It's 2 years since we splashed about in the lake dragging our big blue boat into the daylight and we're still kicking the project along. It was wonderful when we had a boat and a crew and that's as far as it went. We could have a few beers in the evening and make a plan for the next day. Mind you, one of our favourite quotes at the time was "make a plan….then change it" but at least we were able to progress things as we saw fit and it all worked rather well.

All we wanted to do was to quietly find the wreck and have a look at it. We were fanatical about security and secrecy to the point where our cover was only blown by an unfortunate accident and even then I ended up in the waiting room of the intensive care dept at Barrow Infirmary with a very stern looking copper who demanded to know what the Hell we'd been doing in the middle of a fog-bound lake, in the dark, on a Sunday evening? He'd asked the guys but no one was talking, he was getting a bit miffed!

It all went a bit mad when a few days after Gina's first visit out on the lake with us, she called us up and announced that we were to pull the boat out of the lake and find out what happened to DMC! They were tasks that were within our own abilities and resources but this business of rebuilding the boat is another matter entirely. After I'd been working on the logistics of putting the boat back together for a few weeks I called a meeting, it's all in the diary somewhere, and a number of people who's expertise we needed came over to the office to discuss whether we could do this. Gina said to me "if I'd known what the job involved I would never have asked you to do this!" Too late for that I'm afraid, we love a challenge.

Only problem now is that it's more or less a publicly owned project. By that I mean that if we're going to use public money to do the work in order to make a museum exhibit for the public at large, then we need to play by the rules of those that have all the money.

First things first, in order to use all this public money, you need to straighten out a few details. Things like who actually owns the thing? And can it be rebuilt at all? The question of can it be rebuilt was easily answered and it's all documented here somewhere but the ownership issue was a much more thorny problem. In order for the Lottery people to dip their hand in their pocket, they need to have several criteria met first. The boat has to belong to the museum, the application for money has to come from the museum in order to satisfy the Lottery that the public will actually have access to the finished article and all this has to be sorted out before we can put bat to ball. Just after we lifted the boat, a certain Ffoulks Halbard bloke (generally referred to as "Halibut-Giblets") scrounged some free publicity for himself and his museum by claiming that the boat was his. He milked it until the time came to "S**t or get off the pot" as our TV producer used to say, whereupon he pulled his claim and the boat became the property of the Campbell family trust. Simple enough so far but now it has to belong to the museum and it's ownership has to be transferred to the public by putting her into the museum system. Not so simple.

The team and Gina at The Sun


I did a lecture for a bunch of very eminent museum folks who specialise in conserving metal objects. I was up against it to begin with because these museum types are a bit set in their ways and restorations cause them to huff and puff whilst shaking their heads. Having said that, they are open minded enough that they were able to see where we are coming from and actually agreed with me by the end of the afternoon. There was a question and answer session later on and one of the audience asked me “do all of the Campbell family always agree with the way forward for the boat”? To which I replied “have you ever met a family that all agree about anything at any time”? That got a good laugh out of them but seriously, you can’t involve a load of people in the decision making process and expect it to be plain sailing all the way.

The Lottery folks drove me up the wall to begin with, their attitude seemed to be a case of, we have all the money and if you want some you’ll have to work out how to get it from us. There was a furiously annoying lack of help. They won’t sit down with you and tell you what to do for the best result; you have to guess! After a while, the wisdom of this course of action begins to dawn. If you haven’t got the brains and resourcefulness to talk them out of a few quid, what chance do you have of running the job properly once they let you write cheques on their account? So step one, getting them to talk to you, is something of a trial. We were helped no end in this matter by Bruce Bennison. Bruce works for Cumbria Council and speaks fluent bureaucrat. Often, I’d be about to tackle some sensitive issue with my best “bull in a china shop” approach when Bruce would say “have you thought of this? What about the other?” I’d have to quietly fume and ask nicely instead but it worked. After batting the idea backwards and forwards to the HLF for a while we began to feel positive vibes. I think it was more a feeling at their side of the table that if we were to get some money to spend, at least we weren’t daft but there was still a long way to go.

Imagine if we spent a big dollop of public money and then the boat was sold to a wealthy oil tycoon or a museum in Australia, America etc? There would be Hell to pay so there’s no way any public money is going into a project with the likelihood of this happening. What if the Ruskin Museum went bust? Who would end up owning our fabulous creation? More of this in a moment because these are problems that had been met and overcome before and the HLF could at least give an answer on them, all that was needed there was acceptance of their terms.

Other scenarios were pitched at us to see how well thought out the plan was. How would the boat be transported, operated, painted etc etc. These issues were gradually whittled away by consulting with engineers, hydroplane pilots, other museums. Certain precedents had to be found and demonstrated. The seattle Hydroplane and Race Boat Museum restore and run classic hydroplanes so it can and has been done. The HLF have restored moving machinery to working order. Steam trains normally but so what? 50 tons of moving iron with a fire and load of superheated steam inside is bloody dangerous in its own way so why not our little blue boat? These problems gradually fell to the dogged quest for practical solutions and safety minded planning, they weren’t so bad. Convincing the museum folks that we weren’t stark raving mad and about to commit a terrible atrocity on an iconic item was a bit more tricky. That was how I ended up at the front of a lecture hall full of some of the most respected and influential conservators and curators in the UK.

I was invited to speak at the “Heavy Metal” convention by Simon Cane. Simon is from Manchester Museum of Science and Engineering and he was organising a convention, which as luck would have it was to take place at a newly excavated Roman fort literally at the end of my street. I sat fascinated as the innermost details of conserving the Holland 1 submarine were explained. Another of the lectures was about the efforts to save Isambard Kingdom-Brunel’s ship, the SS Great Britain. There was I prepared to rant on about how difficult it was to get any kind of useful assistance from anyone within the museum world and everyone was enjoying tales of what percentage mixture of caustic soda was needed for this or that metal cleaning preparation. I expected to crash and burn!

It worked out OK in the end; I’d thrown together a little Power-Point presentation and managed to raise a smile with my ranting. I got out of there with a bit of hard won respect from the people who’d voiced considerable objection to the scheme in its early days. It was very encouraging. Simon, if you’re reading this, thanks for the opportunity mate!

Then there’s the question of how much money is needed and where do we get it from? The HLF (Heritage Lottery Fund) operate a one or two stage application.

One stage applications are handled in about 6 months, they can be signed off at regional level and are relatively simple. They must be less than a million pounds in value and you have to raise 25% of the cash by other means. Simple so far? Two stage applications are for bids greater than a million and must be signed off at head office level in London. Again, you need to raise 25% on your own but this time each stage takes about 6 months so you’re faced with twice the time frame. On the up-side, if you get stage one approval, the HLF will make funding available to develop the final application. Preparing the application is like rolling a snowball down a hill. It just grows, it’s not difficult to work out that you’ll need a bigger car park but once you get into things like where to put it, how many cars you can get in there, what surface to put down, what colour your warning signs and barriers have to be, what the planners will make of it all? It gets a bit involved and with the two stage application, the HLF will give you some money to hire a car park consultant or whatever so that your finished application lands on their desks more or less having covered all the possibilities and their attendant costs. It just takes forever.

There is another source of loot, and that is from the European funding agencies who are helping to put Cumbria back together in the wake of the foot and mouth epidemic. Recovery is slow and there is a pot of money out there to help get communities back on their feet. As there is no doubt that running the Bluebird Project for the general benefit of Cumbria can do nothing but good in the area, we have a powerful case for the community regeneration funding folk to help us out on this one. So, here’s the plan, we wanted to make the HLF bid less than a million, get the European agencies to pick up the balance, make the boat the property of the Ruskin Museum (and therefore the property of the museum system which makes it public property) Rebuild the boat to original condition, run it once more on the lake and then retire it to a brand new, purpose built hall at the museum. Only problem left, transfer of ownership, I said I’d come back to that one.

I never suffered the faintest flicker of a conscience about lifting the boat, firstly because it wasn’t my idea, I was asked to handle it together with a fantastic team we did a good job. Secondly, as I said at the time, if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else at some time and at least when we did it, it was done out of enthusiasm rather than for gain and more importantly, almost everyone who is qualified and able to make decisions about DMC and his boat is still living. This will not always be the case and the long-term future of the boat has to be ensured. One of Sir Malcolm’s cars is in Daytona, safe and sound undoubtedly, but a bloody long way from where it ought to be. Parting with the boat into the hands of the museum system was a very difficult one to thrash out. It was like giving up a child for adoption and being able to interview the prospective parents. It was a while before there were nods from both sides of the table but eventually they came. That lot took us up until the back end of last year and all was poised to push the go button. There was a big meeting planned with all the parties concerned, everything was in place when…..

Vicky fell ill. By Vicky I mean Vicky Slowe from the Ruskin Museum. Our prime mover in the Lottery department. Vicky had a very stressful time of it last year and as is usually the case, when the pressure came off at Christmas, the bugs moved in and had a party. That was then and this is now. The meeting will shortly be re-scheduled and we’ll be off again.

Ken is coming

June 9th 2003

We’ve got a very distinguished visitor coming this week. None other than Ken Warby, current holder of the WWSR. Ken is over here for a few days looking at some jet engines prior to running his new boat in anger for the first time and as he’s a big supporter of the Bluebird Project, he has very kindly agreed to do a bit of a fundraiser for us.

On Saturday we’re taking over the 240 seat Imax cinema at the Rheged Visitor Centre ( where Ken is going to show a video of his exploits and give us a bit of a talk. That starts at about 2.30. After that, it’s off to Coniston where our old mate Novie has organised a bit of a bash for the Speed Freaks and Anoraks. I can say that because I am one apparently.

Ken is bringing a bunch of stuff over to sell or auction. I asked him to root out his old trainers that he used for the record attempt all those years ago and he reckons that he’s got them but I think he’s kidding me!

I’ve also got a limited supply of BluebirdProject polo shirts and fleeces so if anyone wants one and plans to be there, drop me a quick mail just so that I know that I’ve ordered enough of them. As usual, all proceeds to the rebuild fund.

On the subject of the project, it’s all exciting times (apart from Ken’s visit). This Wednesday (11th June 2003) I am interviewing (with the good people from Cumbria Council and the Museum) some hopeful consultants. We have budget to appoint a firm of professional consultants to write the business plan, economic impact study and make all submissions to the HLF and European Funding Agencies by September 22nd this year.

That means that on 22nd Sept, all the paperwork will be finished and it only remains for the people with all the loot to give us the nod. We should be cutting metal by March 2004. How’s that for a deal?

We still need to get Predator back on the lake this summer to lift the rest of the bits and there’s no excuse at all now. All the kit is fighting fit, all we need are divers because I’ve hung up my fins and retired.

See Ken's Complete Site At


All Photos by kind permission of