Monday 9th April 2002

There was a very interesting meeting in the office today, it involved the Coroner Mr Ian Smith, a senior Police officer a brilliant engineer and myself. It appears that in the event of a death due to a transport accident the law requires an inquest. There was no inquest in 67 because there was no body to conduct an inquest about, the death was registered by a local Policeman and everyone went home. There was a quantity of correspondence between the Police, Home Office and the Under Secretary of State to sort all this out but the end result was no inquest.

This time, however, there must be an inquest and it's fallen to Ian to sort it out. It's been argued that he could simply write 'it was an accident' across everything and be done with it. He could, I am led to believe, but it wouldn't do much justice to an historic event. Imagine a student of water speed records in 100 years excitedly pulling the old paperwork on Donald's belated inquest just to discover that the best anyone could come up with is 'it was an accident'

It's being done properly, no ifs no buts and so there was assembled a little team in an office with a TV and video at one end where we spent half of the day thrashing out various theories. Our engineer, who is an expert on crash survivability and the dynamics of vehicles coming to a sudden stop, came across as being a superior engineering being and even more eccentric than me. He arrived at the meeting carrying several bags of fresh fish that he'd just purchased at the local fish market.

I was very relieved that I was able to stand at the whiteboard and explain engineering things about Bluebird to Ian Smith and the Police officer without getting any of it wrong. Either that or our engineer was very polite. Either way there was some really juicy stuff being thrown around that table and after a detailed inspection of the wreck there were some pretty convincing theories coming out. Real information based on scientific examination and investigation. Another session will be required for engineering purposes and I will ask whether it's OK to post some pics and info about that visit. It goes without saying that this sort of info can't simply be splashed onto the diary page without getting permission from the Coroner and Police. However, it happens to be fantastically interesting stuff so we'll post what we are allowed.

Now here's a question for you. Donald's occupation was recorded as 'Company Director' but was his true occupation that of a 'Record Breaker'? After all he did obtain some income from that source so was it his job and therefore did he have his accident at work? Accidents at work are a whole new can of worms.

Bill and Alain arrive in full pose mode

Bill beats his meat in Capt Connachers' kitchen and proves he is as good at cooking as he is at dragging scrap from the lake bed

Time to leave and head for home but not without buzzing Graeme on the steamer


Monday 15th April 2002

For those of you who didn't notice last week, there was an absolutely massive chemical fire quite close to our factory. I've had the press sniffing about all day, they've tried every trick in their considerable repertoire to get me to say things like 'close shave' and 'near miss' but no matter how they twist it about, we were still two streets away and in no danger. Still it was very exciting.

What happened is that I strolled out onto the stairs leading from my office to the yard below at about 3.30 on Friday afternoon to discover that there was a fairly impressive pall of black smoke rising from somewhere close to us and blowing towards the South West. It was crossing the yard above our heads so we were mostly beneath it.

There are a number of small garages and car repair establishments over that way who periodically manage to set fire to some automotive junk heap whilst trying to weld it back together. Thinking that the local streets were simply being ridded of another death trap taxi, I went into the factory to check on something. When I emerged about a minute later I had to rethink the burning taxi theory. If it was a car fire then it was roughly equivalent to burning a five mile stretch of the M25 at rush hour.

There was a general drift of curious sightseers going past the gates towards the end of the road to see what the fuss was all about. I jogged after them to the end of the road to be horrified at the sight of what had seemed to be a fairly harmless yard full of oil drums the day before, blazing furiously from one end to the other

We stood and looked for a minute as the inferno swelled in front of us. It seemed to mesmerise those watching it. As people joined the group at the end of the street, they just fell silent and stared. Stared, that is until with a dull bang and a fearsome whooshing noise, a 45 gallon drum launched itself skywards trailing fire behind it. There was a blast of heat and an orange glow as it expended itself inside the billowing black smoke that by now had almost blotted out the sky.

It was as if the drums had been waiting for the command to charge, they just went berserk. Some flew into the air like the first one, others exploded where they sat. Many blew their lids and sent red hot bowl shaped metal discs spinning into the air. Shattered and smoking drums were clattering into the street, they were firing vertically out of the inferno and crashing through the roofs of neighbouring buildings. The explosions were like machine gun fire.

More fires were starting as the Police helicopter came screaming in from the West, they sat in a high hover looking into the conflagration with their thermal imaging camera.

The sustained mortar fire galvanised most of the spectators, cars were appearing in increasing numbers from around the site of the blaze and people were running up the hill towards us. I ran back up to the factory. By now I could see the flames from the yard above our roof and feel the detonations as the drums went up. I stuck my head in the workshop door and yelled for the guys to get out as we'd be evacuated any minute and it seemed like a good plan to be ahead of the game. Next I ran up the back stairs and warned whoever was left in the office on a Friday afternoon that we'd better get going as there seemed to be a bit of a blaze going on at the end of the street. I locked the back door, grabbed my very startled looking dog around the middle and ran down the stairs with her under my arm. There were sirens approaching by this time so the poor old dog got crammed into the back of the four wheel drive and we made to leave as quickly as possible.

Four fire appliances raced down the street, Police and traffic wardens yelled at everyone to get back. no one knew whether we'd only seen the introduction and the plant was going to explode on one massive finale.

Within minutes, the fire brigade were running back up the road shouting for everyone to get back. When those boys run away, it's time for everyone else to do likewise. We ran away.

As a pilot and boat skipper, I am acutely aware of what the wind is up to. Not only what it's doing at any given moment but what it's likely to do next. At the time of the fire it was blowing out of the North East at about 15 knots.

Northeasterlies are not unheard of but we don't get too many of them and at that time of the evening they tend to lose their energy and swing round from the North. We have a brick building, concrete floors and ceilings, steel doors and an asbestos roof. Not exactly high risk from a fire point of view but it was still important to keep it cool.

I decided that unless the wind blew straight out of the east and picked up strength, we were perfectly safe but I stayed and watched from a safe distance.

Working on the assumption that saving life had to be the first priority of the emergency services and that there were certainly lives at risk, I sat about for three and a half hours before I asked for a meeting with the fire chief. By this time the fire was under control and the services were concerned with saving property.

I explained to the fireman what was hiding behind the steel door but he knew already, he allowed me to open the building up and make a quick inspection. After seeing that all was well and the fire was being beaten back to where it had came from I deleted the cryptic message I'd keyed into my phone earlier. It read.

K7 now SR71

Ground Zero

Launch pad for hundreds of projectiles

45 Gallon drums after flight
Police helicopter was dodging these trying to direct hoses to where they were needed most

Hope you've got insurance on the fork lift

(How did the front tyre survive???)

 


7th May 2002

Still chugging along merrily over here, one or two developments to report. I spent a day discussing likely scenarios with Julian Happien-Smith the other day. Julian in a very clever engineer who has been appointed by the Coroner to work out why Donald crashed his boat. Julian is an independent crash survivability expert. His area of specialisation is in what he calls compatibility which if I understand it correctly means that you should be able to drive your Bentley over the top of one of those shopping trolley sized Smart cars and everyone gets hurt (or not as the case may be) to exactly the same degree. Sounds like he has his work cut out for him there! that aside, his new job is to explain in engineering speak exactly why what happened; happened, if you know what I mean.

We've discussed every theory that we could think of, dismissed loads of possibilities, ruled out a few theories and more or less settled on the strongest probabilities. There are some further tests to be done but just about everything that can be learned has been learned. It goes without saying that Julian's work is confidential at this time. He's working on behalf of the Coroner so I'm not about to cause mayhem by splashing it all over here.

Watch this space.

Now where does this bit go

Ahy up Mr Herriot

Fill this prescription and call me in the morning

Had the second of what will most likely be a series of meetings with Rolls-Royce plc last week. This time they'd brought their legal team and a fantastically knowledgable retired Orpheus engineer. He'd worked on the engine to develop it during service which meant that if one broke he had to work out how to make a stronger one next time. He very eloquently explained that the engine we're currently working with is a whole can of unknown quantities and unless someone strips it down and declares it fighting fit, there's just too much risk involved for Rolls-Royce the company in running it in a public place.

Seems like a bit of a let down on the face of it but Roger James was turn the situation onto an extremely positive outlook for K7 running again. It has been proposed that;

'subject to board approval',

Rolls Royce will help us to obtain a Japanese Orpheus 800 series which is more or less identical to the 700 series. They will select one with a good maintenance history and a few hours left on it's components. They will set it up for ground running in our particular aplication with a derated output for safety reasons, produce the paperwork and train a team to operate, maintain and store the engine correctly. How's that for commitment?


14th August 2002

OK, so it's been a while, I know it's been quiet here in Bluebird Land but don't think that nothing has happened.

There's lots to report so it'll probably come out a bit disjointed. There's loads of stuff been happening with the effort to get K7 back on the water and it's all very positivethe details will have to wait

Novie has wrapped up his heroic running job with a total that comes in a touch over 2 grand, a magnificent solo effort. It doesn't look like huge sum considering the size of the job but it's amazing how many little jobs can be made painless with a couple of thousand quid.

Novie, ever mindful of the spirit of things then had the clever idea of donating a few quid to the local church in order to help them pay for a footpath to Donald's graveside. Apparently there are so many people trampling over the grass that there almost isn't any grass so the Bluebird Project sent them a donation.

Bob Senior in Seattle also produced an amazing solo effort, raising slightly under 500 quid with his badges.

Originally, we'd set out to acquire K7's original launching cradle but that plan has altered a bit. More of that to come.

Also, we took our boat, Predator, for her first sea trial yesterday. She came back from Coniston last May in a very sorry state. Her steering was a mess, the engine had minor unservicabilities everywhere and there was damage all over. She's now rebuilt and the plan is to to get her back on the lake later in the year so that we can lift some more pieces of the wreck. There are still lots of bits to retrieve, we only lifted the bits that we needed in order to work out where Donald got to. Now we need it all so that we can put back as much as possible.

One particularly gratifying exercise that we carried out was to have a more thorough survey done on the boat prior to starting work. This was done over a year since the first one was completed and this one was far more in depth. It proves once and for all that Bluebird's structure is solid and that we can use an even greater percentage of the original hull (over 80% at the last estimate) in the rebuilt boat.

Certain individuals have suggested that there was little material to work with but could not support this claim with any data or evidence. It just demonstrates that they don't know what they are talking about. We'll post some x-ray images as soon as they are available. More to come.

Novie finishes run and yes those are hours, minutes and seconds not days, hours and minutes

And hands over the cheque to Bill and Gina WELL DONE YOU OLD ANORAK


Still working on getting the boat back to Coniston to collect more wreckage, of course, that's the bit we like best, being divers. Sitting in meetings and writing reports is not exactly what we had in mind at the outset of this project but you have to take the bad with the good. We had a bit of good news from Rolls-Royce Plc. They have been batting the BluebirdProject idea about for some time now and those with whom we've been meeting have been very positive about the whole thing but Rolls-Royce's lawyer kept saying to me "Subject to board approval" bla bla bla! which seems to be legal speak for "yes we all think it's a brill idea but we need to see whether the big cheeses like it" Cutting a long story short, the big cheeses took a look at our mad scheme and gave it the nod so we're no longer "subject to board approval" we're now subject to starting work, just one more giant leap in the right direction.

Seeing as the rudder and fin have been this weeks topic of conversation, here are a few shots of said items, taken today. See what you can learn from them.

Finally, a competition, here's a pic of a little spout type arrangement poking out of the left hand side rear flank of the boat just above the deck. Whoever tells me what on earth it's for can add an extra stripe to the sleeve of their anorak. It's just connected to a piece of pipe on the inside that disappears into the void under the engine.

All those who sponsored Novie were promised a letter of thanks from the project and it hasn't been overlooked. Problems are these, I only got the list last week and Novie has printed them out in such a way that I have to type every one back in to the computer. he couldn't give them to me as a nice little database so that I could mail merge them or something easy that so I'm getting through about a dozen a day if I'm lucky! You'll get yours eventually.

Rudder Linkage

Stabilising fin

Rudder

Spout type arrangement poking out of the left hand side rear flank of the boat

Answers on the back of a £20 note or e mail to Bill


21st August 2002

Still progressing nicely, the report writing is being hampered by having to go to work but it's getting there. Andy G was kind enough to produce a neat little diagram for us this week. It shows all the important bits of our big blue boat. It's no good rattling on about sponsons, planing wedges and water baffles to accountants and lawyers so now they've got a practical picture complete with labels to help them out.

Predator has been out for a few more trials this week prior to going back on the lake, also our old pal Graeme "Captain" Connacher has been using much of the survey kit out on Ullswater so that we can iron out the bugs. That way we'll hopefully not show ourselves up when we go back for the rest of K7. In the process of sorting the sonar, we discovered a few previously unseen images so we've posted them.

After the last dive on May 28th last year when we lifted the Skipper, Gina made us promise that we wouldn't go back to the bottom of the lake. Can't really go back on that or I'll end up in bother so there'll be a new crew dropping over the side this time and some new faces on the site.

28th October 2002

Well, a satisfactory result to the inquest. It only took 35 years to get there but it seems to be what everyone wanted and having recovered Donald and had his last moments written officially into the history books, the conspiracy theorists will, hopefully, be silent at last.

Back in 1967 there was a load of discussion about whether to have an inquest at the time. The local Superintendent assumed that there would be an inquest and wrote to the Coroner asking when it was to take place and which witnesses were required. Wishing to take matters to higher authority, the Coroner wrote to the Home Office for guidance, the Registrar General's office was contacted from there and they decided that there was sufficient evidence to allow a "qualified informant" to give information and sign the register. This was to be either a "relative of the deceased or a person who witnessed the accident".

It was then suggested by the Coroner to the Superintendent that one of the Police officers who witnessed the accident be detailed to give the necessary information and sign the register. It was not thought that "any relatives will wish to make the long journey to register the death with the Registrar at Coniston". In essence, it was decided that there was no doubt that the death had taken place, it was highly unlikely that the body would ever be recovered and the only need for an inquest was to register the death and as the Undersecretary of State pointed out, "there is no suggestion of any lack of care and if the Registrar General authorises registration, the relatives will be able to obtain the necessary death certificate".

That was that, and it's where the matter rested until we recovered Donald 34 years later and gave Ian Smith, the present Coroner, the job of sorting it all out. This time there would be an inquest.

As far as I know, there are only four verdicts in a Coroner's court, at least in England. They are Accidental death, unlawful killing or similar, misadventure (which means things like building yourself a tree house in a pylon and getting electrocuted for your trouble) and suicide. You can have "not proven" in a Scottish court but that's all you get to choose from. It was more or less a foregone conclusion from the outset but it had been suggested that Donald was of such a state of mind that he might have been on a do or die mission so suicide kept being whispered.

At the centre of the inquest was
Dr Julian Happian-Smith PhD MSc Btech (Hons) MSAE Cert Ed HE, Consultant Engineer, CH-S consulting

Now that is a totally unnecessary and obscene level of qualification in my opinion but Julian is a wonderful character. About seven feet tall, he arrived for one of our later meetings on the biggest bicycle I've ever seen! It has one brake at the front and one gear at the back so if he meets a hill, he just has to pedal harder. I was astonished to learn that he'd ridden it from Durham to North Shields which is about 30 miles! He laughed at my astonishment and explained that he'd popped down to York on it the previous Saturday. On another occasion he arrived for a meeting with six bags of fresh fish, explaining that he couldn't pass up an opportunity to visit the fish market whilst in town. Myself, the Coroner and a Police officer had to sit in an office full of fish all day.

Besides being absolutely eccentric, Julian is also extremely clever and it fell to him to explain in scientific terms, with no attached emotion, just exactly what went pear shaped on 04th Jan 67. We spent several days getting scruffy, inside, on top of and even underneath K7. Measuring, photographing and scribbling notes. I got the delicious job of extracting a fuel sample for analysis which involved carefully dismantling part of the fuel control system with the engine in place and then putting it all back together again

Julian produced a document about an inch thick but there is one small piece of text which came my way that says just about everything.

"Mr. Donald Campbell, CBE was fatally injured during a high-energy accident on Coniston Water on 4th January 1967 during a World record attempt. Mr. Campbell’s craft was salvaged on 8th March 2001 and his body was recovered on 28th May 2001.

The evidence that the water surface was ruffled from the first run has been established, and this was the cause for the craft to tramp severely prior to the accident. Any analysis of the accident must include the fact that the craft was not stable prior to the accident. Upon the craft somersaulting during the accident, the engine was not running and the throttle had been shut. The brake had also been applied during the accident, but this application was too late to affect the outcome.

The normal safety margin for the craft on smooth water was severely compromised by the conditions at the time just prior to the accident to give a resultant safety margin of less than one degree. This would mean that any relatively minor further disturbance could have rendered the craft unstable and caused the accident.

This analysis concluded that the most likely cause for the accident was the backing off of the throttle at a critical time when the craft was on the verge of instability combined with, for example, a sponson being airborne.

It is most likely that the engine mounting failed during the impacts during the cart-wheeling, which followed the airborne somersault process.

It would seem considerably less probable that inlet tract icing or fuel aeration problems led to the craft instability, and highly unlikely that the craft ran out of fuel, had fuel aeration problems or hit a submerged obstacle on the final run."

Thanks to Dr Julian Happian-Smith for the above quote

The inquest investigated everything from fuel starvation to inlet tract icing, hitting submerged objects to engine mount failure but the final conclusion is just as it was 35 years ago when Ken Norris had a go at the problem. Donald hit his own wake, the boat got unstable, he backed off the throttle and up she went. About the only new thing that we brought to the party was the fact that the water brake was down, a fact that served very nicely to silence those who had whispered about suicide. Clearly you don't slam the brakes on if you no longer care about living.

I was asked to stand up and start the day with a brief history of what Donald was doing in Coniston in 1967. As a non-practising anorak I was a little concerned, I hastily checked my dates and figures with those more knowledgeable folk around me but I couldn't help feeling that there were people better qualified than I to do the job. Never mind, I got there in the end. Next came the pathologist who answered a few questions and then sat down again. Then Julian began his mammoth session and explained the far end of everything whilst remaining as entertaining as ever

It all went a bit peculiar towards the end when Julian added a bit to the transcript of the cockpit recording from Bluebird's final run. It wasn't in his original report but it was added later and it proved erroneous. It took the good Corporal and Robbie Robinson to set the record straight as well as my second trip to the front to explain that yes, I'd heard the tape and no, Donald did NOT say "I'm drawing back" or anything resembling those words. Paul Evans and Robbie brought a flicker of emotion and a glimpse of the human side of the tragedy to proceedings that were otherwise dominated by maths and physics. Donald's ambassadors did him proud.

Finally, Ian Smith, the Coroner, disappeared to compose his conclusions, returning to his desk he told the assembled audience that he was recording a verdict of accidental death. He very eloquently dismissed the suicide theory and explained how Donald Campbell was one of his own boyhood heroes. Ian Smith had a difficult job which he completed in the glare of the media. Outside, the media pounced on Gina as expected. I, for once, got off lightly. It was a rewarding day.

Later that evening there was a meeting of the Bluebird Project in the Ruskin Museum to discuss strategy but that's another story.

Dr Julian (get orf moy laand) Happian-Smith PhD MSc Btech (Hons) MSAE Cert

Mr Bill Smith CPT

 

Gina gets swamped by the press

One that I forgot about and for which I must thank Graham Beech for setting me straight, there is also an open verdict which presumably means that there was so little left of the tree house that no one could tell what the Hell happened! That'll teach me to research things properly in future.


As a bit of an aside to the ongoing saga of trying to clash this big blue boat back together, here's a little story for you. back in October 1998, we were just about to give up shooting endless miles of side scan sonar images of the wrong bit of Coniston's lake bed when we heard on the radio that a diver had gone missing in Ullswater. Being divers ourselves we immediately tuned in to this snippet and followed the news as the Police under water search units battled impossible conditions. Much as the Rosyth Navy divers had in January 1967. After a week of freezing their bits off they were happy to let us have a go with our fancy yellow sonar system.

Just over a week earlier, keen diver Cliff Purdham had set off with a couple of mates to dive in Ullswater. It was cold and dark, there is nothing in Ullswater to look at and they were planning to dive to 48 metres on air! 7 metres deeper than Bluebird and we used helium mixes so that we could keep our wits about us but divers are slightly mad and we do scary things to ourselves.

Cliff was a family man with two daughters, a Policeman by profession though after a long career his aching back had just retired him at the age of 46. he had just celebrated his silver wedding anniversary. Somewhere on the bottom of the lake during what should have been a fairly routine dive, it all went terribly wrong. In the darkness, he became separated from his diving partner who executed an emergency ascent without injury, Cliff was overcome before he could make the surface.

His partner searched in vain, it was dark and windy, the lake surface was being cut into sharp little waves and he was a long way off the beach. There was no reliable information available about where he'd come up. By the time the Police started looking, they virtually had the entire Southern reach of the lake to search. We arrived with a battered old rigid inflatable and a sonar system that was worth five times as much as the boat to which it was haphazardly rigged. The Police looked at us suspiciously but for want of a better idea, they were content to let us have a go.

With our generator put, put putting away in four inches of water and extra layers of clothing squashed under our drysuits, we trolled up and down the lake towing a bright yellow torpedo on the end of a wire. The weather was atrocious and the lake bed was up and down all over the place making life very difficult for the poor bloke who had to lift the towfish up and down on the end of a cable. Squalls would whistle down off the hill raising small whirlwinds on the water surface before smashing into our boat head on, bringing us to a standstill and crashing our fish into the mud below. Despite this, by the end of our first day searching we had a target and had dropped a marker next to it. the ball was back with the divers.

We’d thought that the target looked like a small boat, in fact we knew that it must be a small boat but it was the only target in the area so it was worth checking out. Lo and behold, it was a small boat. Pretty useless admittedly but it served to wake the Police team up to the fact that we might just have an angle on the problem. We were taken into their support vehicle and given some info that hitherto, we’d not been given. The other diver had ascended from 48 metres. Our small boat had turned up in 42 metres. We needed to be looking a good way further off the beach. Back into the layers of clothing and drysuits. At least out there the lake bed was flat-ish and our towfish puller took a bit longer to end up knackered.

This time we got a real result, an image, clear as day, of a man lying face down with 2 bottles on his back but with this came a problem. Our diver friends were at their limits diving to 48m so they needed to be placed precisely on target and although we had a good image, they still weren’t completely convinced that what they were looking at was the missing diver

It was decided that we’d use a scanning sonar to talk the divers onto the target so we dropped a marker as close as we could guess and all went home. We didn’t have a scanning sonar in those days so it was time to go off and rent one

Using the scanning sonar to get the divers onto the target was easy in theory, the sonar could see both the target and the arriving diver, the surface could speak to the diver via his umbilical and we could tell surface what their diver was up to. Only problem was that the sonar is so incredibly sensitive, it could see everything from crisp packets to individual fish. We know all this now of course but it was a bit confusing at the time. Several times we sent divers blundering over the black plains of billowing silt only to hear through the speaker "it’s a dustbin"! or "found a tree stump Sarge". We were proving our ability to find things, just not very useful things. After a day full of dubious successes, we were sent for by the big cheese. He informed us that everyone had done more than their share, we’d all tried very hard but it was time to officially end our efforts. In fairness to them, we could have done the same exercise every day for another week and no one knew with absolute certainty that we weren’t barking up completely the wrong tree with this target. We had to pack up and go home, dispirited and full of failure.


That’s where the story ended in 1998, we packed up in the freezing cold and looked out over the cold water surface. It told us nothing. By 2000, we’d solved all of our earlier problems. By then we had swimming cameras, two types of sonar including our own scanning sonar system, versatile and powerful mapping software, two onboard navigation systems giving us about 300mm accuracy anywhere in the world and a rather nice boat to put it all on but we’d also inherited a multitude of projects and interesting targets to look for and even Bluebird had to wait in line until we could get back there. It’s well recorded that we went back to Coniston in October 2000 and located Bluebird almost at once, such was the development in 2 years of underwater surveying. Every weekend during the Bluebird thing we set off from Newcastle to Ullswater to stay with Captain Connacher and every time we drove past the small beach at the side of the lake road from which we’d deployed two years earlier in search of Cliff, we’d look out over the water and wonder where he’d got to. Over the course of the Bluebird Project, it was more or less agreed that at the next opportunity we would go back and get him out of there. It was May 2001 when we left Coniston, it took until august 2002 to get a free slot to go to Ullswater but this time we had Predator and a full inventory of kit as well as a very motivated crew.

Going back to our original data from 98 we designed a search grid to the South of where the surviving diver surfaced. That’s the way the Police had been looking and there was good evidence to support the theory but after a day of very thorough survey and a lot of lake bed eliminated we knew that he had to be somewhere else.

Next morning we repeated the performance but this time to the North of the estimated surfacing position. Within half an hour a clear image of a pair of diving bottles marched across the sonar screen. It took a further hour to get a camera onto the target because just as we got set up and began flying the ROV towards the image on the sonar screen, either fate or Capt. Connacher decided to knit one purl one around one of the clump lines. Very soon we had a tangle of cables big enough to knit a new jumper for Alain so were forced to recover and disentangle the lot. On the second attempt we got there and with our hearts in our mouths we crowded around the monitor screen as the camera swam over diving bottles and hoses, glimpses of blue drysuit through the sediment. It was depressing. It was time to inform the authorities. Our old friend Ian Smith was first on the list, he must dread his phone ringing on Sunday afternoons, it’s always when I call him. Ullswater isn’t his patch but I knew that the word would rush through the corridors of power, find its mark, then find us again. Next I phoned the good Sergeant who runs the Underwater Search Unit and told him that he had some work incoming.

Graeme sitting in wheelhouse of Predator Sonar processor on top left ROV monitor bottom left navigation on right and sonar monitor in centre

Sonar image showing several targets

Andy Elder the newest member of the team and about to welcome Bill into his family


It was a few days before we could re-assemble the crew. As usual it was volunteer team who had given up their holiday or spare time to come along. We arrived in Glenridding to discover that the weather didn't want us, it took all morning to get Predator kitted, the ropes disentangled, sonar set up and the oil changed in the ROV thrusters. Working on the lake proved to be impossible, the place where we needed to be accurately positioned was being torn this way then the other by a fierce squally wind, horizontal rain added to our discomfort but when the waves started crashing over the back of the boat onto the deck we decided to give it up for the day and find some shelter.

By mid afternoon the storm had abated enough for us to go back to the boat and consider our options. By this time the Police divers had arrived so we had a quick meeting and decided that Predator's crew would go and make another attempt to place the down line. Due to the depth and darkness in Ullswater, the divers would be working at their limits with only about 4 minutes of available bottom time on a lake bed that was very difficult to work on. It was our job to get a line from the surface to the target 165 feet below with an accuracy of about half a metre. It was pitch dark and about 3 hours later when we finally manged to work the line into position. Watching both the weight on the end of the downline and the target on the lake bed on the sonar screen we literally hauled Predator onto position against the weather. Our down line went in within half a metre.

Our Police colleagues were just enjoying the end of a pleasant evening meal when we dripped our bedraggled way through the restaurant to announce that it was their show from here on.

Next morning the lake was in the huff. After spending all of the previous day trying to thwart us, it now lay flat calm, un-moving without a breath of wind. Our marker sat on the surface laid over on its side at the end of the limp down line. Conditions couldn't be better. It took an hour or so to place a set of moorings and when it was done we were tied nose to nose with the Police boat so that we could watch their work on our survey kit and feed back important information to them. In an operation lasting all day, the divers made their descents one by one carefully positioning Cliff for his return to the surface in a specially constructed cradle. Finally, late in the afternoon he was winched to the surface and given over to the care of the Coroner. The Police team are very dedicated professionals, their operation was very impressive and it was a privilege to work with them. Cliff was returned to his family after 4 years and given a proper funeral.

Police divers eventually ready for action we've been out here for hours while you get at least one engine working

Your supposed to step from one boat to the other and miss the bit in between PC Splash or did you see some underwater joy riders

Diver surfaces after a 4 minute dive to 48 metres (157 feet)


8th December 2002

It's been a while and I've had a thousand mails saying "what's going on?" as well as being accosted in the pub everywhere I go by total strangers wanting to know whether we've started building the boat yet. Sometimes it can get a bit awkward being the bloke whom everyone associates with Bluebird

What's happened is this, the project is a bit like moving house, you get the big bits into place almost straight away and the rooms look OK but then you've got piles of boxes and bags containing all the little bits and pieces and they take four times as long to sort, position and store than it took to get the TV and video wired up. Get the picture? (no pun intended)

After getting the engineering organised to the point that the boat can be rebuilt and getting the wrinkles ironed out of the museum proposal, we then had the piles of boxes and bags to sort. Detail stuff like finding out what european funding can be brought into play to help us in our efforts, establishing the exact terms on which the museum will look after the boat. Securing a long term future in this ever changing world, calculating how many extra loo rolls and frozen chickens the catering community of Coniston need to buy in on a weekly basis once they've got the boat and where the visitors will park their cars without bringing the whole place to chaotic standstill. Not as exciting as standing on a barge giving orders but all necessary stuff. Well it's done now, or at least it's done to the point where the paperwork can be completed and sent into the HLF. It will need a lot of polishing up as we go but it's good enough to make a start.

I'm hoping that we'll get to start the engineering work ahead of the modifications to the museum because building the boat is the more lengthy process and now that things are moving again I've been in discussion with the various sub contractors to keep our slots open. It's exactly the same with the rebuild as it is with the rest of the project, the little stuff will take longest. We'll get the engine in over a weekend and it'll take the following week to connect it up! It's going to be a full time job.