge nearest fits down the right-hand side of the boat. Look at the rip through the middle – it’s flattened and torn downwards, which is really upwards, if you know what I mean. It therefore gives the appearance of having been hit from below but that’s a tough one to explain. More likely is that the corrugations failed in tension as the floor forward of the F-17 crossmember was bent upwards but that doesn’t explain how only half the floor was affected seeing as F-17 remained intact across its width. Then the inner floor belies both of these hypotheses by looking more like it was slashed from right to left by something jagged.

At this point the museologists would clean it with cotton buds and make it the subject of an interactive display but they also assure us that museums are for the public who often tell us that they’d rather see the ‘before’ pic’s then watch it bashed back to life with hammers.

 

 

Here it is right way up and partially glued. Notice also that much of the stretching and deformation has also been sent back from whence it came. It’s easy with the panel torn in two. You can push the stretched metal into the damaged region then file both pieces back to size before gluing. From there we patched and fettled until it went back on the boat to join its apparently less damaged partner. The gotcha with the other panel is that although it looked to be in better condition and remained in one piece the crash damage here was subtle and right in the middle so it proved an absolute b’stard to get rid of.

 

 

Looks OK above but there’s a way to go yet. See all those rivet holes? Not too many of them matched up with anything after all we had to do to make the panels fit so they had to go – every single one of them.

 

 

That took a bit of a while; especially as every weld you put into this thin stuff contracts on cooling and significantly shrinks the metal, which then has to be manually stretched again with hammer and dolly or your corrugation ends up banana-shaped. Was I glad when that was over!

We do have one or two creature comforts to make the boring bits a little more bearable, mind you. Music, for example. Over the years we’ve graduated from a simple ‘wireless’ through assorted CD players to Rob’s old hi-fi but CDs don’t tolerate aluminium shavings very well so what tends to happen is that our collection is gradually eroded to a few hardy survivors that then get played again and again and recently we’ve had rather too much Genesis and Pink Floyd left over.

 

 

Something simply had to be done and to the rescue this time came Alain with his all singing, all dancing ‘alPod’. Or ought that to be ‘Podal’?

 

 
 

A friend of ours has an electronics repair business and he kindly donated some orphaned gadgets, a half-decent hi-fi and a passable computer, onto which Alain has apparently loaded every piece of music ever recorded.

With time flying again and Vera Lynn singing for Rob’s entertainment the paint shop soon received our next consignment and, as expected, Bettablast made a sterling job of applying the surface coating.

 

 

 

 

All we had to do now was build it – gulp!

By the way – if you look closely you can just discern a small modification we’ve made to the wider ends of these panels to take another bite out of that discontinuity mentioned earlier and aid in refitting the original outer floor. All will be revealed in due course. Refitting the outer floor is the target we’ve really been working towards all this time, anything beyond that is just icing on the cake.

What happened is this. Back in 2006 we reached the end of the line with the Hapless Lottery Failure and stood facing our own promises – we’d complete the project without them. It was a brave boast and though we knew we could do it the day had finally arrived when we had to sh*t or get off the pot. Both the Lottery-Flops and the museologists had declared us unfit for purpose so putting two fingers up to them and plunging ahead took serious resolve from everyone involved. Stripping out fixtures, fittings and widgets was easy – they could go back with the flick of a spanner and no harm done – but popping rivets, that was serious.

I called the grand poobah – Mr Knapp – and asked what to do.

“Take the floor off,” he said.

“Have you seen how many rivets keep it on?” I asked incredulously. “And, besides, it’s sitting on the heads so we can’t get at them.”

“Put it on a rollover jig,” Chris said patiently, as though suggesting to a child that they pull up a chair to reach a biscuit from the cupboard.

We slung the hull as suggested and got drilling.

 

 

Those were the first rivets we took out and ever since then I’ve thought that once they go back in we’ve come full circle and at least we can’t make the boat any worse than when we started. Daft, I know, because if nothing else, K7’s metal-rot is stopped so she’ll be good for many years to come instead of gently fizzing away to dust. Oh, and she has a pointy end again too.

Remember all the widgets at F-19… we finally built them with rivets and glue after carefully ensuring that the new ones are green and the originals are silver.

 

 

Then we stuck the inner floor down at long last. It’d been off the boat for forty-two years but it went back as though it had grown there.

 

 

If you look closely you can see a few rivets but we need to mend its corrugations before the rest can go in so it’s mostly pinned for the moment.

Next came the cockpit floor. Choccie sauce first.

 

 

We laid it on good and thick then started pinning. Our preferred technique, seeing as many of the panels we’re reinstalling aren’t as flat as once they were, is to put a good thickness of sauce in the gaps then pin like crazy until everything is pulled down. Then we revisit the pins one by one and again and again until most of the sauce has squidged back out again. It’s wasteful but we can be absolutely sure the job is a thorough one.

We used three tubes of the twenty-four hour mix on this floor with approximately two hours between each one, which meant that the first lot – between the frame and the inner floor – would go off the following afternoon. The second lot – between the inner and outer floor – would go off two hours later, and the third lot – between everything else including members of the riveting crew – would follow soon after. And so commenced a seemingly unending session of careful riveting to have enough of the 1500 or so rivets in and set before the choccie sauce went off with all the mating faces thoroughly stuck together with no gaps or excess sauce between them.

 

 

We’re all getting rather good at this riveting lark as well as speaking reasonable rivetese. We’re constantly assured by aerospace types that rivets are easily understood and I still disagree but at least the workshop crew can now tell the difference between an SP80 405 and an SP71 309. The cockpit floor went together with the latter. The SP71 bit refers to the countersunk head.

 

 

You’ll notice that some of the heads are purple and some are silver. The silver ones are of genuine 1954 vintage that someone gave us and it seemed a shame not to use them so we worked them into the floor. The purple ones are brand new and a much tougher rivet, the floor having been built originally with the silver variety, so we’re up on strength – again.

They’re a solid rivet and we had to trim every single one to length The 309 part means 3/32nd of an inch in diameter and 9/16th of an inch long. Why can’t they stick to one unit of measurement? The silver ones were way too long but the purple ones were also ordered with a little in hand because having welded up all the old holes then dressed the material back to acceptable smoothness some variation in thickness still occurred. These rivets are set by pressing the rivet gun against the countersunk head and a polished block to the stem then bashing them until first they swell tightly into the hole then swage over to form a mushroom-shaped head at the other end. You’re supposed to start with 1.5 x the diameter protruding but when the diameter is only 3/32nd of an inch getting the length right in material of varying thickness is fun to say the least. Three days later we had 1500 rivets sorted, repetitive strain injury, temporary deafness, short tempers and a tremendous sense of satisfaction.

 

 

We needed only an afternoon of snagging to sign off the finished job. We upsized a rivet here and there because our ‘conservation-led approach’ utilises as many original holes as possible but sometimes they just don’t make it and a bigger rivet in a freshly drilled, upsized hole is needed to ensure absolute quality. We also closed the gap at the back of the cockpit. There’s no evidence that this was ever done first time around but we did it because we could.

 

 

We’d not normally show you such a mess of spilt choccie sauce and un-trimmed rivet stems but what the hell – you know it’ll look pretty next time you see it. Whenever we have to design something new into the structure we search for something similar then graft existing design philosophy into where it’s needed so even new bits look like the Norris brothers thought them up first.

The repairs to the aft corrugations were never envisaged, however, so we had to dream them up all on our own. John’s ‘green-beams’ are now complete for half of the corroded material beneath the steel battery boxes and auxiliary fuel tank. The metals had a proper civil war down there and, as ever, the aluminium lost. He made a splendid job of our fix.

 

 

They drop inside the original floor corrugations and rivet into the outer floor and frame tubes as well as the additional transverse stiffeners we’ve added down K7’s length. Here’s another set of ‘green beams’ in the longer, aft corrugations. They’re unpainted and unfinished but looking good nonetheless.

 

 

Meanwhile, the new bloke has been busy installing those stiffeners mentioned earlier.

 

 

We’ve added a fair number of these because they allow us to fix the floors at each station using the pre-existing rivet holes, many of which still exhibit original and potentially interesting crash damage, whilst providing an equal or greater number of new fixings that can be easily traced to the 2009 build. Conserveering at its best…

The worst of the floor build is behind us now except for the outer skin, which is a mini-nightmare in its own right, so now it’s onwards and upwards.

And one last thing – we identified a small problem in that now we’re building on a daily basis we occasionally have to add a shim here and there – just as they did back in 54 – to take up small gaps or whatever. Asking Bettablast to paint inch-square shavings of alloy seemed a bit much especially as the result invariably ends up buried in choccie sauce anyway so we went in search of an in-house process to let us crack on if we need to make minor fixes.

The problem with aluminium is that nothing will stick to it due to its propensity for forming an oxide layer and if you don’t get it properly coated it corrodes for fun. Paint, glue, you name it – nothing will stay put unless you prime the metal first and here you hit another problem because suitable primers are generally full of evil chemicals that we don’t want around our workshop.

We called Chemetall Trevor who immediately fetched a bottle of Oxsilan.

 

 

I’d not heard of it before but Bill at Bettablast reckoned it was the ‘dog’s banana’ so we asked Trevor who told us the stuff we needed wasn’t available in the UK – but they’d make us some in the lab.

It’s wizardry to match the ever-lasting paint stripper. The safety data sheet suggests you could almost get away with using it as a mixer with gin, ice and a slice of lemon yet it’s a perfectly capable surface-conversion coat that’ll let the paint stick once it’s dry. Weird!

And as though this wasn’t enough, Trevor rolled up his sleeves and bashed in a few rivets with us. We really do have the best sponsors in the world.

 

 

Next on the list is the cockpit seat structure then possibly some of the systems. Much as we’d love to put the outer skins on we readily accept that in the process we’d likely be making work for ourselves later when it comes to installing the steering and such. How much easier that would be with no sides in the boat. Same goes for the fuel and throttle linkages so we need to look at exactly what’s involved and decide which way to go.

The seat is a done deal though…

 

 

It’s back within tolerance. We allow ourselves +/-1.5mm at the pointy end because, as is oft pointed out, “It’s been in a crash, you know…”

And finally – we have a nifty new product available for people who like to walk up hills or just carry lots of stuff whenever they leave the house. A bag…

 

 

We sent for one and had it officially field-tested by one of our regulars. The write-up is as follows.

 

Bluebird Project Rucksack.
An absolutely superb quality polyester rucksack with a large 10 litre capacity main section and a 6 litre front section. With numerous other zipped compartments and pockets inside and out, including storage for wet items underneath- ideal for those familiar with the weather at a certain lake! – and side pouches for your drinks bottle etc. Padded comfort back panel, reflective strip, baseboard, detachable chest straps, waist strap, blue, project logo; what more could you want?


November 09

I’d not noticed how much time has slipped by since the last update and that’s worrying for all the wrong reasons. Of course, we like to keep you up to speed as much as you enjoy finding out what’s been going on, but the seed of the diary is usually some outrageous event that sparks a rant onto the end of which I stitch a bit of tin-bashing waffle and the odd daft tale or two. Sadly it’s just not happened lately. What can this mean?
Has our planet has been cleansed of idiocy and invested with common sense – I doubt it – or could it be that I just no longer give a stuff?
But then it happened… I mean, life is full of unanswered questions and with good reason. We don’t know how to build a time machine, for example, or why women need so many shoes, but they’re real prickly puzzles that may, or may not, be answered in the fullness of time. No, it’s the questions that ought to have simple answers that fascinate me most. I’ve asked everyone I can think of why football is only played when the grass won’t grow, it’s cold and dark, and the days are short with a greater than average chance of a crap forecast but no one can offer a clue. Nor can any of the do-good, save the planet, enviro-mentalists tell me what happened to Coniston’s glacier twelve thousand years ago. It seems a little embarrassing to them that an entire glacier should have buggered off without a Range-Rover in sight though, unfortunately, it does seem to have made a brief return of late albeit in liquid form.
And now I have another. Our Great British summer enjoys glorious, long days when the sun gets up early and goes to bed late and around midsummer it barely gets dark at all in northern latitudes. But it’s an increasingly fleeting pleasure as the years roll by and in what seems no time wet wind strips autumnal leaves and the nights close ranks as Christmas approaches.
Then, just as the roads grow dangerously slick, some idiot messes with our clocks to make sure it’s pitch bloody dark at both ends of the day! What kind of blatant stupidity is that? Why aren’t we chasing the fading daylight instead of legging it in the opposite direction? Back in the early seventies common sense was given a whirl with a drastic reduction in the number of road deaths but the farmers moaned so the idea was shelved.
Now listen here, farmers… it’s OK for you because while you dish out sheep pellets first thing of a morning you’re unlikely to find a juggernaut up your arse in the fast lane of the M6 whilst it’s equally doubtful that your sheep will starve because they can’t see their breakfast.
Besides, this was almost forty years ago – has anyone seen a modern farm tractor? They’re better appointed than my house and I was riding a quad bike around a farm the other day with heated mittens and an uber-frugal diesel engine. It’s absolute madness that we should all be subjected to darkness and danger at those times of the day when we’re either not quite awake or tired after a hard shift. Who is in charge of this nonsense?
Even without this minor rant I still ought to have updated the diary long ago but it seems every time I sit down to write, something gets in the way. The other problem is that when we get into slow and painstaking work with little visual progress there’s not much to write about. Donald’s seat is an excellent example. We got it back into his boat at long last and that was something of a landmark but what a long, drawn-out process.
The object was always to rebuild the actual boat that Donald drove, not create a copy or a half finished facsimile but to resurrect the real-deal full of proper pieces of tin that took all those records then went into that final, fateful campaign in the winter of 66/67 and the cockpit seat was always kind of symbolic.

 


Just look at this… F-15 (back of the cockpit) all the way forward to F-17 (the U-shaped crossmember foremost) including every shred of visible frame and most of the cockpit floor is recovered, repaired and put back. The green strip along the back of the cockpit ties the floor to the lower, F-15 crossmember and is our addition; and although there’s some evidence that it may have been done that way originally we certainly found no trace of the hardware if it was. The green seat formers we all know about so with them firmly affixed to everything in sight the time arrived at last to stick Donald’s seat back in the hole.

 


Much plenty choccie sauce… all it’s really doing here is making sure there’s nowhere for dust or moisture to accumulate whilst bringing its considerable adhesive qualities to the party. We’re not overly concerned with keeping the lake out or dissimilar metal rot issues where the seat is concerned. It fitted perfectly to the outside of the green former, which as we’ve previously mentioned, was made 2mm smaller everywhere so as to fit neatly within the original skins…

 


…followed by its inner companion.

 


There are hundreds of rivets keeping that thing in there and what a nightmare it was to nail down. This is what I mean about the devil in the detail.
Consider this. See above that inch-wide return at the base of the seat former that runs flat along the floor… It’s 22-gauge alloy. Now think of what’s beneath and what we had to fix it to.

 


See how the cockpit floor corrugations taper towards the bow, but the seat formers run parallel to the boat’s centerline. What this means is that drilling holes through the floor to fix the seat is fraught with danger. Sometimes you’re drilling through only the seat former (we closed most of the holes in the repair process to give ourselves a chance of satisfactorily sticking the thing down again) and the similarly thin inner floor skin. In this instance the rivets go into the void beneath the inner skin inside the corrugation – two thicknesses of material only. But where the tops of the corrugations meet the underside of the inner floor there’s three thicknesses to get through so it’s important to ensure the use of rivets with the correct grip length. Too short and they don’t get a secure hold – too long and much the same thing happens. That bit is easy. What’s tricky is avoiding drilling through the corner where the corrugations change direction because then you have a hole you can’t put any kind of a rivet into. The job isn’t too difficult so long as you keep your wits about you but it all takes time so the seat seemed to take forever to install and it’s not quite finished yet.

 


 


It looks nice though and in this shot you can certainly see how the boat’s shape is forming around the outer edges of the floors but a hundred widgets are yet to be designed, built, painted, glued and riveted before we sign off the seat structure as finished.
The floors are a done deal these days though. At bloody long last! They’ve cost us a third of a year on our build schedule and, though eventually they proved well worth the effort, their reconstruction did little for workshop morale at the time. The front ones because they were either mashed, corroded or both and the rear ones due to dissimilar metal rot. John’s ‘green beams’ provided the answer as proven when the first set went in for keeps.

 


This wonderful invention allows us to leave the main floors completely unmolested apart from a new coat of paint. Future museologists will be able to hang upside down in their tweeds and examine real K7 floor corrosion to their heart’s content while we can safely put her back on the water and cater for the public – for whom museums exist, lest we forget. The two longer beams near the bottom, by the way, pick up a slightly extended patch of corrosion in two of the corrugations. We didn’t just build them wrong.

 


Here’s how it looks when it’s built. We’ve popped some doublers over where the floor fixes to the frame because there’s a bit of corrosion against the steel but otherwise it’s as we found it and good to go again. The floors further aft weren’t so lucky because they lay beneath the jetpipe and that’s made of Nimonic stainless (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nimonic) so, as you’d expect, the alloy lost that old war of attrition where dissimilar metals are concerned.

 


And herein lies another trick detail. Imagine how careful the man with the blasting gun had to be to remove every last trace of paint, mud and yak-shit without blowing the underlying, paper-thin aluminium to smithereens… Bettablast-Bill had to work out the process for doing this and we’ve no idea how long it took him or how he did it. All we know is that we gave him cruddy aluminium corroded to the thickness of a Mr Kipling foil cake-cup and he blasted it clean without destroying it. Think about it…
And as Mr Kipling has never been noted for making exceedingly strong hydroplane floors our resident beam expert had to make up the deficit once again.

 


These are full length ‘green beams’ span 85 inches overall to support the entire aft floor panels.
“But you’re adding weight,” said someone, and it’s a fair point but unknown at the time the real ‘Robbie’ Robinson solved the problem back in the day with his lead ingots bolted into the stern. A full set of ‘green beams’ weighs less than as a single ingot so all we have to do is leave one out to form the nub of an interactive museological display and the correctly balanced craft can then get her bottom wet once again without fear of sinking.

 


There’s another development due to the floor installation that had to emerge sooner or later and which actually turned up exactly when predicted. When we mounted the hull in the first rollover jig the boat was completely skinned and the only fixing we could find at the broken end was the hole in the frame where the main spar passes through. Our concern at the time was that the frame might deviate under its own weight as we took the skins off – sag in the middle, if you like – and make reassembly difficult due to the rivet holes not lining up. Thankfully our fears proved groundless so we knew we were safe supporting the frame from the same two places for the rebuild but another problem lurked in the dynamics of it all. When mounted to the first jig the boat had an alarming tendency to roll to her upright position because its metacentre is quite a way above the centerline of the jig. We managed during the stripdown by simply keeping the boat upright as much as possible or bolting the jig in any of the other positions we used. But then we would leave it fixed for days on end while we painstakingly teased away a single panel whereas nowadays we might have the boat at half a dozen different angles in a busy evening. Factor in that she’s now a third longer than last time with a disproportionate weight increase in the heavily built bow and it’s not difficult to appreciate that approximately a ton of metal on a rollover jig with an inbuilt desire to right itself is potentially dangerous.
With this possibility in mind we spent a few weeks planning the finer points of our second generation jig, one of the more important factors being Rob’s small stature. The aft frame attachment and its floor mounted stanchion is the one we designed way back when for the stripdown, albeit shortened in Rob’s honour this time around. Seeing as he’s removed more rivets than the rest of us added together then stuck around to put them all back in again it seemed reasonable to respect his requirements, which essentially determined the hoop diameter at the other end of the jig and therefore the height of the hull above the floor. With this vital dimension as a datum for our sketch we sallied forth. Next, the team discussed whether the hoop ought to be fixed and the mounting to the frame roll within it or whether the frame ought to be permanently mounted to the hoop, which would then roll on a pair of feet fixed to the floor. John settled that issue by pointing out that rolling the frame within a fixed hoop would provide greater opportunity for chopping off fingers whilst making the rolling operation more difficult because at least there’d plenty of leverage when turning the entire hoop; so that’s the way we went.
From there we had to plan how we’d get the frame in and out of its jig when necessary (because it must come out to fit the transom, amongst other operations) how it would fix to both frame and floor, and how to actually construct it. Our musings gradually evolved into a detailed proposal that eventually became a drawing and we watched the development and commissioning of our second jig with much satisfaction. It was innocuous enough initially with only a bare frame aboard but now it commands serious respect. There’s so much energy stored when the boat is in any position but upright that it’s now only moved according to a strict checklist that includes the removal of all air hoses, loose objects and non-essential personnel. Hopefully we have enough procedures in place that it’ll not bite us before we get to put the heavy old bitch on her launching cradle in preparation for her return to the water.
The floors still need a shedload of rivets but they’re pretty much complete now and that means we can start skinning the outside of the hull. It’s supremely annoying (though completely understandable) that this seems to be all people care about. Never mind that we’ve turned out a wonderfully rebuilt frame and inner structure from stem to stern despite the forward third being knocked off and scattered all over the bottom of Coniston Water… Oh no.
‘When are you going to put the outside on?’ they all want to know.
So, by popular demand… behold, some skins pinned for appraisal because, of course, we have to mend them before the rivet-twins can set about nailing them down.

 


One final floor related issue… back in the beginning we pledged that we would save as much as possible of the original material and this is why the bureaucrats went so wobbly because the museologists said it couldn’t be done – amateurs, the lot of them. So we mended those murdered floors and now it’s viewed as a triumph of conservation much like the piece of frame we put so much effort into finding rather than simply building a replacement. But all this originality has come at a price and now there’s an increasing chance that we’re going to miss the spring 2011 launch date. Not that we care two hoots because we’ve always said the boat will be finished when she’s finished and anyone who wants to see it done any sooner is welcome to come and help but I bet there’ll be a lot of griping and moaning if we push it back a year. We’ll see.
On a different note, we’ve been buggering about with an engine lately too. We now have the main hull construction in the capable hands of the team. Rob and Mick are expert riveters while the other Mike can fettle anything now that his material of choice has switched from MDF to aluminium and Tony is shot blasting ever smaller twiddly things as we raid the boxes of bits we packed away back in 2006 and clean them up as part of the final build. My role for so long has been chief fabricator and welder but there’s almost nothing left to weld and lots of other things need sorting if we’re ever to see two and a half tons of metal move under its own power.
Our engine story is long and involved.
Back in 2001 we asked Rolls-Royce for support and were received enthusiastically but told we needed an engine of known history before they could get behind us at corporate level. Much searching finally turned up a genuine Orph’ – at our local ATC squadron – but despite trying our best we never uncovered its life story. Rolls-Royce was understandably reluctant to get officially involved with a powerplant of unknown ancestry but still provided a wealth of technical literature and introduced us to some charming old Orpheus engineers who, having lived and breathed the engine for most of their working lives, gave it their all for such an appreciative audience so late in the day. Thus helped and encouraged we brought our ragged Orph’ to a reasonable standard by acquiring a second unit for spares – it was internally knackered but good for all the useful ancillaries. The finished job was battle ready but we never got around to starting it.

 


We’d agreed with Rolls that they’d still support us if we found the right engine so with ever an ear to the ground we plunged headlong into the Hapless Lottery Failure years as jet engines slipped reluctantly down our list.
Then, in 2007 came a phone call. Did we have any Orpheus combustion chambers that might be made available for a recently grounded though otherwise flightworthy aircraft? It was a fair request because we had seven of them, though we didn’t know what condition they were in, but if they could be used to get a plane back into the air we would gladly swap them for some slightly eroded examples for ground-running our boat. A man drove all the way from Bournemouth with a boroscope to sniff about inside our engine and our combustion cans proved healthy but in the meantime the aircraft was allowed back into the air without the costly stripdown so the problem went away. It was noted, however, that we’d tried to help so in exchange we were invited to swap our Orph’ for the display example in Bournemouth aviation museum, which was in first class order and ready to fly. Many thanks to DeHavilland Aviation for that opportunity…
That’s things sorted – you’d think.

 


Sadly, by the time we got just the engine we needed and went back to Rolls, all their old Orph’ guys had either died or retired so after so much effort they had to turn us down at the final hour – yet another stunning triumph for the Heritage Lottery Fund’s time wasting department.
The Bluebird Project, however, remains extremely grateful to the people at Rolls-Royce for the help they afforded us over the years.
We’ll not let you down.
So now we had a mint engine that none of us knew the first thing about and to make matters more complicated we also want to run many of K7’s original systems off it and that’s going to take a bit of getting right. What if we broke such a precious asset?
What we needed was another engine as a test bed and to the rescue this time came the 1454 (Harrow) Squadron Air Training Corps who happened to have an almost dead Orph’ lying about their yard.
Their ragged old engine turned up full of leaves and litter and very seized up.

 


But with a good working knowledge of how to pull one of these things down we set about it without delay. First thing – grab a team shot.

 


On the left is Trevor Thomas who kindly arranged for us to have this engine in the first place and far right is John Cross standing beside Peter Harrison – the man in the stripes. You know the rest of us. These guys drove all the way from London with our new lump of scrap. Cheers lads!
Next job… get the oil pump out. We got this wrong on our first engine. The oil pump is the Achilles heel of the unwanted Orph’.
Once the oil tank comes off – and it usually does – the open pump ports are left facing skywards so the magnesium casting quickly fills with water and destroys itself from within seizing the rotors solidly and furring up the gearbox oil galleries from one end to the other. These engines are designed so that should a pump or whatever seize in service there’ll not be an ‘uncontained failure’ or, put another way, an explosion of shrapnel all over the aircraft’s engine compartment with the attendant risk of fire, so all the accessory driveshafts have a waist machined into them where they’re designed to fail-safe if called upon. You guessed it – seize the pump then turn the engine… Off came the seized pump so we could rescue its intact drive.

 


Then there’s the turbine bearing. These tend to stick if the engine is left out in the weather so that came apart next. Sure enough, it wasn’t exactly running smoothly but it was in great condition despite the neglect and it didn’t take long to clean that up too. Having got the brute to spin we whizzed it up with a big electric drill to blow out all the crap before assessing it properly.
Unfortunately, it was worse than we first thought. A lot of water had seeped here and there and magnesium just loves to fizz into a rock-hard corrosion product that looks and feels like concrete. It’s incredible stuff – if you take metallic magnesium and keep it damp it forms magnesium hydroxide, which is basically a mineral. It literally turns into a chunk of rock that takes up considerably more space than the original metal. Allow this to take place in a confined space and it exerts an unholy force until something gives. Worse still, a single crumb of it could block any of the numberless oil jets in the gearbox. It’s an insidious problem because the engine wouldn’t show any outward signs of distress until the under-lubricated bearing or gear finally overheated and let go and by then it would be too late. We pulled the gearbox apart and scrubbed out the oilways.

 


But as fast as we solved one problem another emerged. We noticed that the tip clearance around the first-stage compressor blades varied by a few thousandths of an inch from one side to the other and suspected that more of that awful corrosion product had built up between where the compressor case meets the gearbox case. In this instance the front of our engine, and consequently the main bearings, could have been pushed slightly out of alignment. We made up a clever tool to get the mainshaft nut loose then heaved as though unsticking an undesirable youth from our daughters.

 


With the nut removed we pulled the front off the engine to reveal exactly what we’d suspected.

 



 



If you imagine this as a clock face you can see the corrosion product from about the six o’clock position around clockwise to ten-thirty-ish. Bettablast got rid of it for us and with a dollop of epoxy repair putty we soon had it good as new and ready to go back together. The gearbox takes a lot of setting up with dial gauges, feeler blades and foul language but it’s smooth as can be now.
Another slightly unhappy piece came out of the stores recently.

 



This is the LPC (low pressure fuel cock) handle from Donald’s cockpit. The black handle on the left was used to slide a length of link-rod through a spherical bearing mounted on the right hand side of F-17. This in turn worked another rod that runs aft through several stations then pushes on yet another linkage to open and close a quarter-turn valve on the outlet of the auxiliary fuel tank. We straightened and cleaned it a smidge.

 



Then we took a look at its bracket and pivoty thing…

 



Mike positioned it using a tiny shred of corroded aluminium bearing a single rivet hole that we were able to reconcile to the original F-17 bulkhead.

 



Then he made it all fit and work like new.

 



Clever, eh?
Then, whilst on a roll, we dragged this piece of scrap off the heap and had a go at it too.

 



Any idea what it is? We whacked it a time or two until it repented its sins and sat up straight…

 



Worked it out yet? OK – see if this helps.

 



It’s the bracket that mounted the HPC (high pressure fuel cock) – that black control box with ‘Bloctube’ on the top as seen in cockpit assets/images/diary/2009 of K7 going all the way back to her launch. We got it out of the lake and put it back for an afternoon.

 



Now it’s all in context. OK so it’s crusty-looking at the moment but we could, if we so desired, mend it and put it back but that’s the source of a museological conundrum. You see, that lever was shoved forward by the man himself on the 4th January 67 and it’s not moved since. We could leave it there and put the control box in the museum and make a new one but it would then be a major, non-original component in an otherwise complete system except for a couple of joints and fiddly bits we never got out of the lake. On the other hand the unmoved lever would be quite evocative if properly displayed and interpreted – a direct link back to Donald’s fateful decisions that morning. We’ll ask the public then tell the museologists what’s required.
Another thing you may have noticed... because the seat has a new internal structure and much of its surrounding bulkheads either do very little work or have massive steel tubes behind them we've been fortunate in being able to leave many of K7's battle scars intact. There's genuine examples of crash damage and corrosion down there to help tell her story, which is good news considering that many structural components needed repairs that effectively wiped out much of the damage.
In the meantime we did feel confident enough to mend this bracket because new control box or old it has work to do.

 



But again we left some of the corrosion pits because it’s quite a sturdy piece of material anyway and once the control box is bolted to it it’s properly beefy.
The engine went back together presently and we gave it a good rub down with Scotch Brite and sprayed it a tasty shade of grey so it’ll wipe down with a cloth when the jetfuel starts splashing everywhere.

 



You can see the inlet nearing completion on the bench behind too. Now that the engine spins like a Swiss watch and the gearbox oilways and pumps are all spotless we’re getting onto the systems because this is to be a hybrid engine. That inlet is from K7 and it’s not quite the right one for the lump in the foreground but it can be made to fit. The air-starter is different too and its delivery pipes live inside that bullet so that all has to be made to fit too.

 



Two old friends dropped by and gave it a rub down with a few shreds of an old anorak they had lying about then Rob set about it for another session and polished it until it gleamed.

 



Then there’s the engine fuel system. One day sometime in the 34 years Bluebird was at the bottom of the lake the entire fuel system fell away from the corroding compressor housing and plopped into the half-metre of anaerobic mud that filled the inner hull. There it lay mostly protected by kerosene on the inside and mud on the outside until we pulled it out in 2001.

 



This scruffy looking conglomeration is the complete fuel system. The lump sticking out on the left is the main fuel pump, which was driven off the engine’s accessory gearbox. To its right and covered in white corrosion product is the fuel filter and the rusty pile on the far right is the CCU or combined control unit. It’s basically the carburetor, the part that throws the fuel in when you stand on the loud pedal. In the foreground is the PRL (pressure ratio limiter) and AFRC (air-fuel ratio controller) and together, these separate units are interconnected by a nest of hoses to control fuel delivery to the engine.
Now then, wouldn’t it be wonderful to have all this mended so that next time K7 powers down the lake this most important part of her machinery is both present and fully functional… But what a monumental task that’s likely to be considering the outrageous mechanical complexity of these items coupled with the fact that all the tooling, expertise, spares and test facilities are pretty much extinct forty years on. Imagine if we applied for a grant to do this… they’d simply tell us it couldn’t be done.
The pump is almost finished.

 



But the problem is not rebuilding it – it’s getting it properly set up and calibrated. Nowadays multiple sensors would watch the engine parameters and let a computer figure it all out but this lot was built in an age before such luxuries. Hence it’s a nest of microscopic drillings, amplifier valves and diaphragms that push and pull, opening and closing ports and passageways to mechanically control fuel delivery. You may imagine how carefully such a system must be set up in order for it to work efficiently and to that end we’re talking to the handful of organizations who may still know how it should be done.
The rest of the boat is coming on in leaps and bounds too. The great thing about the team these days is that everyone knows exactly what they’re doing and work just breezes along.
Rob, for example, spent a Saturday setting up the remaining spar-box and drilling the hundreds of rivet holes needed to nail it down. It has to be within a millimetre because it picks up the outer skins and if it’s wrong, they will be too. Slapping a spar box into the gap between a pair of outriggers may not seem too much of a job but by the time it was accurately set up and checked in every way possible then the holes drilled and deburred finally followed by gluing and pinning a whole day had gone by.

 



Rob just soldiered on with quiet confidence while Mike set up and installed a replacement cockpit rail in similar fashion. Considering that it’s both curved and also had to be built wrong to get it right because of an error in the 1954 construction it was not a simple matter but it looks superb and is spot on in terms of fit and position.

 



John, meanwhile, has now completed the last of his ‘green beams’ so we can rivet the final floor section and get it finished.

 



That’s the lot. The ‘green beams’ have proven a huge success allowing us to keep the inner floors 100% original throughout the entire length of the boat. Bet you didn’t think that would happen... Again – John just gathered the tools he needed and without fuss or bother dropped a perfect set of beams on the ‘finished’ pile by tea time.

 



The sharp eyed will spot that there’s still a piece missing. That’s the bit John has just made the beams for. It’ll be on quick as you like.

 



Apart from three outriggers on this side that need a tweak because of where that big hole was bashed through the outer skin just aft of the spar the structure is complete. This side was by far the worst damaged. Because K7 rolled almost completely to the left before she crashed, the bodywork was flattened against the frame trapping the somewhat squashed outriggers behind the skins. On the other side, however, water blasted outwards and away from the frame shattering outriggers and skins alike and blowing them away into the lake where they remain to this day. That’s why you see so much green from F-15 forwards down the right hand side.

 



And virtually none on the left. The main hull is now a done deal and our engine is coming along nicely. We’ve high hopes of receiving official help from those aerospace companies who know how to mend K7’s original fuel system whilst in the meantime it’s not uncommon for me to go home covered in AVTUR. It’s not exactly romantic!

 



And finally – yes, it’s been a long while between updates this time. Hopefully it’ll not be so long next time but there is another option. We have a forum where you can ask all the questions you like and meet the team so why not join us there in the meantime?