Happy New Year…


Now where were we? Ah yes, building a boat.

Well, not exactly, and this started as a quick diary entry because I’ve had no time for such frivolous pursuits as writing for a while. You see the team have been working night and day to offload a quarter-ton of useless scrap into the museum by dressing it up as our annual, 4th of January addition to the Ruskin’s display of Bluebird stuff – the best in the known universe.

We’ve finally taken K7’s engine home but what we imagined to be a couple of afternoon’s work soon turned into something akin to taking down Everest with shovels with the momentum of a steam locomotive in freefall.

It’s that time of year when we don the tweed jackets, stoke the briar pipes and re-learn our museological jargon. So sit back, you the public, while we tell you what’s in your best interests.

Remember this crusty pile of scrap?


Feast your eyes on this priceless museum object, the wet-dream of a thousand industrial conservators, the actual engine that propelled Bluebird and Donald Campbell to near destruction on that cold January morning forty-one years ago as it waits patiently for someone to love it.

This is what the public needs…

So after six years of avoiding the damn thing and it’s myriad sharp edges (it’s already landed John-Tidy in the local A&E department) the decision was taken that a conservation-led approach to its sensitive display in appropriate surroundings in order to celebrate the achievements of Donald Campbell and Bluebird seemed appropriate (thanks to the HLF jargon-generation dept for the above); the dead Orph’ was to be uplifted and stuffed into the museum.

An immediate, get rid of the useless lump of scrap-led, amateurish imitation of museum display designers (who seem to charge something like £5K per square metre!) then commenced as we designed and built a suitable display facilitating interpretation of not only the object but the engineering ethos of the late sixties as well as more types of corrosion than you’ll find on a British Leyland car – if you can find a British Leyland car these days.

‘Interpretation’, you understand… that cornerstone of the museum fraternity that can mean anything from mild guilt at not quite admiring a shard of broken pottery in a glass case to happily breathing soot and cinders in the wake of a speeding steam train.

To the Bluebird team it was epitomised by Peter Grieve hauling his Rolls-Royce Merlin into our yard last winter, firing it up and blasting us all with a freezing gale from its propeller then shutting it down so we could warm our chilled fingers on the cam-boxes amidst the smell of heated oil from a living, WWII aircraft engine.

Now that’s interpretation to get excited about… but real interpretation usually involves low-lighting, tip-toeing about as though someones budgie just died and so many placards and softly spoken tape loops that you’re bored sh**less five minutes into the first exhibit.

So what to do with a thoroughly dead jet engine?

The two big problems with exhibiting the old Orph’ in a public place in it’s bare condition are that anoraks will nick bits until only powder remains whilst low-life urchins from Liverpool or Manchester will either split their shaven scalps on corroded compressor blades or mistakenly snort what’s left through rolled up fivers then call the nearest no-win-no-fee solicitors to seek compensation for the injustice of it all.

The engine had to be protected from the population at large…

To this end we designed a system of hoops to support some see-through, urchin-proof material then welded our artistry to the frame we ‘borrowed’ from Bournemouth.


There you go… two lengths of inch-tube and some 8mm round bar rolled into pretty circles. That’s some scrap taken care of from next door’s workshop too.

Now then, had we been charging 5K per square metre, we’d have explained to the public (and the client) that in order to properly interpret such an important object what we’d designed (in our mystical, museological wisdom) was a visually-minimalist, non-invasive display sub-structure, to promote maximum interpretational impact, etc…

But being engineers what we really did was to build something that would yield easily and therefore take its shape from the covers thus allowing the plastic to define the finished shape rather than its supporting structure.

Bloody worked too!

But here’s the best bit. There’s a local company called Bay Plastics (www.bayplastics.co.uk) with whom we’ve actually had a long and happy relationship though I’m not sure they know about it.

You see, when we were divers, our appetite for off-cuts to make battery boxes, slates on which to scrawl underwater messages, and all manner of bits and pieces of scrap plastic (because it doesn’t rot in seawater) was unfailingly satisfied by the guys at Bay Plastics when the boss wasn’t looking.

So remember that we’ve been building cockpit rails for our big blue boat… we’ll shortly need a canopy to slot into them; then there’s the matter of the 67-spec’spray baffles.

So whilst buying some sheets of 3mm polycarbonate last week to render kiddie-proof the glass doors at the in-laws I asked whether they’d be interested in helping us out with Bluebird. (I’d not have been doing my job if I hadn’t).

It’s understandable, I think, that we’d like to keep the sponsor and engineering base as close to home as we can because it’s good for the project as well as local business so everyone wins around here just as everyone in Coniston will win one way or another when we weigh over our big blue boat in eighteen months or so.

The boys at Bay Plastics seemed keen enough and so passed me upwards to the MD whom I reached accidentally over the holidays as I checked availability on material to cover our engine.

An agreement was quickly reached but more of that later... Suffice to say that by the appointed day we had a supply of precision cut polycarbonate panels with which to enclose the dead Orph’.


The plastic still has its white, protective film on at this point (it didn’t come off until the engine was safely in the museum) but you can see already that it’s going to look ‘the dog’s banana!’ especially with John-Tidy in charge of detail work.

He spent forever lining up the plastic sheets and firing in those red skin-pins to hold everything precisely and we had to smile when he became genuinely upset at a gap he could force his fingernail into. We eased the material across until John’s fingernail-width anomaly was no more. A quarter inch was John’s tolerance a year ago; it’s a quarter millimetre these days.

Rob, in the meantime, was working on some dramatic lighting effects. We consulted with Keith the cameraman, as he knows about such things, then darkened the workshop and experimented.


Rob really is the inspiration behind these additions to the museum.

Remember how he spent weeks polishing Donald’s ‘bell end’ then risked life and limb up a ladder installing it last year. He enjoys creating these offerings so we all muck in to help just as he helps us with our specialties. That’s what being a team is all about.

He bought a red LED bulb to go up the jetpipe too – for which I still owe him six quid.


Spooky, eh?

On went more plastic…


…until the whole engine was covered and safe from harm – or being harmful to others.

Much as we’re doing with the rest of K7 we gave the new display a ‘dry build’ then with everything looking good we went for it with the rivet gun.

A coat of paint was applied to the frame too; then the covers with one side of the protective film stripped away were made secure.


Work continued night and day (literally) through New Year’s Eve and on to January 2nd.

We ratcheted up the pace another couple of clicks on Thursday evening with everyone determined to see the job done for Friday morning but by the middle of the night we were wrecked so we called it for safety reasons. I’d cut my head so many times whilst working under the engine that Rob reckoned I looked like I’d been fighting and Rachel asked who won when I finally got home so I guess he wasn’t joking.

It was a bleary-eyed gang that regrouped on the morning of the fourth – our deadline – to finish what we’d started while Novie, Vicky and Paul Hannarack set up the receiving end at the Ruskin.

They had to open the double access doors at the museum, which turned out to be seized through lack of use and a locksmith had to be called so that by the time Alain and Mike arrived in the Merc’ Sprinter with our Orph’ in the back all was unlocked and ready.

Rob and Gill made their own way as Rachel and I made the trip with baby Lucy secured behind us explaining all the way that ‘Conston’ boasted only, Robbie, eggs, (as cooked by Robbie on her last visit), ‘Doobird’ and Donald…

I’d also warned Vicky that if she had a hot date for the evening she’d best cancel because there remained much to do so if Brad Pitt was waiting in her bedroom with a single red rose between his teeth he’ll have suffered grave disappointment because Vicky stayed with us ’til the last.

And what an ordeal… Our twelve-foot masterpiece was a terrible thing to load using the van’s narrow tail lift and getting it out again was made a hundred times worse by the steeply sloping car park, high winds and lashing rain. And that was after Alain almost suffered a nervous breakdown whilst manoeuvring a hired Luton van into a confined area in pitch darkness with six people simultaneously yelling instructions through the open windows.

But we’re a team – so with much pushing and pulling the engine was eventually lowered safely to ground level, manhandled over the gravel and through the doors.


We slalomed it enthusiastically between the other priceless exhibits then parked it where we could apply the finishing touches.


The museological-muppet who wanted a separate area for wet hats and coats would doubtless have given birth to a litter of kittens as we wheeled our quarter ton of sodden scrap through the display but I didn’t see any of John Ruskin’s watercolours beginning to run as we pushed and pulled our burden.

And that wasn’t even nearly the end of it – we still had lots to do as we plugged in our compressor and unpacked the tools to finish assembling the display because we’d dared not remove most of the protective films from inside the plastic while the object was in transit in case our display arrived full of loosened dust.


Unfortunately the engine is slowly consuming itself and will not stop as it’s a cocktail of 1960’s metals on the receiving end of exceptional circumstances that without serious scientific intervention (and a shedload of money) will one day be vacuumed out allowing our display case to be put to better use as a poly-tunnel for propagating vegetables.

It’ll also be a reflective demonstration of what would’ve happened to the rest of K7 had we not intervened.

So each team member went to work on their respective specialties. Hannarack took charge of our ‘Henry’ vacuum cleaner and slurped up all the Coniston mud dislodged by Alain’s technique at the wheel before we closed the last openings in our display and started removing the outer protective films.

Rob kept a close eye on us.


What soon became apparent was that we’d created a display of astounding quality using only a few bits of scrap metal (the engine being the biggest bit) and some generously donated plastic panels.

It looked awesome to say the least – not bad for amateurs…


We parked it up proudly by the windows, gave ourselves a pat on the back then lashed into the magnum of champagne that Gina sent over for the team’s Christmas pressie. Two glasses later and Vicky was ready to knock the other door mirror off her car.


(Pic by kind permission of John Wood)

And here’s another thought. Had the museum sought to put this object on display through the correct bureaucratic channels just imagine the ball-ache it would have been. Consultations with designers and artist’s renderings of the finished job; greedy display designers with palms outstretched and tenders going out all over the place for a steel and polycarbonate display case paid for by endless applications for funding… nightmare!

Never underestimate the power of passion… our engine looked even better in daylight.


And daylight itself looked good too after several too many in the bar of the Sun Hotel with the usual crowd of nutters.


(Pic by kind permission of Mike Ramsay)

Rachel and baby Lucy made this one a family trip and there’s no better alarm call than a two year-old leaping on your bladder at daybreak. So having almost shaken off last night’s champagne and local bitter the team met in the Bluebird café for a brew then jumped aboard Gordon’s boat for the ‘Campbell’s on Coniston’ cruise.

What a nightmare that must be for Gordon…

On any given day he can drive fifty tourists up and down the lake and tell them pretty much what he likes.


‘This is where Donald stopped Bluebird on the south / north run in 1798 after his eighth record at 700mph so he could eat his sandwiches…’


But try that with fifty anoraks aboard and a hundred ears tuned in with the intensity of the Pentagon searching for smuggled uranium…

I thought Gordon was as brilliant as he was entertaining – much like the Cobb brothers who took wave after wind-blown wave in the face out on the foredeck whilst remaining as daft as they look (no mean feat) despite their discomfort – great guys.

The weather was atrocious (for a change in ‘Conston’ in January) with a southerly wind howling up the lake so hard that the experienced members of our team immediately held a meeting about the chances of our clump weights staying put in the lakebed mud and the sonar heads standing upright in such conditions. Not that we planned any salvage op’s that day – it just becomes second nature.

The conclusion was that conditions were beyond what we could work in so having come ashore to find my small family freezing to death on the beach and minus a month’s housekeeping money spent on swan food to keep the baby amused in my absence we ran for the comfort of the Sun Hotel.

I mention this because there were one or two people who wanted to speak with me on the beach but I had to cut our meeting short. Sorry, but the baby was cold…

We all reconvened later at the Speed Record Club dinner – or was it the Bluebird Supporters Club – or maybe some other outfit. I’m never sure who’s who but either way it was a great gathering with lots of familiar faces, plenty of beer and a great plate of food.


The crew relaxed at last. I also stood up to give a quick update on the project. It’s going extremely well but as I laid out the salient points the sound of screaming baby cut through the room.

Sorry to everyone for leaving early but Lucy decided to raise her game of hide and seek by crashing headlong into an aesthetically pleasing but wholly unforgiving cast iron radiator and almost ended her evening in Barrow Infirmary, which I last visited in February 2001 when Beanie gassed himself on his rebreather.

Good news is that she’s now fine despite the massive, yellowing bruise on her forehead.

K7’s tinwork is coming along nicely in the meantime…


Next week – Bluebird gets a new nose so with the BBP off to a flying start in 2008 we’ll see you all again soon.


(Pic by kind permission of Mike Ramsay)





10th January 2008


A nice quiet diary entry this time, methinks. The last one ruffled a few feathers with the mention of toe-rags visiting the museum from Manchester and Liverpool …

I’m from Newcastle, for heaven’s sake!

We invented hooligans in our football stadium in the seventies then went on to become the car crime capital of Europe for most of the nineties whilst Liverpool is European capital of culture these days. Making mention of those two splendid, British cities closest to Coniston was a straightforward question of geography – it’s simply too far to drive from Newcastle to Coniston in a stolen car whilst under the influence of crack-cocaine…

But as someone said in the workshop today, ‘not everyone has a sense of humour,’ and to stick with this job you certainly need one…


Anyway, and having amended the text for the benefit of those with a humour deficit, we’ve been doing a bit of going backwards in order to move forwards this week.

With the cockpit opening now pretty much complete we’re moving towards construction of the new nose.

The original cockpit rails were relatively heavily built and sufficiently far back from the bow that a surprising amount of material was salvageable and at the same time we could still lift worthwhile data from what we couldn’t fix.

This, then, would become our datum for rebuilding the nose. It’s also more important that the air intakes are properly built than getting the nose right.

The nose just has to look OK – the intakes have to perform when our new engine begins sucking madly through them. We don’t want a repeat of the 1966 rivet-slurping incident.

Mark gave the cockpit area a thorough titivating – he’s good at this stuff.


It’s just about there now and if you look closely you can see that we’ve done a proper repair on the transverse former at the front of the new panels too. This was because we were about to embark on some scientific trickery to sort the nose.


Get an eyeful of this heap of work in progress. If you look along the upper, front edge of the spar there’s a piece of tin nailed in place with blue pins. That’s another original deck former and it came up with the spar. If you dig out a pic of K7’s nose you’ll see two rows of screws across the foredeck – that’s what the aftmost row were fastened into. There’s another former to go in at F-22

Next, go aft to the transverse former beyond this one, (It’s at F-19 for those of an aluminium-anoraky disposition) and you can see a better shot of the repair. The left side is original, the right is new but now they’re welded together. I’d bet you’d not find a chapter on that in the big book of museum conservation…

The former behind it (F-18) is similarly reconstructed but we haven’t made the final fix yet and with good reason. Again, the left half is original, but if you look towards the centre there’s a triangular cutout. This is where the former was hacked away to reposition the airspeed indicator in 66/67 and (probably) Leo’s impromptu mod’ has taken away most of its strength so we beefed it up temporarily while we worked on the foredeck and cockpit rails as we didn’t want any underlying structure moving about as we tried to get the skins right.

It would’ve mattered nothing when it was cut away in 66/67 because the outer skins were riveted in place and therefore had plenty of strength but for now it’s the other way around.

We’ll make a proper repair when the front is all happy and content. The cutout should be a rough semicircle but we saw no point in replicating it in our new piece of material until the welding is done.

You’ll notice also that there are three lengths of wire strung between the spar and the deck former in question. This was set up to get the heights correct all the way to the spar from the cockpit. Then we had to think about what happens between the spar and the nose.

There was another former ahead of the front spar and it came up with the nose section in 2001.


But one of the divers was allowed to look after it until needed for the rebuild then when we sent a request that it be returned to the museum its guardian falsely claimed that Gina had given it away!

Not true at all, and one day, one way or another, it’ll have to be returned but for the moment we chose to work without it.

Then Bluebird’s bad luck put in a cameo appearance. For a long time I’ve had a copy of the nose profile drawing and various people have forwarded copies of it over the years so it’s fairly widespread – it’s also a ‘red herring’.

It’s from a sketch of the wind tunnel test model but it seems the boat was never made that way. If we’d not recovered the deck formers from immediately ahead of the cockpit we’d have been building the boat the wrong shape by now. Their indisputable height proves that the commonly accepted nose profile cannot be reconciled to the frame dimensions or deck heights. It’s about 100mm too high and 40mm too long though the curve is fairly close.

What to do?

We made up a tool to get visual with the problem but it soon became apparent that our suspicions were correct.


We scaled the drawing to within a millimetre or two – the limit being the thickness of Ken’s pencil line – and tested our mental arithmetic on known dimensions like frame tubes and such, then made up the shape. Hmmm.

Too bull-nosed.

We considered guessing at it but just in case we’d missed something we went mob-handed to the office where Ken’s drawings are stored and pulled everything out; our brief being to flag anything relating to the nose.

It’s almost as though that wise, old engineer identified the problems that would hit us hardest and dealt with them well in advance because amongst much invaluable sponson data that he sent some years ago it turns out that another vital drawing was included.

I’d looked at it numerous times but only in the context of what it illustrates. It’s one of the pedestal brackets used to rejoin the ends of the front spar to the sponsons after the spar was raised back in fifty-whenever. (When exactly was that done? Somebody tell me please).

It’s a side elevation showing the top deck of the sponson structure, the pedestal with its small forward-running support strut and the outer end of the spar.

The drawing is not one of the formal offerings with the Norris Bros. legend in the bottom right corner. This looks more like Ken rolled out a blank sheet of paper in his office one day and pored over the repositioned spar with slide-rule and pencil. But in the background he’s drawn the nose in perfect profile with reference points along its length and his calculations at the top edge of the paper.

Manna from heaven!

Rob went back to his joinery kit and quickly produced what we named, ‘Rob’s tool’.


Now that looks right and is a perfect match to the drawing. We made up some transverse tooling to run across the F-22 bulkhead too (centre of the three in the above pic) so all we need to do now is bash some tin around it.


We’ll get onto that as soon as Carl and his boys have finished installing the heating system in the assembly shop – they’re due on Monday morning.



I heard this week that the sponson material is on the way too. I had to sign off the drawings for the mill so they can make their tooling to produce the impossible extrusions we’ve requested.

The sponsons are unquestionably the most exotic part of K7. Forget the main hull and the engine. They’re merely accessories to those twelve-foot canoes strapped to either side.

They appear simple enough, oh yes, but each one is a complex work of art and a brilliant piece of design and engineering.

Because they’re still a viable design over half a century later and because that design remains the intellectual property of the Norris family there are elements relating to them that won’t be posted here but be assured that we’re doing it right.

How I wish Ken was about to be a part of this adventure. There’d be no dealing with him…

And how to treat the replacement sponsons as part of the rebuild became an agonising process. After all it would be simple enough to mimic the shape in our choice of materials and make visually accurate copies. That would be OK if all we wanted was something that would float and with a bit of meat added they could even be made to stay together at low speeds. The weight, balance and buoyancy would be all over the place but a few lumps of lead here and there could probably get her looking right.

But forget it when it comes to planing because we’d have to push the sponsons through some serious dynamic loading before they unglued themselves from the water, which would need something bloody strong to keep it all together so we’d have to do due-diligence on every aspect of the engineering before ever trying it.

This gave us two choices – either start the design process from scratch using modern materials or build to Ken’s original design.

Remember also that this is the first ever ‘conserveering’ project (that we know of) where conservation and engineering have merged to turn out a museum object both properly conserved and fit for purpose. We just had to go the Norris Bros. route.

And it seems like a no-brainer until you go looking for the material… Ken and Lew took advantage of just about every grade of aluminium to give the required strength for their carefully calculated weight requirements but we can’t do likewise because most of what he specified can’t be bought anymore.

Think about it – we could build the sponsons from commercial grades of material and rationalise it into stock, metric sizes. A straightforward job after which we could doubtless ask nicely and receive the bits from the stockist down the road free-of… But Ken designed his sponsons using high-duty, heat-treated alloys because in certain areas K7 needs all that strength without being too heavy.

Not a problem, all we need do is build the sponsons using thicker material – put the strength back that way. But that would increase their weight whilst they’d have no more buoyancy than before so they’d sit lower in the water (if they floated at all) and that would work against us somewhat when the time came to get her planing again.

It seemed we were back to a complete redesign until another sponsor stepped in to save us and then things went all complicated.

You see, the material we need is a military grade, made under license in the USA, and people attempting to buy military hardware from our cousins across the pond inevitably come under a spot of scrutiny. The US State Department had to be satisfied that what we needed was for the restoration of a jet-hydroplane and not the manufacture of home made cruise-missiles…

Well, it’s done, the drawings are signed off and the metal is inbound. Oh and there’s a high-level meeting at Rolls-Royce this week too regarding the possibility of official support for our engine so cross your fingers.

So with the US State Dept. pacified, and everything sent to R-R for the meeting, next on the list will likely be some moaner e-mailing to say,

“Oooo, Mr Smith, your diary entry of March 2003 made my wife and I very angry because in the picture of you bending over it’s clear that you’re wearing green underpants and this is unacceptably disrespectful to Mr Campbell who didn’t like green. Blah, blah, blah…”



16th January 2008


Remember I mentioned Bluebird’s bad luck making a cameo appearance last week… Past events really have been quite extraordinary.

For example, just as we got word to recover Bluebird, half the cows in the UK went down with foot and mouth disease so we had MAFF or DEFRA or whatever they were called back then poking their interfering noses into a diving operation in case someone with unwashed wellies hiked into the national park for a look-see.

Then Donald would have been given the hero’s send off he fully deserved had not the planned date been September 12th 2001. To add insult to injury it rained torrents all morning as we trudged through the dripping streets only for the sun to split the heavens five minutes after we squelched our way indoors. I swear I heard Donald laughing at that one…

Then the future was decided for Bluebird so we applied to a funding agency with ‘heritage’ in the name only to discover where the incompetents left over from the millennium dome project were hiding. They consequently did nothing but waste fifty-odd grand and four years of our lives before being unceremoniously sacked.

Moving on, the Campbell family kindly gifted Bluebird to the people of Coniston on what ought to have been a quiet news day, so we called a press conference – but no – a freak hurricane tore a dozen roofs from their moorings in central London causing all the Sky News vans to uproot at once and thrash southwards before the wind died down. Our list of ill fortune reads like a book of improbable happenings and another chapter was written this week as we waited for word from Rolls-Royce regarding our engine but instead, BA dropped a 777 into the grass at Heathrow. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt but it gave R-R a pair of Trent 800 engines to worry about ahead of our Orph’. Unbelievable!

But best that they get to the bottom of the problem, I reckon.

Not to worry, other things went our way this week.

This arrived one afternoon so we popped it on top of the container for the moment.



It’s a 1200 litre oil tank donated to our project by Balmoral Tanks of Aberdeen and what a piece of work. It’s a tank within a tank so if the inner hull splits all that happens is that the fuel sloshes into the outer. That way it doesn’t have to be built into an enclosure but the inner won’t split because it made of the toughest plastic imaginable. It also has a nifty, digital fuel gauge that plugs into one of the sockets in the workshop to tell us how much juice remains. John-Tidy and Alain, the gadget guys, loved that…

Then one of these turned up.



A big-boy heater, made by Roberts Gordon Engineering Ltd, the whole deal having been put together by Carl and his company, Spencair.

What a Gentleman. We did the publicity shots for the sponsors…



…then he got his work gear on and cut a hole in our ceiling while I was sent out for bacon butties.

Brummie-types (the entire West-Midlands is inhabited by Brummies so far as us northerners are concerned) prefer brown sauce on their bacon arousing suspicion and confusing the sandwich shop staff in Geordieland as ketchup is our thing but we got the southerners fed eventually.



After lunch, and having wiped the grease from their chins, the boys from Spencair set about making everything work. Pete hurriedly plumbed in a piece of pipe then called a one-man photo shoot in front of our big blue boat.



Notice to the left of the posing heating engineer that Bluebird has grown an extra piece of bodywork going forwards over the spar. We’ll come to that shortly.

He and Dan were soon working hard to have the heater positioned and connected up by close of play.



Next morning another pair of Spencair operatives arrived to connect up the wires and get a tune out of the beast. Matt and Jay put the finishing touches to our luxury heating system then sparked her up.





John-Tidy walked into the workshop on Saturday morning bearing his usual collection of woolly hats, gloves, and extra jumpers. Unlike some of the crew he lacks an insulating layer of fat so extra thermal protection is de-rigueur in his case. But within half an hour he was stripped to his tee shirt.

The new heating system is absolute, unimaginable luxury! It switches on smoothly and quietly then, without fuss, maintains perfect temperature in our workshop. And because it heats air, blows it out the top, then slurps it back in the bottom to top up the temperature where needed, the clever thing is so fuel efficient that it literally sips inexpensive fuel-oil through a length of Morris Minor brake pipe!

The value of working in a warm environment is something we’d not properly appreciated – until today.

What can I say? To our old and dear friend, Carl, well I guess you know the score. And to those companies generous enough to allow us the use of their products without charge – massive thanks from the (warm) workshop team at the Bluebird-Project.



Other stuff – Alain got a welding lesson.



We kitted him with a hat and a pair of gloves then I showed him the basics of how to hold and operate a MIG torch. It’s a different process to TIG, which I use to weld the alloy panels. In that case filler rod is hand fed into a weld pool heated by an electrical plasma formed between the end of a tungsten electrode and the work piece. With MIG the heat source is the same but a constant supply of filler wire is mechanically fed through the tip of the torch and fuses as it hits the molten weld pool. Once the machine is properly set up the welding technique isn’t too difficult especially on heavy material.

But what was Alain doing with a welding set?

Simple really, we bought some big-boy castors to put under our new engine so we can shove it about. Orpheus’ are big, heavy items, we’ve had three of them so far and they’ve all had to be shifted more times than is funny so this one is on juicy, fat castors for ease of manoeuvring.

Alain made up some feet for the engine cradle so we can take the castors off to stop the engine shooting up the road when we fire it up then welded them to the bottom of the cradle.

We’ve been cracking on with the new nose too. ‘Rob’s tool’ has grown a pair of rounded bits…



Fortunately, much of the shape of the replacement nose is set in stone. The planform, for example, is beyond argument because its shape is defined by the original floor panel salvaged from the lake and reattached to the forward frame. There’s no arguing with that. Nor can the deck height above the front spar be disputed because the original former never left the spar.

The side elevation has been scaled directly from Ken’s drawing so that’s assumed to be correct too but what we don’t have is any cross-sectional data as the nose comes to a rounded shape at the front end. That’s going to be a little bit of educated guesswork, careful study of a sh*tload of photographs and a lot of tin-bashing.

The guys at ThyssenKrupp came up trumps again by providing extra material just in case we got it wrong seventeen times so we rolled our last sheet to get a look at the problem.

By the way, forgot to mention, the nose is made of 1mm thick material, which we didn’t realise until making a final check prior to breaking out the hammers. The cockpit rails are all 1.5mm so there’s a little more leeway with those when it comes to dressing the welds and raising the low spots for a smooth surface. We’re going to have to be extra clever with this thin stuff.



Shouldn’t be too difficult though, methinks. I’ve said that before too!





25th January 2008


“You ever thought of going into politics?”

Such a horrifying prospect halted my pint between tabletop and lips so suddenly that the precious liquid slopped over.

Fair enough, I’d paused, mid-rant, on recycling for a sip of beer, but politics, of all things! My expression must’ve communicated most of what I thought but my companion wasn’t done.

“Why not?” She persisted. “You’d be good at it…”

Oh yes, and MI5 would lace my smoked salmon baguette with polonium 210 in time for lunch.

I shook out the notion as I would a tarantula from my underpants and hurriedly returned to the question of recycling. But unfortunately here on Earth things seem as ridiculous as they are in a five second flight of fancy.

For example, not knowing what else to give my two-year-old to watch on TV, I bought the baby all the things I used to enjoy; Chigley, Trumpton and Camberwick Green, to name but a spoonful, and made an unsurprising discovery.


There it was, in the corporation dust-men song, ‘We empty people’s bins, salvage metal tins and bale up cardboard boxes with a band’.

You see, despite it being billed as something new and important, recycling was already a way of life in 1967 – the year Chigley was made, the year I was born and the year that Donald crashed his boat.

Thinking about it further, we had a milk man when I was a kid who delivered glass bottles full of fresh moo-sauce to the doorstep each morning. The cream went on my cereal before school, the middle third went into my mam’s cuppas as she did the housework and the remainder was warmed and made heavenly by the admixture of sugar and motherly love for bed time.

Next morning the milk man took the empty bottles, (and possibly my mother), topping them up nicely so the cycle could begin again.

A distant memory suggests that mum had a tough shopping bag too that she recycled on a daily basis. Plastic carrier bags… she’d not have known what to make of them.

Anyone remember their mother darning socks?

And recycling didn’t only incentivise the adults. There was a 5p bounty on an empty pop bottle in those days so my cousin, Steve, and I would spend our Saturday afternoons rooting through hedgerows and ditches so we could recycle in the name of sweeties and more pop before the advent of the local paedophile stealing your trousers as you impaled yourself on a discarded hypodermic needle.

Nowadays milk comes in a paper carton manufactured in a huge plant full of heat and fluorescent light with a health and safety bloke on a hundred grand a year whose job it is to prevent farting in the factory in case the process operators ate raw eggs that morning. You use the carton once then it’s shipped to another, similar plant to be chewed up and eventually made back into another milk carton. Even bottles, it seems, have to be smashed up in this supposedly modern age before being made back into bottles again for a reason that escapes me.

Education; here’s yet another case in point…

When visiting a nearby pond I had the great idea of nabbing a few tadpoles thinking the local school would be enthused by using them to show the kids where frogs came from. How stupid of me. Tadpoles in the classroom! Hadn’t I realised that the whole year could go down with Ebola hemorrhagic fever if frog larvae were introduced to the classroom environment.

The kids can ‘Google’ as many tadpoles as they like and play interactive frog games on the Internet but real ones are deadly poison.

So my tadpoles were banished to what the headmaster described as, ‘a small nature pond’, that he had excavated in the school grounds. The only problem being that most of the natural world can’t get past the three foot, close-boarded fence he built around it in case the kids approach its six inch depths closely enough to fall onto the quarter-inch wire mesh he placed over the water. I think some algae and an anorexic amoeba have since squeezed through the bars…


Thought I was kidding, didn’t you…

And then reality was restored – or a glimpse of it at least.


Tadpoles may be verboten but a real-life, all action hero is suddenly back on the menu. Fantastic!

Our volunteer helper, Andy Robinson who’s a teacher in his day job, took a video of Mr Campbell into the classroom and showed the kids that before the advent of the PS2 and Xbox 360 there was a real bloke in a proper tin boat with a jet engine wedged up his behind doing high speed stuff for real.

Needless to say they were enthralled.

I was doing some important office-type things involving money and customers one morning last week when an envelope crammed full of kid’s paintings dropped on the desk with my other mail. By lunchtime I’d settled on my favourite three and stuck the lot


to the workshop wall.

They’re all absolutely brilliant but Andy wanted me to choose only three (teachers, eh…) so here they are.

This one is by Kiera Le-Moine aged 9 and see how she’s captured the sensation of speed and got the reflection in the water just right. The flag on the tail is the best of the bunch too.


Joe Ratcliffe, also aged 9, has it right too along with a wealth of extra detail including the spray baffles, radio antenna and the K7 logo.


And Bradley Manifold (age 10) drew this superb picture and so became our overall winner.


Thanks to all of you and very well done.

(To view all of the pictures click here)

And by the way, about a quarter of the limited edition run of prints by Keith Hick are now gone so if you want one you’d best keep it in mind. Go to the ‘Prints’ button above and have a look.



Been a bit quiet on the boat side of things lately, haven’t we…

There’s a good reason for this. We’ve been putting in lots of hours on the new nose instead of writing about it. As someone said last week, ‘water can pour in at the back end and you can make the floors out of balsa wood but make the nose the wrong shape and you’ll never hear the end of it.’

The problem is that it only ever seems to have been drawn properly in side profile and as Alan Dodds confirmed there were no drawings available first time around meaning that when it looked right then it was right.

Great! Especially when you’re trying to replicate someone else’s interpretation of such a loose-leash approach to making complex 3D shapes.

Alan mailed us a sketch of how it was done in 55. (Thanks to everyone who cleared the date up for me, by the way).


(Sketch © Alan Dodds 2008 – used by kind permission)

It shows the nose made of three panels, two sides and a lid and at the ends of the red arrows it says, tuck these edges.

You can do only five things with metal.

Weld it, cut it, bend it, stretch it and shrink it. Of the five, shrinking is undoubtedly the most difficult (and also, in my opinion, the most useful). Tucking means shrinking but there’s a hell of a lot of shape in the point of K7’s bow and metal will only shrink so far before it begins to fight back. You can stretch in one direction (much easier) and shrink in the other to achieve greater effect but it’s often simpler (when you can weld better than you can bash tin) to make the finished part out of a greater number of smaller and therefore more manageable parts then glue them all together. This has the added advantage that if you make a mess of one small piece it’s not the disaster it might have been with a larger section.

We therefore broke the job into four parts rather than three.

Another problem was that we didn’t know what the final shape had to be, which is why we had so few formers last time. Several people mailed after the last diary entry to suggest that we didn’t have enough formers and how right they were but we didn’t know where to put them or what shape they needed to be at the time.

Getting close was easy enough but being spot-on was always going to be much more of a challenge.

Our initial investigations were carried out using sheets of brown paper and sticky tape. The paper is 20p per sheet and I nicked the tape from upstairs. The important thing is to determine how much shape the metal has to take and lashing it up with brown paper yields a surprising amount of info. Where the metal needs to stretch you can cut slits in the paper so it opens up and likewise it can be tucked and overlapped where shrinking is needed. Look down the left-hand side of the paper…



Laid out on the floor you can see just how much shape it has and that’s only one side.


This resulted in Rob’s tool growing an extra protuberance and another round of brown paper.


This time we reckoned we were on the right track so the brown paper was replaced with a piece of tin.


That seemed to work but don’t imagine for half a second that all was as simple as this.


Look about the workshop and you’ll see numerous test-pieces worked on then discarded after they’d taught us either how to do something or just how far we could go with any given shape. The above pic was taken quite a distance down the evolutionary road. But it looked nice and more importantly it couldn’t be contradicted by any of the hundreds of photographs we’ve amassed of K7’s nose over the years. We built the other side and excitement began to grow because it still hadn’t gone horribly wrong.


Now it’s important to get your head around the shape of this damn thing – we had to. Notice that back towards the spar the sides of the boat slope outwards. She’s wider at deck-height than down at the underside. But this angle decreases as you come forward until the sides become vertical around where those forward-most red pins are stuck through the skin. Keep moving around the nose and it begins to slope the other way, back towards the cockpit, but only over a very short distance before fanning out again on the other side. You’ll see what I mean if you look at the far side and notice that photographed from this angle the opposite side is sloping quite steeply outwards and that’s only a few inches to one side of the centreline. This, then, is the mystery of Bluebird’s front end and what makes it so difficult to recreate. More of that in a mo because next we had to put the top on so after a round of rough tin-bashery our idea looked like this.


You’d not think you could do much with this mess considering all the dings and dents but aluminium (at least this grade) is forgiving as an old sheepdog and will suffer with uncomplaining dignity until you’re ready to give it a proper walk and a chocolate biscuit.


See what I mean, it’s the same piece of metal… You’re probably wondering what the V-shaped cutout is in the top too. That’s the area where the metal has virtually no shape. From there all the way back to the cockpit rails the foredeck is pretty much a flat panel making it easy to fabricate and weld into position so there’s absolutely no point in handling a panel twice the size it needs to be as we worked out the complicated bendy stuff at the front.

Daresay there are many skilled craftsmen around the world who could do it in one piece but we’re not that good.

Coming back to the shape – notice how the area of the nose where the two red pins were in a previous pic has been caught in almost perfect profile and how steeply sloping it makes the front of the bow appear.

It took another few days of persuasion before the time came to apply the hot metal glue but once everything was lined up the old TIG torch came out again.


The trick is to fire a spot-weld onto the join every inch or so. In this case I had to call up our mate Alan at Leengate Welding Supplies because trying to weld the 1mm material with 1.6mm rods wasn’t working. The edges of the panel were melting before the filler rod and it wasn’t pretty so Alan sent us a spool of 1mm MIG wire that we cut into short lengths to use as filler rods. It’s easy enough to make the spot-welds by simply fusing the edges together but you have to be quick on and off the heat, which causes rapid cooling of the weld pool and therefore the welds come out brittle and often crack if you try to work them later.

Pouring in a little filler cools them and gives them more volume so they solidify more slowly and produce a more malleable weld.

On the minus side they’re comparatively bulky as a result so you have to knock the tops off before moving them around or it’s the surrounding material that gives more than the welds resulting in an odd shaped seam to fettle later.

Having sorted the welds we washed out the remaining lumpy bits from our creation on the English Wheel then fully welded it; patiently, a little bit here, a little bit there to minimise heat build-up before our trusty ‘independent observer’ went nose to nose with his body file.


Novie spent the day carefully filing the welds to give a smooth surface. Lots left to do but you get the idea and this time you can see the nose in profile. It actually slopes backwards at quite a shallow angle when you get sideways-on. Take a step left or right though and it’s more like the north face of the Eiger…

Next we have to fabricate the foredeck between the front of the spar and the cockpit opening, which also includes the rail for the canopy roller. The top deck may be smooth but there’s some interesting bodge-jobs under the skin that we’ll give you a look at as we re-include them in the resurrected K7.

The pace ought to ramp up again soon too because we’ve been labouring long and hard over these few iconic shapes but with them almost complete and the rest of the boat only needing a coat of paint and some mild titivating we ought to get a good crack at her soon.




9th February 2008


Seems I escaped virtually unscathed with the last diary entry. Invariably someone is insulted or upset so I expected a battalion of Euro-do-gooders to explain the terrible dangers of egg-eating process operators and tadpoles, but no. Only a couple of low-yield whiners mailed to say I was unqualified to comment on matters ecological as being an exploitative employer with a fat car my carbon footprint was almost as big as my mouth.

Well, whiners, shut up and learn that it helps to know your enemy because here’s a previously unseen eco-warrior on a mission to help explore the habitat of a beautiful, white coral called Lophelia pertusa and assess the risk to it from indiscriminate deep-water trawling. And beneath my feet is the uninhabited island of Mingulay in the Hebrides



And what was I doing there?

I went with these guys…


…as I have many times over the years on all kinds of actions.

Cheap beer, free helicopter rides, fast boats, law breaking, hell raising and all the while doing my small bit to help the planet alongside zealous individuals who get off their backsides and do something rather than writing strongly worded protests to their local MPs in the hope that someone else will look after their dirty work. Try it sometime – it’s fun.

But mostly what they do is in support of serious scientific endeavour so this time the ship was full of coral-ologists. I started out messing with the sonar on the ROV because it was a Tritech system I know inside out but the ROV eventually died of terminal water ingress so I finished up driving the sampling grab used to snaffle chunks of coral for the scientists.



“Had much experience operating one of these?” a concerned boffin asked me as I prepared to lower his expensive grab complete with cameras and lights 140m to the reef below. The regular operator was knackered and had demanded the afternoon off.

“Nope,” I said. “But I have thousands of hours on a sidescan winch and my towfish cost more than your grab.”

It becomes second nature to avoid crashing thousands of pounds worth of sonar array into a shipwreck as unrepentant after more than half a century on the seabed as it was the day Adolf Hitler sent it over to kill your grandparents.

What you do is watch the telly, staring at the back of the grab hanging a few metres above seabed, as the ship drifts serenely over the ocean.


Then when you see a chunk of this stuff go by…


…you grab it and haul like buggery.

By tea time I’d wrenched enough Lophelia free to satisfy the scientists who placed their living coral in a special habitat for transportation to the lab. In fact, they had so much of the stuff that I asked whether I could keep a small piece and like Mr Benn,


I now have a small piece to remind me of the adventure.




Can’t teach an old dog new tricks, they say. I beg to differ here too.

As the darkening nights of 2007 began to suck the warmth and light out of what remained of the year we bade a sad farewell to our friend, Alan Dodds. Being slightly beyond spring-chicken age he’s not keen on travelling cross country in crap weather so he reluctantly resigned himself to a Bluebird-free winter.

That seemed aeons ago and I distinctly remember thinking, we’ll not see Alan for ages now. But last weekend the sun shone and the rain took a day off.

The Bluebird project has been in a holding pattern lately for a variety of reasons. We got the nose somewhere near and there’s always a quiet spell after a major victory. Then I caught Ebola haemorrhagic fever from an early tadpole and was confined to bed for almost a week; plus, my dad landed himself in hospital at the same time, which was like trying to keep a rhinoceros in a Tupperware box so we had to do the cohesive, family thing to keep the lid down. He’s OK now and expects to have his forklift service back to its regular timetable by next week.

So the Bluebird team went for it big-time on Saturday.

Alan made his way across the A69 with a pressie for the boys. He just can’t stop bashing metal with hammers. I know how he feels, it’s addictive. He’s only gone and wrought the BBP logo from what looks like old knives and forks, welded it together and painted it all the right colours.


Brilliant, isn’t it… But simply saying, ‘here it is’ does no justice to the artistry involved. Next time you’re settling comfortably into your sofa for the latest instalment of East-Pretenders or Constipation Street try switching the telly off, emptying the cutlery drawer onto a tea tray and working out just what you’d have to do to replicate Alan’s masterpiece. Brain-training… it’s almost as old as recycling.

We had a quick committee meeting about where to hang it and decided that next to the entrance to Rob’s Passage looked about right. We tried it above but Alain’s air pipes didn’t compliment it too well.

Having agreed on a suitable location, Rob was quick to fix it in place then indulge his own strange compulsion.


Looks good with a light behind it, it has to be admitted. And it’s one of those items I plan to snaffle when the job is done to hang on my office wall though I fear I’ll have to be quick…

Alan wasted no time getting to work. He ran a practiced hand over the seams on the nose then whipped out his body file and started searching for low spots.


What you do is to gently file the surface and where it’s low the file misses so you can see the problem. You next push a dolly against the back, which is simply a heavy chunk of smooth steel, and give the panel a tap either side to raise the low spot. Run over with the file again to be sure it’s done then move onto the next problem area.

I absently mentioned the material being only 1mm thick to which Alan growled something about having never filed through a panel in his life.

Being a mere pup of a tin-basher I decided to shut up and go for a new bottle of gas for my welding set...

Alan was hammering and dollying in some tight spaces when I returned so at the risk of being told to bugger off a second time I introduced him to the bullseye-pick. It’s a clever thing of American invention (I think) that allows you to whack a low spot up to height from the outside without having to contort your forearms around all those sharp edges.

It’s a C-shaped affair with a flat foot that you place on the surface of the area to be treated. There’s a target semicircle let into the foot and a pointed hammer that swings upwards to hit the underside of the panel by squeezing a handle. It’s designed in such a way that the hammer always arrives within the semi-circular cutout so you know where you’re going to hit every time.


You position the semicircle over the low you want to raise then simply hammer ’til it’s flat enough to smooth with the file.


Simple but effective. Alan hadn’t seen one before but it took him about four seconds to get it working.

Quite a bit easier than hammer and dollying, he concluded.



And you can bet that next time we see him he’ll have built one from the wreckage of an old greenhouse and some fragments of a Zeppelin that crash landed on his house during the first war.

Ours was kindly donated to the project by Frost Tools.

Bullseye pick.

Alan also quickly spotted where I was going wrong with my tuck-shrinking. This is a process whereby you literally tuck the edge of a piece of metal like a folded over piece of paper then hammer the metal you don’t want outwards leaving the edge of the panel shrunk. Try as I might I just couldn’t nail it whilst Alan makes it look ridiculously simple. But after a few minute’s instruction he’d spotted the problem and put me right so after thanking Alan I showed him how we achieve a similar result (albeit much slower) with the mechanical shrinker also donated by Frost Tools. Five minutes later and he was into that too...

Old dog…

Another stalwart of the project made a triumphant homecoming last week. Tony Dargavel is back in one piece having wounded his hands in a motorcycle accident some months ago. He donated all his uneaten, Christmas biscuits to a greedy, grateful crew, demonstrated that his tea-making abilities haven’t improved during his enforced absence then took to his blast cabinet as though he’d not been away. Good – as the pile of shot blasting grows with each passing day. Welcome home, Tony.


Still feeling slightly weak from my bout of fever I did little more than take Henry Hoover for a spin around the workshop while the crew did all the real work.

I put the rest of the welds on the nose…


…for Alan to file down then more or less kept out of it while he and John-Tidy went on to build a replacement spar fairing.

They copied the formers from the other side (I remember welding them together at some point) then pinned the new ones in place.


Alan and John then rolled a slice of tin to suit.


Alan left while he still had daylight for the trip home so John buggered about with the fairing for the rest of the day and most of the evening until it fitted perfectly; it’s amazing what an influence such a small piece has on the overall visual effect. And, like the nose, it’s a deceptively complex shape as it tapers not only top to bottom as it nears the outer end of the spar but also fore and aft.


Meanwhile, because we have to build the root fairings next, I dinged some pieces of scrap left over from the nose development (whilst stoned on co-codamol) to find out what’s involved in making them for real.


Not bad; so we can measure up next and make some proper ones to finish the job.

Here’s a good question.

I was asked last week whether we intended to replicate the dent caused by Donald driving into a duck. Tricky one, that… After all, Gina’s brief for the rebuild was always to return the boat to how she was a minute before the accident so we really ought to build a bird-cannon and fire a defrosted duck at that new fairing. Then we also ought to create the impression of a startled seagull in the rear spar fairing. Best leave this decision to John. I’ll print off a picture of the duck-damage and hand it, along with a mallet, to him next weekend but rather than expecting authenticity in K7’s historical accuracy you’re more likely to see me with a bandage on my head for a week or two.




20th February 2008


Astonishing! A whole week has gone by and not a single whiner. I’ve looked forward to this day for seven years, but now it’s arrived I don’t like it.

Don’t get me wrong – intelligent, informed comment is invaluable but some people just whinge for fun and become little more than background noise so eliciting valid input is often best achieved – like taking canaries down the mine – by upsetting a few sensitive types.

Therein lies a good reason for being a little more controversial, less politically correct and, speaking of which, something was said in the workshop this week that was met with, “you can’t say that!” by one of our visitors.

Can’t remember what it was but it only made us worse.

We’ll shortly need to install a doorman at the BBP workshop with one of those small sliding screens to see who wants to get into our politically incorrect speakeasy. We work in inches, eat full-fat food and wipe political correctness from our boots before we enter the door.

For example, I am neither ‘mass enhanced’ nor ‘circumferentially challenged’ – I’m just fat.

My lack of hair doesn’t make me ‘folically disadvantaged’ either – only baldy as a snooker ball.

Rob is a self-confessed short-arse whilst Alan Dodds has more earthy expressions for his advancing years than ‘chronologically gifted’.

There’s something life-enhancing about getting together with a group who know and trust one another and enjoying the daft carry-on without worrying about someone feeling the need to make a parachute for their teddy bear.

One memorable occasion I recall was when we had a diver working with us who was – how can I put this – of an alternative sexual orientation. But after a week of mucking in with the lads he’d grown a five o’clock shadow and was thrilled to be told he looked butch.

“Butch…no one has ever said that to me before,” he beamed.

Then we took some girls diving off the Northumberland coast because they wanted to swim with cute, cuddly seal pups; but Predator has no toilet facilities so we told them they’d have to do it over the wall the same as the blokes. On the appointed day they each came aboard and made their dive then stood at the rail and applied a modified teaspoon to their bedroom equipment using a process they refused to let us inspect and went at it most effectively over the rail just like the boys. We were intrigued, mystified and doubly impressed.

Then there’s the downside…

I went for a pint and a curry once with a HLF manager because he’s a great bloke and we get on like good mates ought to but he still had to declare his two pints of Guinness (that he paid for himself) and a chicken Madras to higher authority in case a relaxing social evening somehow swayed our lottery bid.

This is something that many missed – the fact that the Hapless Lottery Failure are exactly that but on a personal level we got on extremely well with a small number of delightful and intelligent professionals who were just as shackled to the inside of their organisation as we were to the outside.

Their officialdom took a well deserved slap in the chops when we went public with the ‘experts never clapped eyes on Bluebird, thing’ and determined not to be caught out a second time they sent an ‘expert’ archaeologist prior to the second bid.

“Ooooh, an archaeological dig in miniature…” gushed the ‘expert’.

The dig in question had been swept from the workshop floor and into a plastic crate that we’ve saved to this day in case there happens to be a stray rivet in the bottom but to have it accorded even minor value when not a metre away lay twenty-odd feet of Donald’s decomposing boat was something to wonder at.

I remembered all this yesterday when moving said crate into the space vacated by the right-hand ‘main flute’ as we’ve always called these huge sections of K7.


You can see the panel here painted blue. It’s fluted along its length, hence the name. There’s one of these either side and they’re unquestionably the largest, single pieces of outer skin anywhere on the boat. They’re both in excellent condition too. The one above has impact damage at its forward end but the material is as good as the day it was made.

What’s happened is that now we’ve broken the back of the work on K7’s nose we’re returning our attention to those parts at the back of the boat yet to receive our full attention so it’s now time to show off a real ‘archaeological dig in miniature’.

This is ‘conserveering’…


Like father, like son. Greg and his dad spent a day lifting blue paint from the flute. Greg is well under forty years of age and so ought not be interested but you just can’t tell ’em.

All that could be carefully picked free and placed in a box was saved then a dollop of Chemmetal-Trevor’s pink slop was splattered over what remained.

This gloop is the stuff of legend after a restoration project on a DC3 had rostered their volunteers for a nine-month stint to get the paint off only to have Trevor shift the lot in an afternoon.

It’s properly pink…


…and it shifts paint like I can clear the bar on a Sunday evening after eating sprouts for lunch.


Notice the wrecked end of the panel. We always believed this to be impact damage from the right-hand sponson but having since seen many pictures of the recovered sponson and knowing how it was constructed it now seems more likely that the dent in K7’s starboard side is actually water impact damage sustained in her violent cart wheeling over the surface.


We found a world of corrosion beneath the paint where Donald used to stand as his boat was hauled from the water. It’s the only part of the panel showing corrosion damage so we have to assume that all those minor scratches and cracks in the paint over the years allowed that part of the underlying metal to suffer more than the surrounding material.


And here’s another part of our archaeological dig. Recovered from the lake in 2007


Go on then – guess what you’re looking at here. It’s actually the foredeck, or what remains of it. To get orientated look bottom left at the well defined right-angle let into the material. This is where the right-hand root of the front spar was faired in. Look a little higher and you can see a short length of the track in which the cockpit roller used to run. Go higher again and you can see the remains of the other root fairing with a shard of the original nose skin extending forward.


There now, that’s better, and thanks to Mike Bull for the sketch.

John rescued the root fairing…


…and bashed it somewhere near.


In the meantime we did some advanced tin-bashery to close the big hole in the nose. Imagine what the old girl will look like when she comes out of the paint shop…


Then Alan Dodds caught the Novie-taxi and came back for more.


It wasn’t long before the spar fairings began to come together whilst John-Tidy worked on fabricating new formers for those on the rear spar, which we’ll build as soon as the front ones are sorted.


Meanwhile, I plugged away at the battered fragments lifted from the lake.


Getting there… The top portion is original except for a thin strip of new material grafted in to replace the tortured edge where the parts were originally welded together then mostly torn apart again. The vertical piece is entirely original. They just need welding back together now.


There you go – how’s that for archaeology? We know these parts are correct because they’re the ones Donald could see through his canopy.

We do other museological stuff too, like bringing history to life. Or at least Alan does by returning to work on K7 after fifty-odd years and he soon had his fairings together. (Notice that lunch is served from the foredeck so as not to stop the job)


We reckon he’s quite handy on the tools is our Alan…


And the first flute came up extremely well. We need to make some repairs to it but for now it’s up on the mezzanine while we deal with its opposite number.


Not bad for 34 years on the bottom of a lake, eh? You can imagine just how quickly she’s going to look like her former self once those big panels go back on…

I’ll try not to leave the next entry so long next time so keep tuning in.



6th March 2008


It’s great to have people asking all the time, when will Bluebird be finished? Those who smugly predicted we’d never do it have either changed sides or shut up (not sure which I like best).

The building work on the museum has gone to tender backed by all the funding it needs to put the roof on and we’ve been invited to all kinds of high-level meetings with regard to getting K7 back on the lake but there’s still so much to think about that we need to start preparing now.

For example, there’s the question of how to mount the boat in the museum display and how to move her around. We have to solve the logistics of not only taking her home but how to move her to and from the water because she’s to be a living exhibit rather than the museologically-preferred, dead machine on a plinth.

We winged all this stuff last time because many thought us amateurish but having nurtured our project to full respectability we must now demonstrate appropriate professionalism for K7’s homecoming.

How did we move the boat last time? I seem to recall…



Remember the eco-warrior thing? Well, I said a sad goodbye to that mission and my Greenie mates to immediately join the crew of a pair-trawler out of a small fishing port called Eyemouth (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyemouth) on the Northumberland coast to assess a completely different issue.

Pair-trawling involves two boats pulling a single net between them so while one crew sort the catch between four-hour hauls the other can rest and vice-versa.


The Greenies will tell you how mid-water trawlers are driving dolphins to near-extinction by drowning them in their nets. Whilst common sense suggests that the most hydrodynamically efficient creature on the planet equipped with an acoustic positioning system signed off by millions of years of evolution is hardly likely to be fooled by a couple of lumbering boats dragging a shopping bag between them.

Yet the trawlermen will confess that occasionally they do entrap a dolphin or a seal but their kids love these animals as much as any other kids so daddy invariably risks life and limb on a rescue mission if for no other reason than marine mammals are commercially useless and a PR disaster in a fishing net.

But other creatures of equal innocence don’t fare so well.

If you happen to be a ten-legged, forty-four-eyed blob of jelly and the net slurps you up then chances are you’ll be hauled heavenwards to a hell where seabirds eat you before you can think about how to breathe.


The sad thing about trawling is that when you’re caught you’ve had it. Be you undersize mackerel or record-size halibut you’re going to die… But nature can cope with such destructive practice as long as its scale is kept down amongst the locals.


Once upon a time our inshore waters were alive with tough men in small boats who cast-off each morning to pit their wits against the elements and their quarry but commerce and greed inevitably tipped such a delicate balance and mostly stripped the seas of both fish and the traditional men who made it their living.

And why am I rabbiting on about sea creatures? You may well ask…

It’s because I drove through a police speed trap a few days ago. And at this point you may be excused for being completely flummoxed.

You see, what happened was that by the roadside waited a cunningly concealed van firing lasers from the sharp end of an organisation hell-bent on extracting sixty quid from each and every one of us – the policing equivalent of a factory trawler – an emotionless box of digital electronics mercilessly harvesting everything within its beams.

The spotty, apprentice plumber racing his mate in a car that would normally be your mum’s shopping trolley were it not for all the crap he’s bought to make it look like a Christmas tree could be considered a juicy haddock if I’m to expand on my fishing analogy.

You may also see in your mirror a fully-grown codfish driving a white van six inches from your bumper, or a prize halibut in a yellow Porsche bullying for position on the M6.

But your dad, who’s just collected your mum’s prescription, and who is now hurrying to collect his grandkids from school, is no more than an undersize mackerel caught in the net.

You can eat him but it’s not fair…

I therefore thought, whilst serenely cruising past this rapacious, fiscal-extraction machine, that unlike the shameful laser operators of today our roads were once patrolled by friendly coppers, not unlike the traditional trawlermen whom you could respect, as they formed part of the glue that bound the community.

I remember being pulled over in my road-going youth by real police officers who understood the balancing act they were paid to perform. They knew exactly which horror stories from their years in the job to tell a seventeen year-old Nigel Mansell (Lewis Hamilton for the under 40’s- Alain) wannabe to keep him from killing himself horribly in a car crash. They also knew when to show compassion – and when to punish. You can’t hide in the back of a van and earn respect from 1000m away…

Continuing with this reasoning I began to think back to better times and came full circle to the problem of moving K7 because late March 2001 was the last time being able to negotiate with a policeman proved decisive in escaping one of my many indiscretions.

We’d lifted Bluebird then hidden the wreck in a local car body repair facility on Tyneside where we hoped the press wouldn’t think to look.

But our temporary landlord couldn’t put up with twenty-odd feet of sodden scrap in his premises indefinitely so after a week to let the media circus find another town we thought of how best to shift her to what would ultimately become the BBP assembly shop.

Bluebird was at that time still on the rig we used to get her ashore. We’d built a cradle a foot high and bolted it to the deck of a dodgy car trailer, which made the whole affair over eleven feet tall, ten foot six inches wide across the main spar, and so lengthy that it ought to have sported a ‘long vehicle’ placard on the rear. Factor in that it weighed over two tons if you included the water we brought home from Coniston so pulling it with my elderly, Daihatsu Fourtrak wasn’t to be recommended.

Recommended or otherwise that’s exactly what we gambled on because sanctuary lay only about three miles distant and we reasoned we’d probably get away with it.

With light snow melting on the windscreen and our cargo swathed in a heavy tarpaulin, Bluebird filled the road far more than envisaged and soon proved our plan about as workable as having a museologistperform conjuring tricks at your kid’s birthday party. I just knew the inevitable would happen.

The patrol car and its wide-eyed copper slipped behind us (neither was such an endangered species back in those days) as we crawled down the high street and it was only a question of time before the blue strobes fired.

Sure enough, they weren’t long in coming.

Alain opened the passenger door before we ground to a standstill, hurried around to the driver’s side and slipped smoothly into an oft-practiced routine from our diving days as the officer shot from his jam sandwich (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jam_sandwich) and demanded an answer to his opening question…

“You told me you’d fitted the trailer-board,” I snapped angrily at Alain who’d deftly pitched the problem my way as though we’d never rehearsed such a thing in our lives.

“It’s your turn,” he shrugged. “Thought you’d done it...”

The policemen glanced between us. I glared daggers at Alain.

“It’s not my bloody turn,” I said furiously. “You say that every time. You’re just ******g lazy!”

Alain shrugged…

“I only say it every time because you do the same stupid thing every time,” he offered calmly. I swelled with indignation and launched into the next round.

The cop obviously hadn’t seen the likes of this before and chose to watch and learn for a moment but we were winning – he was buying an act we’d perfected over the years as a defence against avoiding the nuisanceful (witness the birth of a new word) task of affixing our lights and number plate to the back of our boat trailer because we’d normally make it ashore with only five minutes to catch last orders at the seaside pub. We’d not mounted it this time for a different reason. The cable wasn’t long enough and our boat trailer was 22ft long!.

Eventually, faced with an escalating conflict, the policeman stepped in with an enough-is-enough sort of gesture and took charge.

“Never mind the trailer board,” he said authoritatively; and pointing at the wheeled mountain by the roadside, he asked, “What is that thing?”

Alain and I paused for breath then gulped at the outrageous scale of K7 under her tarpaulin.

“Perhaps you’d like to take a look, Officer,” I suggested calmly. Alain carried on being grumpy to keep up the pretence

The policeman eyed us suspiciously then, probably deciding that we’d no chance of escape (at least not with the ridiculous item we’d dared to wheel onto his patch),he ducked under the tarpaulin only to pop out seconds later looking like he’d discovered his scantily clad mother-in-law on a road-going chaise longue underneath

“Is that what I think it is?” he asked amazedly (presumably not his mum-in-law). “I’ve seen this on the telly.”

He vanished again and rummaged under the cover awhile longer but when he reappeared he looked very stern indeed.

Uh-oh, thought I, here it comes.

“This is all very interesting,” said our previously affable copper, he’d switched to severe policeman mode this time so we played our part too and danced the naughty schoolboy shuffle for him.

“What made you imagine you could move this on the public highway?” he demanded with all the authority vested in him. “It’s a moving violation!”

(I treasure his summation to this day – ‘a moving violation’ – what a glorious description of K7)

We knew this already, as it happened, so we added a pinch of mock guilt to our routine as I urgently wondered what to do.

“Yes, Officer, you’re absolutely right,” I offered as I tried to organise in my mind the desperate gamble that had just occurred to me, “and we’re very sorry but we’re not going far and we were going really, really slowly…”

His eyes widened and then narrowed worryingly as I allowed such feeble excuses to take whatever effect they may before I hit him with the big one.

“What we really ought to have, Officer, is a police escort...”

He gaped at the pair of us...

“How much further were you planning on going?” he asked disbelievingly as though our daring to suggest continuing at all deserved a jail sentence.

“Only as far as my factory,” I said with everything to play for. “It’s right next to the police station so you can tell your mates you just pulled Campbell’s boat over as soon as we’re safely off the road… I bet no one else ever did…”

He stared at us a bit longer until, bless him, his eyes twinkled with the mischief of it all and he demonstrated an attribute no software engineer will ever design into a laser gun – the ability to be human.

“OK,” he said with a grin. “Come on.”

And so we completed our journey behind a patrol car with blue flashing lights through what became a snowstorm before our friendly cop took his leave with a cheery wave. He was a great bloke, a policeman blessed with both humanity and professionalism – possibly the last of his breed. And if he happens to read this I’d like him to call us up so I can buy him a pint. Alain will get the next round in. (And I’d love to know what stories he told the boys in blue back at the nick)


Our ‘moving violation’ off its trailer and safely in the workshop, March 01.

I think, perhaps, we’ll hire a professional company of movers next time.



Seven years on and we’re realising a dream. K7 is going back together but sometimes it just doesn’t happen the way you want it to.

Take, for example, the spar root-fairings. I mean, they’re stupid little pieces of tinwork that ought to have taken an afternoon yet they’ve turned into a project in themselves. This is why I invariably reply, “she’ll be finished when she’s finished”, when people push for a completion date. How were we to know how much work would ultimately have to go into the damn things?

As we left things last time, the top and back faces of the right-hand example were in place to which we then added the original back cover for the spar. Both back covers were recovered, still attached and in almost mint condition so they were a given a quick cleanup and put back.

Here’s the right-hand cover being removed.


And now in position once more – minus its paint and with the root-fairing returned to where it came from. The front, D-shaped cover is original on this side too.


Back to business, the aft vertical section of the right-hand root-fairing was used as a template to recreate the missing other side so we know that’s correct too.


That shiny, new vertical in the corner where the spar meets the nose is welded into the original top section of the fairing (the flat bit that lies atop the spar and fans out onto the foredeck). But even this part took some serious work because it came up in two pieces and had to be welded back together.

It led us into some extreme conserveering.

Remember how Alan ‘Doddy’ Dodds bashed up the front fairing for the left-hand side.


Well it fitted a treat but left us with a small problem.


Here it’s in its rough state with the welds unfinished and a few gaps here and there but what shape ought it to really be? We could eye it in from photographs and get away with it but a tiny scrap of salvaged aluminium refused to end its days in the LOOF box and begged its pardon by providing a wealth of historical accuracy.

You may have to spend some time going through the following images in order to properly interpret what’s being shown but there’s a point to this so no apologies.

You see, we have to spend hours with the real pieces of metal in our hands learning where they came from, how they were affected in the accident, what material properties then had back then and what they can teach us today so it’s only fair that you do likewise.

Each piece may take several weeks to interpret before a suitable treatment is devised for it then put into practice so if the following confuses you at the first reading then go back and do it again. That’s what we do…

Here it is still wet on Predator’s deck about this time in 2007.


What you’re actually looking at is two pieces of scrap atop the engine cover. A sponson former to the right, which has no blue paint because it came from inside the sponson top, and a chunk of Bluebird’s original nose extending from the very bottom right of the wreckage to where it’s poking into the orange basket top right – this is the bit were interested in. You can see an area of blue paint divided horizontally by a dark line.

Here it is again on the workshop floor.


Start at bottom right and move up that side until you see two patches of blue with a dividing, horizontal line through them.

And again…


This picture is inverted for ease of interpretation but now it’s possible to see that the horizontal line is where one panel overlaps the other and the reason there’s no blue paint there is that filler was used to smooth over the join and it’s now in smashed fragments forty-two metres down.

Notice also that top-right there’s a curved edge. There’s a piece missing from that corner so take a look below.


You’re looking down on the foredeck with our piece on the right as usual, the front of the boat would be at the bottom of the picture were she complete and the cockpit opening would begin about where the top edge of the picture is. Part of the rail where the canopy used to run remains in the centre where the panels are unzipped and on the right can be seen our two divided pieces of shrapnel plus its missing, upper right corner. If you look very closely you can see the missing piece still attached to the wrecked foredeck with its edges bordered in brown rust from the steel screws and captive nuts that held it in place. We took it off and below you can see it straightened and ready for welding back in gripped by a pair of G-clamps.


OK, you’ve hopefully worked out what’s what so here’s what we did with it.


Remember the two pieces of tin separated by a dark line; well here they are reunited in-situ with the paint removed where the lower one turns out to be a chunk of the front fairing. The only example to come out of the lake.

Making sense yet?

To straighten bent metal, the museologists arrogantly informed us, was to destroy history, but we disagree. Taking a piece of history, namely the new fairings built by ‘Doddy’ in 2008, and blending them with parts made in 1955 that crashed in 1967– we reckon that history has gained more than it’s lost.


We overlaid old on top of new then grafted it in.


There you go – all the salvaged material reincorporated. It needs tidying up but there’s more to this than simply salvaging bits of scrap. Every fragment not only increases the amount of original tin in the finished boat but also adds to her authenticity in other ways. For example, we now know exactly what the hole spacings were, how far they were from the edge of the fairing, where the welds were, etc. The rebuilt K7 is meticulously authentic because of such small things.


Here’s another case we’ve tackled recently. Take a look at the corrosion damage to the front spar fairing on the opposite side.


We popped the blue towing lug on there just to check which holes it used but if you look forward of it you can see that the corner of the front spar cover has rotted away and with it has gone several bolt and rivet holes that we’ll need during reassembly.

It was singled out for surgery with the incision line drawn in black ink.


Incidentally, I had an operation for varicose veins performed on my right leg some years ago as they were a thrombosis risk for deep diving – gas coming out of solution in a meandering backwater and forming clots is the problem – and, because the surgeons make an incision at the top of your leg through which they strip the vein, let me tell you that the singularly most painful part of the procedure is the application of a spirit marker-pen to the scrotum!

But we digress… a suitable graft was shaped and trimmed by Rob who spent several hours getting it perfect.


His work was then welded in and dressed.


But it took about five hours of TLC all-told to get that corner back.

Investing another five hours, on the other hand, using only new material, we knocked up the formers…


…then clashed the rear spar fairings into position.


They were simple by comparison. Notice all the left-hand side outriggers in position forming the hull shape and ready to accept a new outer skin. Coming soon…

Then we continued with the front spar root-fairings. They’re done now – at least as far as we can go with them. The trouble is that you end up with so many partially fastened parts that are not necessarily in their final position that it’s pointless to make all the tiny adjustments until the underlying structure is nailed down.

We considered putting the canopy runner into the foredeck but you can bet that something will need to be shuffled a millimetre here or there in the final build, which will leave the runner misaligned. We’ll do it when the foredeck has stopped fidgeting about.


The right-hand side (above)… The only part of the entire spar fairing that’s non-original here is the front and underside of the root-fairing where the spar meets the nose. Everything else, the back and front covers, and most of the root-fairing survived the 67 crash to fight another day.

And the left…


Not quite so much genuine K7 over here because the D-section nose was missing along with most of its fairings but it does have the only surviving piece of the forward root-fairing to compensate.

Glad that’s over with! We’ll need to fettle those fairings later when the spar is fastened in and the nose screwed down but at least they’re on the shelf for when the time comes and the hard work is done.

Speaking of hard work – Novie came back and tackled the opposite flute with the same bloody determination he used on the first one.


Apart from some minor dissimilar metal corrosion where the outriggers were riveted inside with a shortage of jointing compound it’s mint from front to back in terms of its condition. There’s some crash damage to fix but we’ll cover that shortly.

Alan ‘Doddy’ Dodds flagged down the Novie taxi again came over too to bash some replacement sections for the rear spar root-fairings. Notice also how, using a few G-clamps and bits of wood, K7’s frame has been made into an effective tin-bashing bench.


We have most of the original fairings for the rear spar because they remained with the boat but some repair pieces are needed so Alan put them in the stores for us. He sent this pic too, which really sums up what tin bashing is all about sometimes.


And so we’re nearing another milestone. The worst of rebuilding Bluebird’s nose section from F-15 where the frame failed is behind us. The side skins and rear spar fairings need sorting but the rebuilt nose is 9/10ths complete. I reckon we’ll have a few beers when it’s done

We’re going to dry-build the sides of the hull next then flip her upside down to do the floors. The job is unrelenting but our enthusiasm and determination only gets stronger the more the old girl starts to resemble her former self.

Back soon…




21st March 2008


Right – no more waffle. Writing about our waterborne adventures, and there are thousands of them, is what happens when we’re caught on the slack tide of inactivity in the workshop.

Remember the weekly football reports – and I can’t stand football – because all we were doing was painting walls and floors.

But painting walls and floors is as important in its own way as bashing slices of tin. The guys supplying said tin don’t want it shipped to some dusty craphole and would not be impressed if their customers saw such a thing.

On the other hand, the same customers are invariably more impressed with a beautifully sculpted nose than a technically-perfect outrigger. This Bluebird-Project job has always been an extremely delicate balancing act.

For example…

Many enthusiasts reasonably assume that I’m a Donald Campbell aficionado but those who know me better will tell you that, although I think the bloke had big balls, my real heroes in all of this are Ken and Lew Norris.

Think about it… Malcolm Campbell’s boy, and that’s all he was at the time, comes knocking on the door of two young and ambitious engineers and says, ‘I want to build a boat to bring the world water speed record back to Britain’.

Consider that John Cobb had just killed himself in pursuit of the same and you could excuse the Norris brothers for quickly showing young Donald the door.

But they didn’t…

What they did instead was to design an all-metal, jet-powered hydroplane the likes of which has never been seen before or since. Equipped with only a drawing board, slide rule and self-belief they must’ve posessed similarly big balls.

Ken is sadly departed nowadays and Lew isn’t up to giving us a hand either so it’s up to the BBP crew to get it right so this week we finally declared the pointy end complete and moved on to where it all becomes serious.

Although the nose looks impressive, at the end of the day it’s only so much aerodynamic fairing and cosmetic glitz. It’s all lightweight stuff designed to keep the breeze out of Donald’s underpants but now we’re off back into the bilges and the nuts and bolts of K7’s structure.

The plan is to complete the sides of the hull and then the floors and bulkheads before the build-proper commences. Oh, and did we mention? The sponson build has commenced too. Our materials finally arrived from across the pond and now we’re only waiting on a few bits and bobs but we can make a start in the meantime.

The assembly sequence for the hull and sponsons must be precisely followed too or we’ll be left with large assemblies that won’t complete unless we tear most of our work back down again.

Pulling the old girl apart initially wasn’t a problem because she’d been ragged in half but the further forward you go the more heavily built and complex the floors become in terms of how they interact with the frame and hull sides to keep the water from stripping the skins off with the design climaxing in a symphony of Norris Bros. brilliance where the cockpit floor meets the step at F-19.

We need to get amongst the spars too because x-rays have revealed damage to the internal structure at the outer ends. The main spans are simple enough but the extremities are very tricky; you just have to look at how many rivets there are out there…

The front spar also has a slight twist across the internal bulkheads that keep the centre section rigid. What happened was that in the accident the left-hand side let go first and put a tweak on them. It’ll all fix.

But for now we’re working on the last few damaged outriggers.

We stripped K7 almost back to the frame then rolled her onto her port side.


She’s a heavy old bitch but with the help of a few chain-blocks and strops we got her comfortable then pinned the damaged parts in position. These are the outriggers from around that water-blasted hole in her starboard side. The damage extended from F-10 to F-12 with some minor dings fore and aft but fixing it isn’t simple because we have no reference. The outer skin was trashed and every outrigger aft of F-14 has been substantially modified to accommodate the flutes, which were a later addition that don’t appear in the 54 spec’ so we have nothing to work with except the other side and we’ve come to realise that even this can’t be relied upon.


Job-one – to get what little we had somewhere near. This is F-10 as recovered and cleaned up.


The water burst through K7’s outer skin below and aft of the main spar destroying three stations and stretching this outrigger into the shape of a wok! It took some putting right, I can tell you.

John Tidy took this particular part under his wing and wouldn’t let it go until it was spot-on. The biggest problem is that at some time in her history the boat was significantly slimmed down by the simple process of lopping the ends from most of the outriggers so in this instance all we had to work from was the relatively undamaged panel from the port side. But K7 is far from symmetrical so building to the sizes from one side doesn’t necessarily mean your parts will fit the other and all it takes is a thickness of material (16 gauge for the outrigger and 12 gauge for the flute (in old money) and bugger-all will fit properly)

Undaunted, John made a best guestimate, guillotined the panel in two, removed a slither of what he gauged to be stretched metal then gave it back to me to weld together again…

Then he sliced it the other way – more welding. Next he cut a slender triangle from its upper half to remove more stretched metal – yet more welding. Mending that daft piece of tin took up most of the afternoon.

Until… a final check before our resident perfectionist signed it off – phew – I put the TIG torch down at last!


Rob, meanwhile, was performing flute-surgery because it’ll not fit back on the boat with all that crumpled mess at the front end. We held a meeting to decide how much history to destroy, took a gulp of Chris Knapp’s ‘reality dictates’ potion then let Rob loose with the panel saw.

He rattled our brains, despite our ear defenders, for what seemed an eternity as he excised the dead bits…


…then we excitedly attached a batch of the already conserveered, original panels…


…so the flute could be put back for the first time in over a year. The flutes are great, solid slabs. We were amazed at how heavy they were when they came off and decided they must’ve been cut from the wing spars of a scrap V-bomber. We had a go at straightening the crunched bit with a view to reusing some of it but to no avail… But we’d considered this and whilst obtaining the sponson goodies we’d ordered full sheets so there’d be some leftovers of the right stuff to mend the flutes.


Seemed like a good idea at the time, and despite it being tough stuff to push about, and not being able to take too much bend without cracking, making up the repair section didn’t take long…


…welding it bloody well did though!

It doesn’t like being welded. There’s no welding in the sponsons so no problems there but what a murderous task it proved to be on the flute.


The first few attempts we tried on a test piece cut from crushed flute-metal resulted in instant cracking as the material has virtually no ability to elongate as it cools but we’d already learned the ropes on the inner floors some months ago so it fell to John and his blowtorch to apply vast amounts of preheat then post-heating to the welds so they cooled slowly and gently found their level. Job done…

We’ve had to replace about 15% of the flute overall but what’s left is original and we have an extremely exciting display idea for the museum involving the removed sections so nothing will go to waste.

Other side to sort next.


10th April 2008



Work is continuing steadily in the Bluebird shop to complete the right-hand side of our big blue boat.

We’re not in a hurry but this part of the job is not like the nose where all we could see was a task stretching off to a distant horizon. This is more what we’re used to – small repairs (lots of them) and the fettling of parts that took a tweak in the accident.

That nasty hole in the flute has now gone for good.


If you look carefully you can just see the join where that blue G-clamp is situated on the left but the rest is completely original. Good as new, eh?

That hole was a constant cause of conflict between the HL-effers, Tweedies and the project team.

The do-gooders would ooh and ahhh and poke about inside it but the idea of repairing it was anathema to them and they said so.

“Why do you want to fix it?” they’d ask indignantly.

“Because the water will p*ss in if we don’t,” we’d point out somewhat sadly because their mentality seized up way short of allowing such an important object as K7 near water ever again so they never understood us; yet plugging that leak seems perfectly obvious now it’s done.

So, sorry folks, it’s gone.

Well, not exactly. It still exists in its entirety and will end its days in the museum display for Tweedies to ooh and ahhh at as a sad aside to excited schoolboys (and girls) who’ll doubtless ignore a scrap of bent tinwork in favour of the beautiful craft that took Donald to seven world water speed records.

So, having sorted that bit, we moved forwards to put more of this beautiful old girl’s clothes back on.

It’s intensely annoying (though completely understandable) that people are more impressed with the outer skins than the multitude of complicated features – many of them crash damaged, corroded, salvaged from beneath a mile of mud then finally repaired to full serviceability – that go into holding her skins in their proper positions; but there you go.

It’s like moving all the furniture in your front room, stripping the walls, sanding the woodwork, filling the cracks then sanding some more. Then you paint the ceiling, do the preparation needed to slap on the new décor so you can shift the dust-sheets when all’s dry, vacuum the carpet and finally invite the family round to have them admire the pattern on your new wallpaper… But that’s just how it goes.

We had a few outriggers left to mend on this side too because they’d stretched in the crash and the stretching in this instance is often so severe that the only way to be rid of it is to cut and weld the panel. We’ve become experts at this but evidence suggests that K7’s entire structure from front to back was momentarily twisted something like six inches without most of it letting go and this has left many components with a small stretch here and there.

So we acquired this…


…or rather, I called the boss-man at Frost Tools having researched the topic extensively and asked whether he’d be kind enough to donate one to the project as Frost seem to be the only UK supplier of this miracle cure.

He said yes. (link – frost tools, shrinking hammer)

It’s a shrinking hammer – the only shrinking hammer I’ve ever tried that actually works (and I’ve tried a few). The spiral-ground face is rubber mounted so what you do is put a good, heavy dolly on the back of the offending part then whack it with this thing, which screws the metal together with each hammer blow and shrinks it. Very impressive.

It took a little more than a tap with a hammer to put this one to rights, mind you.


It’s the wrecked remains of F-11- S, the most badly damaged outrigger from the big hole, and here it’s marked off with black pen where surgery is about to commence. We held a meeting about whether or not it ought to be retired to the museum display or conserveered back to life and quickly agreed that even if we saved only fifty percent it would still count as an original panel. Rob therefore did his usual as head of the patching dept. then I went in with the hot metal glue.


It’s all better now.

Another clever appliance of science we had in the workshop this week was a gizmo for measuring relative humidity along with a real-life museologist to operate it for us.


Meet Louise… She’s a proper conservator from a real museum proving beyond doubt that not only are we still an equal-opportunities employer but that we’re getting soft in our old age too – but more of that later.

You see, RH is life or death stuff in a bona fide museum.

Remember how museums exist only for the public… but the public tend to breathe, fart, sweat, come inside in dripping clothes, etc. (They also want the lights on and the heating turned up).

In short, they keep buggering up the museologists environmental ideals and worse still, in our lowly Bluebird workshop, we don’t even have a million-dollar climate control systems to prevent our resident icon from fizzing away to dust.

Vicky once told me that a RH of 50 was considered OK and you didn’t land in bother ’til it hits 60-ish so discovering that our workshop was hovering at a paltry 43 evinced much satisfaction.

We had a great turnout last week too with veterans of various types turning up to keep the job moving.

Whisked eastwards by the Novie-taxi once again came good old, ‘Doddy’ with his bag of hammers to bash tin with us. He mended a couple of squashed brackets that hold the fuel tank in position. I’d had look at them then made a deft body-swerve but Alan took them on and soon straightened things.

Novie, in the meantime, spent the whole day crawling about the floor cleaning a ridiculously long strip of aluminium with a zillion rivet holes in it.


Here you can see only the last four feet of a piece that runs almost the whole length of the boat. Then there was this other bloke…

Mr Hannarack – another veteran who, er, helped Novie with his cleaning.


Meanwhile, the tin-bashing continued with the next piece of forward skinning. We’re now working with all-new material, which is slightly easier than welding yesteryear onto today so the regular tin-bashers soon had a little more of K7 watertight.


(Pic © Louise Bainbridge 2008)

Bluebird is clothed as far forward as the centre of the main spar-box at this point with only the section between here and the centre of the front spar-box to complete. But there are one or two outriggers in that section that still need some work before the skins can go down smoothly. We’ll get onto them next week.



Then the usual suspects cut another slice of tin and clashed it over the remaining holes.


Next time you see this sheet of high-duty alloy it’ll have been stretched, shrunk, joggled and wheeled into a brand-new cockpit wall that’ll blow your socks off and completely overshadow the countless hours spent searching a freezing English lake for every millimetre of its supporting cast.

C’est la vie…

Our sponsons won’t be far behind either – look at this lot.


Sponsons… flat-packed, admittedly, but sponsons nonetheless.

Were this a meal you’d be looking at something made with Périgord truffles as a starter followed by choosing the lobster for your thermidor then perhaps a perfect crème brulee and a splash of vintage Armagnac for afters.

Six months it’s taken to bring this pile of historically-correct material together and it’s been well worth every second. Ken and Lew would be well chuffed…

The sponsons are a part of the boat in which we can include only a very small proportion of the original craft. We have a number of salvaged formers from the top fairings that will be reincorporated and, unbelievably, one of the rear ends of a fairing came out of the lake virtually intact. It seems to have simply popped off like the lid of a beer bottle so that’s going back on.

But mostly the sponsons are a new-build and whereas we could have redesigned them to get their mass, displacement, strength and buoyancy within prescribed limits using off the shelf parts, the fact that we’ve sourced without compromise (and even had made from scratch in some cases) the material we need to make perfect, historically-correct replacements means that they’ll be worthy to ride with K7 when next she gets wet.

Then we’ll sweep and paint the workshop, reacquaint ourselves with our neglected families for a week or so, and then get stuck into the next project; something that has nothing whatsoever to do with boats!