18th April 2008



Still plugging away over here but a rare occurrence took place this week – I called off a Thursday night session in the workshop. A combination of exhaustion and a mostly, otherwise-engaged crew caused a stand down of the project for a whole evening!

It’s not terminal though and a lot has been done despite this failure. The sponsons are now digitised, for example. This week we took the drawings plus some pics of the sponsons under construction to Matrix Lasers whom I’ve worked with for over fifteen years and pretty much took over their CAD dept for most of an afternoon until the salient shapes and dimensions were born into cyberspace.

Next we’ll have the necessary templates and formers water-jetted from a suitable material and begin assembling our tooling. It’s exciting to be building something absolutely from scratch with no stretched, corroded or temperamental material to work in as we go.

The nose was all new but had to be a copy of a shape that exists only as images and the replacement cockpit skins are also built from fresh metal but they had to marry up with original panels that Donald had made most intriguing for us. The sponsons are a real breath of fresh air.

And still the conserveering continues…


Louise brought some more museological gadgets this week. Don’t get us wrong here – we’re only having a bit of a laugh with this because if anything is discovered to be way outside of limits there’s bugger-all we can do about it anyway.

So we checked the UV but anyone who’s ever visited our underground workshop will tell you that if you spent enough time here your skin would whiten and your eyes would turn pink; so we passed that test.

Alain then tried the light meter. He’s a bit of a photographer in his spare time so he knew his way around it and soon verified that we’re also OK for luxes…


It’s all go at the museum too. Here’s one for the Hapless Lottery Failure…


Yep – That’s Vicky, Gina and Anne shovelling grass in the middle of a building site. The builders are so enthusiastic about this project that the girls struggled to find any remaining grass to dig up! We’ll shortly have four walls for our Bluebird wing and the roof will inevitably follow so we can take our rebuilt boat back to where she belongs and home-port her (except for days when she’s taken out to make a noise, thrill the crowds and blast jet fuel all over the local ducks) as the world-class attraction that she truly deserves to be.

It has to be said that the museum team have done an absolutely outstanding job in earning well deserved support from those funding agencies unfettered by standard-issue HLF bifocals.

We’ve justly proven that giving free rein to those best able in each discipline was the way to go.

I could never put up with the bureaucracy (if nothing else comes from this project I’ve learned to spell that bloody word) of the museum world and I’m sure Vicky and Anne would acknowledge that they’re not well versed in materials science. But the bureaucrats always wanted a single manager to spin all the plates and therefore may as well have sought a herbalist who dabbled in quantum mechanics…

Where were we?

Here’s an interesting piece.


It’s a blister once fitted to the lower left-hand side of the cockpit wall to provide clearance for the steering gear. In itself it’s quite unremarkable.

So Bluebird’s builders needed extra space beyond the cockpit skin and a blister was the obvious solution without having to re-profile the whole side of the boat. But what makes it interesting is the pair of vertical creases where it has been violently wrapped around a vertical frame tube. What this actually demonstrates is that the frame failed at F-18 before it went at F-15 allowing the blister to wrap around the frame vertical.

Right – that’s enough history – we hit it with a hammer then wheeled the middle bit curved again.


You can still make out the creases though they’ve largely gone now and will soon be lost forever under a new coat of paint but all you have to do is scroll upwards a little to see how it once was.

Then we wheeled, shrunk, stretched, cut, welded, folded and bashed that new side skin into shape…


Not being very good at this wheeling lark we went very slowly with lots of hands on the job because the sheet tended to sag until we gave it some shape. Then it became a case of a stretch here and a shrink there – try it against the outriggers (F-19 still turned out to be wrong despite all our efforts last year) – then coax it some more until everything fitted properly.

It was a tricky one to get right. But we seem to have won.


Notice how there’s a lot of shape on the left whilst the right is almost flat. Distributing the metal evenly without leaving lumps, bumps and ripples really put our amateurish abilities to the test but it looks OK and it fits nicely.

That’s the right-hand side pretty much finished now, or at least all the parts are made for the big build.

The limiting factor at this stage is that nothing is properly nailed down and by the time you get to three or four thicknesses of material it becomes impossible to continue with any reliable degree of accuracy. We’ll be unable to finish that outer skin until everything beneath it is permanently fixed so for now it remains a few millimetres oversize.

Each piece has to be properly primed and painted before riveting too. You’d never dream of simply sticking two bits of aluminium together and hoping for the best, especially where there’s water involved.

Left-hand side next…

We had some snagging to do on some of the right-hand outriggers before they can go to the paint shop but having mostly bottomed the problem there was no stopping us. Many hands make light work – so they say – and this time K7 was rolled onto her other side in double-quick time.


Everything here is in much better condition and as we’ve solved the fabrication problems for the skins we expect a quick finish on this side and then we’re into the floors.


Louise is busy conserving those panels that we can’t put back.


Unfortunately the one thing we really can’t beat is corrosion and where it’s done this to an outer skin that has to keep the water out we’re forced to retire and conserve it for the museum display. We were once accused by those who shall not be named of attempting to, ‘write the 67 accident out of the history books’. Yes they can be that stupid – but nothing could be further from the truth. These parts will be conserved (not conserveered in this instance) to the same shiny, defiant blue of the tail fin and added to a sensitive museum display that will enable the public to understand and properly interpret the events of January 4th 1967.

That’s museology speak for it’ll look amazing without being macabre or displaying a wrecked boat.

This part is somewhat trickier.


It’s the air intake assembly from immediately behind the cockpit and we brought it out of storage to rejoin the rest of the project this week. It’s languished in a container for a few months while we developed the art of conserveering. We sprayed it with a clever inhibitor supplied by Chemmetal Trevor before it went away and it’s not deteriorated in the meantime but as you can see it’s a little squashed. This is one part we’d not feel good about displaying in the museum. It clearly came off second best in its altercation with the lake whereas the tail fin seems to have put two fingers up at everything the water threw its way. So what to do with the intakes?

They happen to be an integral and fascinating part of Bluebird and show evidence of much modification and development over the lifetime of the boat so there’s only one thing to do though the guys did give me a few odd looks when I said the usual, ‘it’ll fix’.

Much tin-bashing lies ahead, methinks.



27th April 2008



Remember what we said about cracking on with the other side…

There’s a thus-far unsung hero involved here that you ought to know about. You see, what happened is that we needed to push bends in long panels and we simply don’t have the facilities. Although my factory is next door to the BBP shop, and metal-bending is what goes on in there, most of what we make you can hold in the palm of your hand so bending a 2m sheet is a problem.

I called Alan from Leengate. Alan has been extraordinarily helpful not only in supplying welding materials but also with his extensive knowledge of old material spec’s and how to weld them. He straightaway pointed us at a company called Kirkdale 2000. (http://www.kirkdale2000.co.uk/About%20us.html)

Remember when Carl fitted our heating system and Balmoral Tanks supplied us with that smart, green fuel tank… Well that tank was made in a huge mould into which powdered plastic is poured before the whole affair is heated to melt the plastic then tumbled about to spread it evenly around the inside. Once it cools you can take the lid off and you have a plastic tank inside. Guess who made the mould. Here’s another one in the making.


The guys at Kirkdale are tin-bashing heavy sheets of steel into these amazing shapes. It’s similar to what we’re doing only on a grand scale with much heavier material and they’re bloody good at it!

We were introduced to Drew West, the main-man and a thoroughly good bloke who immediately offered to help out if he could.

So Saturday morning found John-Tidy and I in Kirkdale’s workshop where Drew very kindly and expertly set up a bend for us…


…then gave it a shove.


Pic © John W Barron 2008.

He got it absolutely spot-on at the first go and it literally fell onto the boat, but more of that in a mo.

Work didn’t slow down because John and I had sneaked off, not a chance. The Novie-taxi had screeched to a halt earlier and disgorged several fresh pairs of hands into the fray so while Novie slapped Chemetall-Trevor’s miracle paint remover over a large floor section, Doddy set about finishing that blister from the port side.


Young Greg, in the meantime, tank tested his model for a future water speed record contender.


He’s well under forty so what he was thinking of we have no idea but it floated disturbingly well.

In the other workshop, Rob was bashing away at the air intake. What a complicated beastie that is; especially now that it’s a bit tweaked here and there.

The 66 mod’s following its in service failure are extensive and a belt-and-braces approach to the problem. It’s little wonder Donald’s crew had to slap a pile of lead in the back of the boat after what was riveted into the front! And here’s an interesting theory for you – and it is only a theory at this stage.

You know how history has recorded that when the intakes let go during a static engine test in the winter of 66 the engine ingested a load of rivets and trashed itself – well I reckon that may be slightly wrong.

Two reasons.

One, there aren’t many rivets in there in the first place, perhaps for that very reason. The intakes are a big, fabricated lump from one end to the other with only a handful of rivets on the inner surfaces. But… it does contain large quantities of some sort of glass-hard epoxy filler that’s been slapped into every crevice seemingly with a trowel.

We first though it was pieces of Perspex from the canopy or spray baffles but it’s not. They must’ve got a bucket load of it for free.

Now then – were the intakes to collapse internally you’d probably get a few rivet heads going down the spout but perhaps, more significantly, you’d get a shedload of this epoxy stuff too and it’s easily hard enough to scar a compressor blade. No doubt we’ll learn more as we carry on dismantling.


Here’s another interesting snippet.

Remember Donald waxing lyrical about ‘advanced engineering, rocketry, what have you…’

He forgot to mention the plywood keeping his spray baffles on.


It’s these tiny fragments of history that bring to life the human side of that thankless struggle under canvass in the winter of 66/67. Wonder who cut and shaped that piece of wood, or who decided it was the answer in the first place.

Back to the tin-bashing; we brought our beautifully formed panel back to the workshop and set about making it boat-shaped.

Doddy has done a bit of wheeling in his time. He wheeled a hundred-odd panels for those golf balls at the Fylingdales early warning station, for example. (http://www.fylingdales.ukf.net/views.htm) So we judged him up to the job and got going.


Wheeling with the great ‘Doddy’.

It was the first time we’d opened the big door this year too (the skin panel was too long to do the job with the door closed) but it was windy outside so dust swirled in and landed on our sheet of alloy.

Hearing the gentle crunch of bits under the wheel, John attempted to dust it off on an ongoing basis until Alan pointed out that he’d only catch his thumb between the wheels once. The dusting stopped quick as you like and soon thereafter, K7 took delivery of her other side.


Told you we’d have a quick finish on the port side, notice that we’ve chucked the blister on there too. There’s some snagging to do on the main spar-box and a repair to the back of the flute but otherwise we now have both sides. Target now is to get her upside down and rebuild the floors.

Considering that we have everything intact (floor-wise) from the tip of the bow (F-23) to the cockpit bulkhead (F-15) with Airframe Assemblies having reworked the cockpit floor, and likewise with the stretch from F-1 to F-10, that leaves us only five stations in the middle unaccounted for. Of course, that happens to be one of the more complex floor sections, but the material is sourced and inbound. Kirkdale can push the intricate bends for us and we’ll spanner it all together at this end.

The floors promise to be a real challenge because, like the sponsons, it’s critical that we get them right. The amount of leverage transmitted from those outrigged planing surfaces to such a slender hull frame requires little imagining and at very least such torsional flexing will cause rudder deflections. But imagine if it popped the heads off a few rivets and how quickly disaster would ensue if the corner of a skin yielded to air or water pressure.

Go to the AAIB website and look up the Lockerbie 747 accident report. From memory the bomb went off in the lower left corner of a forward hold just aft of the cockpit and fired a crack over the top of the fuselage all the way around to the right-hand window belt. The outer skins were instantly stripped off by the airflow as far back as the wing but still the aircraft flew, held together by its decks; but not for long because the explosion disrupted the floors and caused a violent control input via the underfloor runs. The cockpit immediately broke off as a result, departed to the right knocking the number 3 engine off its pylon as it went and still the work wasn’t done because the remaining three engines let go too. And the time frame for all of this… four seconds! http://www.aaib.dft.gov.uk/cms_resources/2-1990%20N739PA.pdf

I think we’ll make sure the floors are properly fixed… And to that end we have some experimental and extreme conserveering lined up for later in the week.



5th May 2008



As most of you know it doesn’t take much to set me off where the museologists are concerned but this week I happened upon a case of museological arrogance of gobsmacking proportions.

Several years back I visited Athens and took a trip up the hill to where hosts of sweating, Greek craftsmen were knocking the Parthenon back together using traditional methods. They were doing amazing things with basic tools; like splitting huge slabs of marble using wooden wedges bashed into carved troughs full of water so the wood would swell and exert irresistible pressure until the block fell in two.

They’ve been rebuilding their treasured building in blazing sunshine for many years now and as the job is about done they’re also ready to unveil a beautiful new museum full of ancient Greek artefacts including a marble frieze dating back to goodness knows when. Except that they only seem to have half of it…

The problem is that some arrogant Brit stormed over there in about 1800 and nicked the other half. Elgin, he was called.

The property he burglarised has languished in the British Museum ever since but now that the good people of Greece (and they’re proper good people in my experience) have spent the time, effort and money creating a world-class attraction atop the very hill where Mr Elgin went thieving you’d expect those guardians of museological morality to do the only decent thing and give it back, wouldn’t you…

But what do you suppose the British Museum is really doing about its stash of pilfered marble?

You probably guessed already – they’ve made replicas, hypocritical b’stards that they are – and offered the Greeks a heap of cheap reproductions with which to complete their display while we hang onto the originals! No doubt it took a good many ‘experts’ to arrive at that decision…


How utterly disgusting.


Here’s another thing…

I was recently pointed at this book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Corsair-KD431-Time-Capsule-Fighter/dp/075094305X

It’s the story of a Royal Navy Corsair, one of the last examples manufactured during WWII. It rolled off the Goodyear production line in nineteen forty-something and saw limited service as a carrier-borne aircraft before being shipped back to RAF Cranfield as a training aid.

There it was poked at by wannabe airframe fitters until 1963 when Cranfield gave it a lick of paint and put it on display. All well and good, you’d think, but then the museologists got their mitts on it…

Realising that the original WWII paintwork survived beneath that applied in 63 and that it was almost otherwise untouched since it rolled out of the factory and not a mish-mash of other planes spannered together in the heat of battle they started to take the 1963 paint back off again.

But not with anything Chemettal-Trevor might dish up – oh no – they took it off with toothpicks, baby wipes and squares of old, cut up anoraks dipped in water, or was it razor blades, sticky tape and thinners?

Either way, they not only painstakingly removed the 1963 paint molecule by molecule; they also researched everything thus revealed to the far ends of creation.

How the RAF roundels were applied, for example, (using a dodgy stencil with a bit missing), what kind of fuel was supposed to go in the tank (the factory applied instructions said one thing whilst some long forgotten crewman had crudely painted something far less confusing on the filler cap). The list is both endless and fascinating. The amount of history contained in a single aircraft and uncovered by the team is astonishing and a real credit to their dedication. But just as it was about to get really fascinating they put away their toothpicks and went home!

Hang on a minute…

What about all those intrigued folks who want to know how difficult it is to start a genuine WWII, Pratt & Whitney Double Wasp installation with all its yesteryear spark plugs and magnetos and such?

Why couldn’t they give their Corsair to someone who operates a running example today to explore the differences in such things as the flying controls and brakes so we could learn what those pilots of old were really up against?

I once met a bloke who worked on current Merlin engines who explained how during wartime the engines were built with big clearances everywhere and used enough oil to provoke a small war these days so as never to seize up as they fought for their lives in extreme manoeuvres. Whereas modern-day builds use much tighter clearances and up to date oil-sealing technology so their owners don’t spend all their pocket money on expensive oil only to get covered in the stuff whilst climbing in and out of their plane.

But no – the museum types just donned their tweed jackets switched out the hangar lights and went for a pint of warm shandy. So whilst the museologists are satisfied, us engineering anoraks will never learn all the details we’d like to know.

Still – a cracking job by all concerned. Give us a call when you want the boys to come down and get a tune out of that engine.


What am I doing here?

Ah yes, our big blue boat. What have we been up to?

We mended the other squashed flute this week. It seems that when K7 tumbled during the accident she smacked her front-right and rear-left corners so how the hell the fin stayed so proud and upright is a real mystery - sheer bloody-mindedness probably.

The right-hand flute was caved in at its front end taking out the F-10 to F-13 outriggers necessitating the graft that we inserted a few weeks back. The left-hand flute was caved in at the opposite end between F-1 and F-4 with no hope of getting a tin-bashing hammer into the affected area. Even were this possible there was too much stretch in the metal to deal with without cutting and shutting it.

Here it is before we started work.


Not only crushed but split too. We had the same argument with the tweed-types about this damage because the water would p*ss in here too if we didn’t close it – and the buggers had better not mention meddling with history to me ever again after offering the Greeks cheap imitations of their own heritage on a take it or leave it basis…

Sorry about that, where were we?

We marked it out with a pen…


…then, er, chopped it to bits.


Next, we bashed it with hammers for ages because it’s the metal equivalent of a violent criminal when it comes to rehabilitation. I asked John to put plenty of pins into the newly corrected part as we put it back – a strait jacket and handcuffs approach – before the hot metal glue went in.


Again, cracking was initially a problem but we worked out a new process to get preheat into the material and it all worked out beautifully in the end.


There you go – good as new, totally original too (well, except for the half-dozen welding rods) and it’ll also keep the water out now.

There was a small loss, however. You see, what we had to do was to push all the stretched metal into one corner then cut it off, so there was a slice of LOOF (Loss Of Original Fabric). You can see it here curled up just before we cut it free and made the welds.


But that’s nothing, if the flutes are fairly uncompromising then the following is the Kray twins, Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone all rolled into one.

It’s a piece of floor.


The main floor is irreplaceable. Not only does it comprise a material that is near impossible to obtain in any shape or size nowadays it’s also of a shape and size that’s virtually impossible to obtain in any modern material except industrial carpet! And as can be clearly seen this bit has broken off and taken considerable punishment along the way.

It simply will not weld or straighten without literally going off with a bang. It’s absolutely the toughest aluminium alloy I’ve ever come across so if we’re to tame it something drastic will be needed.

Following considerable research we contacted a global supplier of heat-treatment processes with a 6 metre furnace not too far away and told them what we had.

The piece you see above is being cleaned prior to being annealed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annealing_%28metallurgy%29

Because we’re about to try a bold experiment here.

The plan is this.

We’re fairly certain that we can anneal the material to make it sufficiently ductile that it’ll weld and shrink but it’s going to be a huge amount of work to repair the entire floor in the hope that we can then have it heat treated back to its original hardness. We’ve told the heat treatment guys what’s what but as you might expect of a fifty year-old material they’ve never heard of it nor passed any of it through their furnaces so we’re on slightly dodgy ground.

It’s going to be either a massive triumph or a crushing failure but the Bluebird-Project remains a bastion of uncompromised optimism and lives by the motto, ‘it’ll fix’.

Here’s hoping.

Another experimental technique we perfected this week is the removal of deep corrosion pits from aluminium skins by filling them with new metal. It only works on fairly heavy material because lightweight stuff just blows away but the essence of the process is this. You take your average corrosion pit…


…and clean back to good metal with the die grinder.


Then you fill the pits with fresh, hot metal glue and whip out the die grinder again to take the tops off the welds.



And finish with a sanding disc and lots of lubricant. See, good as new and another panel saved.



On another note – Alain has become a family man and is now daddy to a baby girl.

For the ladies, the technical spec is as follows.

Name: Ziva Alice Douglas

Weight when born: 8lb 5 ½ oz (Imperial weight, of course)

Time and date; May 4th 2008, 14:03 hours. (Alain keeps insisting that she’s a ‘Star Wars’ baby – May the fourth be with you. Cringe!)

Mother and daughter doing well.


Tech-spec for the lads… we went to Al’s local and got bladdered.


Best wishes to Alain, Lianne and Ziva from the team.


17th May 2008



Crikey! Did I get into trouble over Lord Elgin’s thievery – didn’t realise what a hot, political potato that one was!

I was told variously to shut up, stick to tin-bashing and that I oughtn’t to poke my nose into things I know nothing about.


Fair enough then, well, apart from the ‘shut up’ part. So here’s another one to chew over. There’s a small and unexciting entry in my log book from when I was learning to fly dated 15th April 2000 and in the notes column in my instructor’s neat hand reads the following,


‘Holy Island return, ex-22, practice RT, zone E/E’.


Beside this minor entry is his signature confirming that I passed exercise 22 including practicing radio procedures with Newcastle control tower and exiting and entering the controlled zone.

The reality was a terrifying 1.4 hour flight (an instrument in the helicopter logs time in a decimal format thus confusing the hell out of the pilot when it comes time to complete the post-flight paperwork).

I somehow clung to my nerve all the way from Newcastle airport to a small island off the coast of Northumberland close to the Scottish border then back again, alone in an aircraft resembling one of those fans favoured by menopausal women suffering hot flushes.

I clearly remember lowering the collective… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicopter_flight_controls ...as Holy Island hove into view then banking the aircraft at five hundred feet over beautiful, shallow water covering white sand that dries at each low tide to unlock the island.

Many a time I’d visited Holy Island as a child – somewhere to take the kids on a Sunday afternoon – but I’d never seen the place like this and only wished I wasn’t so scared in a sky suddenly the size of the universe.

I arced over the ancient castle watching my airspeed and carburettor temperature because despite being warm in my cockpit spring hadn’t quite thawed the earth so an iced carb’ would plunge me into that shallow water before I could exclaim, ‘Aw bollocks, I forgot to watch my carb heat!’

Then, as euphoria at having completed the difficult outward leg of the journey began to prop my confidence, I intuitively rolled level onto the correct heading, just as I’d been taught, selected carb-heat-in and raised the collective for the best rate of climb. My radio transmissions sounded relieved in my headset as I raced for Newcastle. Another forty minutes and I’d be safely back on the ground providing I didn’t crash on the way. It was an absolutely, utterly, terrifying buzz that was my first solo nav-ex.(navigation exercise- Al)

And why am I recalling a scary helicopter flight from almost a decade ago?

Because Holy Island is not really called Holy Island, it’s called Lindisfarne – the largest of the Farne Islands in a chain of rocky outcrops off the Northumberland coast.


The ‘Farnes’ are not only a place of stunning natural beauty with seabirds and seals galore but they’re also a Mecca for divers of every level and I’ve been one of those – a diver of every level – so hopefully it’ll be accepted that at least on this subject I do know what the hell I’m talking about…

Now then – here’s another jigsaw-piece of outward irrelevance.

I bought my first house in 1988 and found myself, as a 21 year-old entrepreneur who would’ve been sacked by Sir Alan (http://www.bbc.co.uk/apprentice/) in about four seconds, living next door to a professional engineer who made sweeties for Nestlé in global quantities and who was also Daddy to a brace of lovely, young daughters.

Twenty years later, my father-in-law, Andy has retired from process engineering to become a vicar at weekends so if ever there’s anything I need to know about matters theological he’s the man.

He’s very much one of the lads too. We call him ‘the vomiting vicar’ because of a particularly entertaining (in retrospect) fishing trip aboard Predator when the sea chose to do it’s most horrid, rolling, seasicky thing for long enough to turn him a dreadful grey colour.

Being a long-time sufferer of the old mal-de-mer I instantly sympathise with anyone feeling queasy so I shaped course back to the Tyne at sight of his waxy pallor. But what’s deceiving to the inexperienced sufferer is that things sort themselves out immediately the boat gets going again…

By the time we made it to the river, Andy was feeling right as rain and perhaps a little foolish for causing such a fuss so he insisted we stop and cast our hooks like nothing had happened.

But I knew what was coming having been there so many times myself.

The sea was lazy and oily with diesel fumes and colour quickly drained from Andy’s face yet he took it stoically. But the end was at hand and I watched surreptitiously until, with a great heave, he dashed for the rail, glancing skywards as he went, pleading, “Oh God,” before spewing copiously into the North Sea.

He chucked again and again despite our ministrations until we warned him that should he feel something circular and rubbery pass his lips he ought to bite hard and swallow it back down as he’d need it at the other end once he’d recovered.

We laid him in the recovery position, reeled in our lines then headed upriver. It was later in the pub that mention was eventually made of Andy’s final, desperate plea to his boss before violent emesis claimed him.

“The big cheese didn’t save you then…” I suggested rolling my eyes heavenward much as he had. I supped a pint as Andy placated his outraged stomach with a half of harmless bitter.

My father-in-law’s demeanour told me firmly that I’d not heard the last of this as he met my playful challenge.

“That’s because he has your sense of humour, you b’stard!” he told me...

Andy’s a great bloke – and that’s part of the reason why am I relating so much nonsense when we’re supposed to be building a big tin boat?

You see, he has an interesting tale to tell about that island I flew over earlier.

Way back when, in about 700AD as it happens, a monk called Eadfrith was bored stupid in his monastery having fed the chickens, tended the vegetable patch then downed a gallon of mead.

The monks kept bees so they had lots of honey and therefore no shortage of plonk with which to while away those dark, northern evenings.

Putting up with a life of poverty, chastity and obedience would have been unbearable without a few perks so Eadfrith took up his quill, poster paints and the skins of 150 calves and painted himself a particularly tasty illuminated bible.

These were the days before the Gideons left them everywhere and as Lindisfarne was the most important seat of Christianity in the British Isles (hence the Holy Island thing) Eadfrith made sure his creation was a real work of art.

Now then, Eadfrith’s book, known subsequently as the Lindisfarne Gospels, ended up being snaffled during the dissolution of the monasteries after which it meandered through a private collection or two until finally washing up in the British Library and into the hands of the museological hypocrites.

And guess what…

You got it in one – now that the time is right we want our book back. But they won’t hand it over.

This is despite a vigorous campaign backed by the local newspapers and charitable organisations offering a choice of perfect locations in the north east where it could be displayed and properly looked after. The southern musos were even exposed writing derogatory e-mails about us northerners and how we’d not take proper care of our book whilst in the same breath our Tyne & Wear museums are feted as flagship establishments whenever it suits them.

You see, they’re at it again and they keep getting away with it, which is why I flag their disgusting behaviour up at every opportunity. And they’d do to well to listen because while all we’re doing at the moment is bashing lumps of tin and screwing skin pins into everything one day we’ll roll out a beautiful, blue boat and you just never know who might call up and ask for an after dinner speaker…

The Association of Chief Police Officers hired me one evening only to enjoy an illustrated presentation on the best way to blow up a shipwreck with illicit explosives – but that’s another mischievous tale so for now it’s back to the tin bashing where the air intakes have become an iconic case of historical reversal without a flapping of museological tweed to be seen.

The plan was to complete the side skins, which we’ve now done apart from some minor snagging on the flutes, then flip the boat over and crack on with the floors. But the floors can be mostly built away from the job whilst having the hull upside down would mean we’d not be able to do any of the much needed work on the top. For that reason we’ve left her right way up.

Remember this mess?


Pic © Steve Rothery (www.marillion.com) 2001

You’re looking at the front of the main spar at F-15 where the boat snapped. Part of the seat harness still hangs forlornly from the horizontal frame tube and our boat hasn’t even dried yet. This pic is from March 8th 2001.

But what’s most important is the mass of wrought metal at the top that once comprised those elegant air intakes.

If you look closely you can also see the rail that once stood at the back of the cockpit canopy between the inlet throats.

This one…


What has proven especially interesting with the current phase of the build is that we’re reconstructing the intakes almost as fast as Rob can strip them down.

Rob has worked single-handedly drilling literally thousands of rivets often in difficult positions due to crash damage in order to keep up a steady flow of pieces for the tin-bashing crew.

Rivet drilling, however, has not advanced as a science and even though Rob is unquestionably the grand master of K7’s rivet technology his drill doesn’t turn any faster than it ever did and his pin punches still must be hit with the same hammer.

The tin-bashers, on the other hand, can whip pieces of scrap through the stripping bath then in and out of Tony’s blast cabinet in double-quick time then push them back to their former shape just about as fast as rob can pry them free.

Take the foremost air intake frame, for example.


This wrecked former once spanned the boat side to side near the engine inlets defining the shape of the throats on either side of K7’s cockpit and it took Rob nigh-on a week to get it loose. Unfortunately it had also taken a bit of a tweak and had its ends torn off too. Worse still, it’s a channel section and we don’t have a clever method of repairing such shapes. We can, however, work with angles so out came the panel saw and once again we chopped history to bits.


You can see that the inner half has now been removed so we’re treating two angles instead of a channel and that’s one hell of a lot simpler.

With the other side cut similarly thus giving us three straightforward repairs instead of one impossible one we drew out a template and started mending things.


Why-oh-why did those Norris Brothers have to make everything so flippety-blinking complicated? Why couldn’t they just draw around the bottom of a bucket or something to make their inlet throat profiles? Instead they created a stupidly difficult shape that can only be drawn using distances and angles from a datum. We threw it roughly onto a sheet of chipboard and got bashing.

But it gets worse – because it appears that at the last minute the throats were modified to give an extra half-inch of inlet area near the upper edges and this isn’t included on the drawings we have – so how do we know about it?

Because, if you look at the top of the piece above there are a few skin pins popped in there and this is down to a lucky chance that unlocks another fragment of untold history and something only discovered because we’ve dismantled K7… (Pay attention, ‘Johnny-Paint-Preserver’, (Rachel’s name for the bloke with the Corsair)).

You see, Salmesbury Engineering made it wrong in the first place – the former, that is. Their finished effort is actually about an eighth of an inch too low along its top edge so what they did to fix it was flush-rivet a strip of alloy up there then file it to suit. Better still, they used yet another piece of V-bomber wing spar so when everything was blasted to smithereens all the spacer did was shear the heads off its rivets and stay exactly as it was. Without this vital piece of evidence we’d have been hard-pressed to work out why our intakes didn’t fit the drawing. As it turned out we simply made the spacer fit the frame again then reverse-engineered the throat profile accordingly.

Rob, our resident wood-butcher, was then detailed to fabricate what immediately became known as ‘Pinocchio’s kidneys’…


…around which Doddy, John and I made everything fit with our tin-bashing hammers…


…before welding all the pieces back together again.


The ‘Salmesbury spacer’ can be clearly seen running over the top of the frame. And, best of all, not a hint of new metal thus far. Everything you see is completely original. That’s not to say that we won’t need new material. We will, but only for the boring bits. The inner and outer skins of the ducts will need to be replaced but all they do is obediently hug an underlying structure that’s going to be almost entirely original. No mean achievement considering what we started with.

It remained only then to pop the end we managed to salvage back onto the frame…


…then knock together a new one for the other end (new material at last) and weld it into position.


That’s the frame complete apart from the usual snagging that we’ll do when it’s time to bash the rivets in.

Our heat treatment of the floor material was a success too, but then we knew the softening part would be. In fact our test piece is now so malleable that it sagged under its own weight in the furnace and came out banana shaped. Before treatment it would easily take the weight of a fat bloke then spring back into shape; this time I pushed it flat by hand but it’s whether it can be made springy again that remains to be seen. Hopes are high though and in the meantime, Rob is furiously drilling rivets again as he dismantles the floors into their various sections.

And another thing – we’ve been promoted.

Our elder-statesman and mentor, Mr Alan ‘Doddy’ Dodds, reckons we’re now past the beginner’s stage in our tin-bashing training so according to Rob we must now be ‘intermediates’.

Doddy was tin-bashing before any of us were born so it’s a bit like having your pilot’s license presented by Wilbur and Orville...

What a joy it would have been to have old Ken Norris watching over the project too but sadly it wasn’t to be.








14th June 2008


Phew! Back again and apologies for the break... The past few weeks have doubly hectic culminating last Tuesday in the birth of our second daughter, Emily.

Things kicked off a week behind the medically predicted schedule while I was enjoying a pint with John-Tidy. We normally imbibe a beer or three on a Monday evening and as nothing appeared to be happening in the birthing dept. and with induction scheduled for a week hence, I’d been given a pass-out for the evening safe in the knowledge that the local taxi firm unfailingly provides transport week-in, week-out, almost before I’m off the phone.

Not this time… We’d not quite made last orders at John’s local when Rachel’s frantic call arrived. I placed another to the taxi firm but they told me with much regret that on this occasion they didn’t have a car available ’til midnight. So as John raided his biscuit tin to put up a food parcel for me, Rachel called the in-laws for transport and babysitting support.

The midnight-midwife was a man-hater, she seemed to hate most things as far as I could tell, so following an inspection that indicated little chance of immediate action, we trailed home again where I dozed intermittently, fully clothed, from three am until eight at which point the process accelerated once more so back to the hospital we trooped.

The new midwife was an angel and Rachel was quickly connected by hose to the hospital’s supply of nitrous-oxide / oxygen mix. I took a few slurps for a laugh but after so many hallucinatory trips on high-pressure nitrogen to the bottom of the sea it’s a bit tame. Still, if you get the chance to try inert-gas-narcosis give it a go, it’s fun, and completely harmless as long as you get the gas mix right.

Next on the menu came diamorphine and that really got the job done. The empty hypodermic had hardly clattered into the tray before Rachel complained indignantly that our two sheepdogs had made an unscheduled arrival and that the smaller of the pair, Poppy, was, “Sitting there looking sanctimonious.”

Apparently our chickens made a brief appearance too and pecked about the polished, sterile floor but I didn’t see them.

I offered to trial the diamorph’ on a purely scientific basis but the staff thought it unnecessary (guess they’d heard that one before) so I laid out a waterproof birthing mattress I’d discovered down the back of some chairs and had a snooze instead. The midwife woke me presently to ask if I wanted a cuppa.

Things didn’t really get going until around six that evening after which all sorts of girning and straining climaxed at a quarter to seven in an explosion of giblets onto the sterile, green sheet.

The hospital staff seem to enjoy playing wicked pranks on me when it comes to cutting the cord. Last time they asked me if I’d like to do it but I said no, I’d leave it to the professionals, especially as there was already a man wielding a very sharp pair of scissors in the appropriate vicinity. So I was surprised to say the least when they stretched a length… (What on Earth does the baby want with two metres of pipe? Does it sneak out in the night and raid the fridge?) …of what can best be described as high-pressure silicone-rubber hose before my eyes then handed me a cutting implement that had to be the bastard child of a pair of scissors and a spoon.

“Go on then, Daddy,” they encouraged, so I leaned between doctor and midwife and cut the pipe. Both perpetrators were instantly splattered with blood to the point where I thought a firing squad had got them while I escaped unscathed – served them right.

This time they just gave me a blunt scissor-spoon thingamabob and left me to hack ineffectually at what seemed an even tougher length of hose whilst instead of stretching the pipe where I could aim effectively the midwife pinned it amongst the gore with her bloodied fingers at great personal risk. It parted eventually to my great relief and as the nursing staff pointed out, Rachel and Emily became, ‘two people’.

I remember a friend of mine telling me that at the birth of his first he’d burst into floods of tears and that I’d undoubtedly do the same when my time came but this is twice now and I’ve never felt less like crying in my life. Newborn babies are, in my opinion, gruesome, grey, smelly, space-aliens that take days to metamorphose into tiny humans – but when they do they’re wonderful miracles of nature.

I’ll leave you to decide which one hasn’t quite metamorphosed…


And, as usual – tech-spec’ for the ladies.

Name Emily Blossom Elder-Smith.

Weight 8lb 8oz (ouch!)

Time / date 18:44, 10th June 2008 (In birthing room number 7 for the Bluebird anoraks)

Process Natural birth using Entonox, diamorph’ and much groaning.

Sitrep Mother and daughter doing well, father skint and knackered.


Tech-spec’ for the boys… watch this space.


Needless to say, not much has happened with the big blue boat.

Only kidding, we’ve been at it in a ‘business as usual’ sort of way throughout and as you’d expect things are moving apace. We’re well into what we hope is our final major challenge on the boat and the job is progressing nicely. The air intake assembly is our ultimate, conserveering hurdle and a monstrous task for three main reasons.

Firstly, if it was ever built to a drawing then it’s not the one we have. The inlets have all been ‘grown’ to varying extents at each station. Sometimes at the top, sometimes at the bottom and occasionally at the sides but each deviates from what was specified to such an extent that you can put your fingers through the gaps so it can’t be crash damage.

It’s well known that the inlet’s performance was marginal to begin with and almost a lost cause where the Orpheus was concerned but it now looks like Ken and Lew got a bit of a panic on right back in the beginning and made some last minute mod’s to up the duct volume.

The second problem is that there’s just so damn much of it. It’s outrageously complicated and so full of fiddly, little doublers, aerodynamic widgets and bits added after it broke in 66 that repairing it is the kind of thing that wakes you, screaming, in the middle of the night.

And the third problem is that it’s absolutely mashed to buggery!

Take, for example, the transverse formers. We’ve showed you how we mended the first one but there are lots of them and although the damage diminishes the further aft you go so the problem of mending them increases in magnitude because they’re progressively bigger pieces. Shifting even a small stretch from the middle of a wide section of material can be exceedingly difficult and where you have to work to within a thickness of material – in this case 2mm – it’s nigh-on impossible at times.


Then there’s the endless welding and grinding to repair things like torn out bolt fixings or stretched rivet holes. It can take half a day to save a piece of material you can hold in the palm of your hand and this is why it’s impossible to put a finish date on the project. Then each salvaged fragment presents us with a choice. We either accept that it fitted once upon a time and rework everything until it goes back or we bin it and create our own interpretation. We’ve not binned anything yet…

As an example some of the mod’s made in 1966 to beef up the air intakes are as good as any. Part of the plan back then was to add heavy doublers to the intake lips and though they stayed with the crumpled mess we salvaged back in 2001 they’re not quite as they were.


Rob took ’em off almost blowing the entire BBP budget on drill bits after discovering the hard way that they’re made of some weird, springy alloy and fixed with stainless steel rivets. Then Mark Evans popped over last week and cut them into two halves much as we had to do with the first intake former because it was the only way to deal with them. Now presented with a problem broken into manageable portions Doddy whipped out his hammers and worked a spot of magic.




It’s like seeing a ghost – how can this exist in 2008 when history saw it destroyed in 1967?

The chill comes from the fact that it’s not a new part, it’s the real deal; brought back to life by our love of the old machine. By the time we’re done the inlets will be perfectly capable of directing a fresh rush of air into Bluebird’s new engine but it took three skilled men (well, Doddy and a couple of ‘intermediates’) a good many hours to bring it to this point and it’s still far from finished.

By leaving these parts to last we’ve ensured that our skill-set is about as good as it’s going to get and we’re now sufficiently confident to chant a new mantra.

We’ve augmented the gospel according to the grand poobah of museology, our mate Mr Knapp, and his teachings that, ‘reality dictates’, by adding, ‘it’ll fix’ when appraising any part of the boat.

With this in mind we’re now revisiting work we did weeks or months ago to see whether we can improve upon anything or graft in another spoonful of history here and there.

We honestly thought we’d gone as far as we could with this bit of scrap.


It’s the right-hand cockpit rail and having picked it clean of deck formers and clues about where those craftsmen of 1955 made their welds we consigned it to the conservation dept. for Louise to clean with her scalpel blades and glass-bristle-brushes prior to placing it on display in the museum.

But part of it just won’t go away.

You see, it includes a near-intact piece of the cockpit opening that we absolutely had to save, so having decided we could do this, John weighed it up carefully like a gem cutter studying a priceless diamond then fired up his panel saw and cut off the useable section.


Doesn’t look like much until you see it in context…


…so now we’re back into the realm of spooky shapes returning from the past. It also belongs to a part of the boat that follows the drawings too – what a pleasant change. The cockpit opening is a very sensible twenty-one inches wide by forty long so all we have to do is bash the wrecked bit back to size then graft it into the new section we made last year. There’s a substantial piece of the opposite side we can use too if this goes according to plan. Time will tell.



21st June 2008


Only a short diary entry this time. I’ve long wanted to do more frequent, shorter entries than the epics of late so here goes.

What did I say about, ‘watch this space’ after the new baby was born?


A few of the boys met up for a pint or two last Friday resulting in a late start on Saturday. Fortunately we only had a skeleton crew that morning. I’d not normally say this was fortunate but you understand…

Tin-bashing commenced soon after 11am with an attempt to rebuild the right-hand inlet to its 1954 specification. We need the 54 spec’ build to support the 66 setup and as the original was buried beneath the later mod’s it was therefore protected to an extent in the crash but still well squashed by the time Rob dug it out. The piece we wanted was the Norris-designed inlet lip built at Samlesbury’s in 54 so a hundred million rivets and ten drill-bits later…


…Rob got it free but it looked a bit sorry for itself.

And then a very strange thing happened.

Whenever a piece of tin is hauled from the wreckage the first thing I do is give it a good twist and a pull about to assess its mechanical qualities. Depending on what it’s made of some parts are like roofer’s lead and can easily be shaped by hand whilst others, the floors are a good example, are so tough you wonder whether they’re made of some top-secret stuff from the fifties the formula for which was lost during the Cold War.

But this was like nothing thus far encountered.

It didn’t feel particularly springy nor was it soft; but as it flexed in my hands it began to return to its original shape without need of a hammer – truly weird.

It was as though it was straining to get back from whence it came but hadn’t quite the strength to do it unaided. All I had to do was lightly push it where it wanted to go and hey-presto…


It turned back into an intake lip; can’t help thinking Donald took an hour off seducing angels and popped into our workshop for the afternoon. How I wish the whole boat was made of the same stuff.

So what you see now is the 54 arrangement and the setup (correct me if I’m wrong, anoraks) used on all of K7’s victorious campaigns. It’s also a less than ideal profile for slurping air around corners so the Bristol Siddeley engineers had just cause in ordering modifications once their comparatively hungry Orpheus replaced the old Beryl hairdryer.

What’s especially gratifying about the above pic’ is that apart from a piece of shiny scrap we’ve clamped to the outside in place of an outer skin – we did this to check the accuracy of our work on the profile of the transverse formers – you’ll not find a fragment of non-original material in sight.

But it’s far from simple. John and I spent a whole day trying to work out how this lot was put together. In the interests of perfect, historical authenticity we want to build it exactly as it was but achieving this often involves extensive detective work.

The thought that went into solving the myriad problems with getting air into that engine is aptly demonstrated once you gain an understanding of how the intake was constructed and still it’s important to remember that it remained a ‘work in progress’ throughout the life of K7.

We’re trying to resurrect thirteen years of mechanical evolution from the smashed remains of a major accident followed by thirty-four years of slow decay on the lakebed. Guess it wrong and we’ll be hooking bits of scrap out of our wrecked engine.

The other side wasn’t quite so accommodating; Rob released it in fragments…


…and this pic was taken long after the tin-bashing commenced otherwise it simply wouldn’t be recognisable.

It too wanted to return to its original shape but if the spirit of Donald Campbell made a cameo appearance in repairing the other side then by comparison mending the above must’ve been overseen by the ghost of Fred Dibnah.

Don’t get me wrong here – I’m a great fan of the late Mr Dibnah but you’d not want to be in too much of a hurry for your job, would you… Bless him.


The same gathering of fragments in quarantine – we often spot-weld such assemblages then leave them untouched for weeks until subsequent tin-bashing exercises prove whether we’d got it right or wrong first time around.

Incidentally, I proudly showed this image to Rachel. “It’s full of holes,” she said disgustedly.

These partial repairs are much easier to cut up and fix when only spot-welded, something to which Alain will testify this week regarding the doubler he made for one of our transverse formers – but that’s another story.

You’ll notice a shiny, new piece of tin too. Rob packed away his drills and pin-punches after so many weeks of dismantling the intakes, moaned about his ‘broken finger’, which isn’t really broken at all (and if he hit it with a hammer then who’s fault is it anyway?) and knocked up a new closing plate for the back of the cockpit. Nice job.

Rob deserves a medal for tackling such a bewildering mountain of rivets over the past few weeks. Instead he rightly greeded the entire resources of the BBP to clean and fix his collection of Meccano and miniature, Mamod steam engines.

We resolutely pushed the broken bits of aluminium back to where they belonged.


Considering where we started things aren’t going too badly here but there’s a downside to all of this.

Our original plan was to have a more or less complete boat by the end of 2009 whilst we’ve qualified this throughout by stating that it’ll take as long as it takes.

Much of what we’re attempting is breaking new ground so if it stretches to the horizon then so be it but there was never any intention to rebuild that intake. Nor did we envisage four months on the lake last year sniffing out that lost frame section. We really believed our new survey kit would turn it up in an afternoon after we missed it in 2001 without ever considering that it might have flown further than the front spar.

In consequence, taking the inlet repairs and our gallivanting on the lake into account, we find ourselves with about eight months added to our schedule – in theory at least.

We were asked on numerous occasions how long we planned to search the lake for the final piece of frame and the stock answer, ‘until we find it’, always made me nervous. There are pieces down there that we surely haven’t found because nothing shows above that impenetrable mud. The fact that only a handkerchief-sized fragment of aluminium flagged the whereabouts of a two metre section of steelwork testifies to the luck we’ve been dealt from time to time. Had the frame landed the other way up – and who can say how it behaved as it tumbled through the air then plunged to the bottom of the lake – that tiny shred of alloy would have been forever buried and we’d probably still be looking.

But then, perhaps we made our own luck… Admittedly, things were beginning to come apart by the time Carl made that decisive dive. So many individual theories on where to look and what had happened to the missing piece were being pushed forward; and that’s the most depressing scenario in project management when the doubts of others heap upon your own and every step becomes twice the effort because morale is wilting by the day.

I like to think that had we not finally nailed that missing piece by logical and rigorous searching we’d have eventually resorted to a grappling hook and smugly patted ourselves on the back many months later when it came up with a dripping piece of frame on the end.

And yet, like the hypothermia victim opting to lie down for a short nap, it would have been so easy to say, ‘we can’t find it because…’ and close our eyes forever to the problem.

Likewise, it would have been painless to pronounce the air intakes deceased. I mean, who would’ve argued? We could then have set about making new ones, learned nothing of the history wrapped up in the originals and built their replacements wrong into the bargain.

But we’re not. We’re plugging away so if it takes time and extends the schedule then, we’ll all just have to live with it.

No apologies.


2nd July 2008


I was actually invited to go off on one of my rants this week – a bit like offering Amy Winehouse a line of coke…

It seems that some folk actually enjoy my mud-slinging so straight away I reached for a few back copies of Museologist-Monthly to see what scandal I could unearth. I love it when the musos tell me I don’t know what I’m on about because I’ve usually just lifted the juicy bits from their private publication.

It’s a quality, monthly magazine bursting with fascinating facts. This month, for example, Darlington Railway Museum is in trouble for the ‘patronising tone’ of its re-branded display.

Museologists, patronising – never…

1.7million quid later – and yes, the Hapless Lottery Failure chipped in – they’ve still got it all wrong by talking down to visitors with their ‘traintastic, intertracktive’ display.

Sad to say, it sounds like ‘experts’ at work again.

Truth be told, your average, feet-on-the-ground muso is usually one of the good guys – it’s only the upper echelons who strive to make a mockery of their profession.

Then there’s a tasty, little article on how the British Museum is hiding behind its charter yet again when it comes to repatriating looted Nazi treasure. They just can’t give it back – they’re not allowed. Yeah – right.

Or you can apply for a job as a ‘learning officer’. I can’t help hoping that this is a sort of Superman-type operative who can don his tweeds in a phone box then fly off in moments of extreme need to explain to the musos what’s bloody obvious to the rest of us.

I mean, perhaps if the befuddled bureaucrats at the DCMS (Dept. for Culture Media and Sports), had consulted with such an agent they’d now have an idea why they’ve failed so dismally to hit their targets for ethnic minorities visiting museums.

Just a wild stab in the dark here, but could it be because museums are mostly stuffed full of things from yesteryear in these parts (apart from the stolen stuff that they’ll not give back) and this may not be quite so appealing to folk whose culture originated elsewhere?

Only an idea…

Those dyed-in-the-wool musos at the British Museum attempted to massage the figures a little with a few extra bodies through the doors of their free ‘China Exhibition’ but that was sure to be popular considering what else you might get for nothing in London.

So, not much meat in this month’s Muso-Monthly, I’m afraid.

Nothing daunted, I leafed through a few back issues. There’s a good article in May’s offering about that beautiful, old tea clipper of ours, Cutty Sark. Her welfare is an old favourite of mine on which I could gleefully write a ten-thousand-word rant without pausing to let my keyboard cool down.

There she was merrily being conserved until… Next thing there’s flames as far as the eye can see, forty fire-fighters, six pumps, two turntable ladders and a conflagration that wasn’t fully extinguished for two days… But luck was with the musos. They were later able to assure us that despite all the steam and cinders only ‘two percent’ of the ship was burned.


Wonder what the fire used for fuel all that time?


She’s all teak and steel – anyone seen what becomes of steelwork in a torched building? She’ll fix – that’s the BBP motto – but they’ll have to be careful because the enviro-mentalists will suffer apoplexy if the musos go chopping down teak trees so there’s going to be much buying up of reclaimed timber – unless they take a leaf out of the SS Great Britain conservation manual and use MDF.

And another thing… because they’re lifting the ship about ten feet higher in her dock so they can host parties beneath her hull they’re chucking out her stone ballast to make her lighter and therefore better able to hold her shape – something she’d not struggle with at all were she afloat rather than suspended from some arty-farty display designer’s dream but that’s a whole new world of controversy...

Those chunks of masonry were lugged in there in the 1820s by the hard working men of the Dumbarton shipyard where Cutty Sark was built, for goodness sake. Great lumps of stone that crossed the oceans with the old girl and are as much a part of her fabric as her keel – and the musos talk of conservation!

At least it’s a good job she can be mended though. I mean, imagine if there’d been a proper fire and parts of the ship had been destroyed forever. Such tragic loss would constitute history in the making and history is something you just can’t go around destroying willy-nilly once it’s been made.

And then, in another stroke of luck, the Hapless Lottery Failure chucked twenty-three million at their rebuild project – thirteen to start with and another ten once the ‘expert’s’ invoices landed. They called it a ‘top up’. What was wrong with your maths first time around, Hapless Lottery Failures?

Not wishing to appear cynical here, but could it be that their award had less to do with salvaging an incinerated sailing ship than salvaging their reputation amongst the disgusted, British public for funding useless, politically-correct, do-good rubbish?

Their image could certainly do with a major un-tarnishing campaign and what better way than bringing an icon back from the brink of destruction? Pity they didn’t think of that in 2001. Perhaps they’ve hired a ‘learning officer’ since.

But despite being passionate about Cutty Sark, I couldn’t even get into full-rant mode over that because, you see, at least the commercial guys have it dead right and are clearly winning the day. What a venue she’ll be when complete and, most importantly, she’ll be able to pay her way for the enjoyment of generations to come much as we envisaged for K7 by turning her into a living exhibit rather than a pile of scrap on a plinth.

There you go – ahead of our time, we were.

So it wasn’t until I went down the local on Saturday evening that I finally found a topic worth a damn good bluster.


Right then – someone tell me… because in the village where I live about the only topic of conversation involves hoards of men running after a ball so I asked what I thought were perfectly reasonable questions only to be offered no sense at all.

Why, oh why, do they play it in the winter, for goodness sake?

Why, when it’s dark, cold and usually wet do these multi-million pound ball-chasing clubs pursue their sport such that they have to switch on all the lights, turn the heating up to avoid losing their fan-base to hypothermia then send their heroes out to churn up grass that won’t grow back before April because they’re buggering about in the depths of winter?

Surely it would be preferable to run after a ball in July when the evenings are light, wearing short pants is more appropriate and they can go-green by not burning a megawatt a minute trying to see through the rain and hail.

The grass would heal itself immediately the players headed for the night club blondes, the fans could make a delightful, summer’s day of their ball-chasing fetish and there’d be substantially less chance of being blasted off the pitch by freezing weather.

“It’s too hot,” one ball-chasist told me.

Not in England, as a rule, and what do they do about that in Spain, Italy, Brazil?

I’m assuredly informed that we have to play in the snow because someone called Fifi is in charge and what Fifi wants Fifi gets.

Ok then – here’s another. Why, when inclusiveness has become the new watchword and political-correctness has run riot, do politicians and public alike worship a game that positively glorifies tribal behaviour? I mean, our local ball-chasing fans despise their rivals who live only ten miles down the road because they wear different coloured shirts yet only last week I found them all cheering Outer Mongolia to win against The People’s Republic of Kazakhstan, or somewhere like that.

How does that work?

And why, when British soccer is feted as something wonderful, do all our star players sod off home so they can thrash us on behalf of some other country every time there’s a world cup or whatever to fight over?

They’re idolised too but most of them only chase a ball for a living because they’re too stupid to do a proper job. There’s not a week goes by without one of them making the papers for punching, raping or squashing an innocent member of the public whilst drunk in charge of a Range-Rover.

“Ah, but look at how much money they make,” I’m often told.

Yes – about the same as my local drugs-baron who also drives a Ferrari but only the lowliest life forms seem to admire him and at least he’s clever enough to hold down a difficult job even if his intelligence is somewhat misapplied.

And that’s another thing – the fans sit in the pub proudly showing off their forty-quid nylon shirts in the latest team colours, brag about the seat they’ve just purchased with their season-ticket then assure their mates that none of the company will miss a single game because they’ve just renewed their Sky Sports subscription.

Having completed the formalities they then moan for the remainder of the evening about how much money this player or that is making, or what he cost to bring over from his goat farm in Novosibirsk to play for Tottenarse United. Next they huddle close and discuss the recent hostile takeover of this club or that by some colourless nobody who made his money selling fresh underwear to endowment mortgagees.

His peers all seem to own oil pipelines or insurance companies – they control billions of pounds and pull the levers on some of the heaviest corporate machinery on the planet with sponsors to match yet they seem unable to organise a phone call to Fifi to say, “Listen, you idiot, we’re not chasing a ball until the weather improves and our grass starts growing again!”

Rant over - ahhh, that feels better.

Now then, tin bashing.

We’re nearing the end of our dry build – that being our systematic reconstruction of each part of the boat without the benefit of rivets or glue. Only skin-pins have held her together thus far and only small sections have ever been assembled at once.

First the frame was stuck back together by our mates at PDS Engineering allowing us to repair the cockpit outriggers, seat formers and flap-trays. Next we rebuilt the cockpit rails and foredeck, rapidly followed by the nose and spar fairings. This gave us a more or less complete front end above the frame so then we stripped her down again and rolled her first onto one side then the other to repair the flutes and make new side skins.

K7’s original floors have been heat treated to make them soft and therefore easily repaired and the final conserveering battle – the air intake assembly – is now being re-clothed with a shiny, new outer skin.


We spent a few nights sorting the right-hand side then continued right over the top.


As usual there’s still a heap of work before the assembly will stay together with an Orpheus trying to suck it inside out. The real challenge with it is to stay within weight constraints. History has demonstrated how a couple of bags of sand lashed to the outer casing made the difference between the boat performing and her uselessly slurping gallons of water. She really is that that sensitive so we have to think carefully about every modification we make.

We’ve had to add a fair number of our own widgets to the intakes to allow much of the original to continue doing its job but at a guess I’d say it’s probably about eighty-percent original by weight. And more importantly, it’s technically perfect from a historical point of view.

Put simply, we now have almost all of our boat except the sponsons but they’re a new build from delicious, sparkling material and we’re well on with making the necessary tooling so we anticipate no great difficulties there.

Bluebird K7 exists once again, albeit in kit form.

25th July 2008


Thought I’d be in a world of pain for asking awkward questions last time about the so-called ‘beautiful game’ but everyone laughed – I was amazed. Not a single moaner. Nor was the museological camp represented, as they usually are, in my post-diary inbox so I seem to have got away with my last rant. They’re probably still reeling from the fact that I read their magazine. So as the world seems to be in a good mood perhaps now is a good time to try and harness the power of the Internet.

This is the plan. Over in Cumbria, Vicky, Anne and all the good-guys at the Ruskin museum are working night and day to create a fabulous home-port for our iconic speedboat. Bluebird K7 is the real-deal, a genuine Rolex, the Hope Diamond of hydroplanes so she needs quality surroundings for when we take her home.

Meanwhile, a hundred miles from there in a small workshop, our crew leave their wives and kids more often than is healthy to breathe deadly dust from the fifties as we slowly resurrect our tin boat. But there’ll be no show unless we complete our mission and what keeps the project alive is maintaining a high profile. Seeing us on the news or reading about us in the papers or simply word of mouth is what brings sponsors aboard and encourages folks to buy our tee-shirts so we have to keep at it.

That’s how we met Chemetall-Trevor, for example, and let’s be honest; we’d have been completely stuffed without his incredible paint stripping chemicals. We’re still in awe of them to this day. We mixed our stripping bath in 1996 and it’s still working! He told me when we met that it would work indefinitely and to be honest I didn’t believe him. I mean, how could it possibly?

And don’t forget the boys at Kearsley Airways who rebuilt our pumps, Argos Inspection who did all our non-destructive testing and PDS who spent months welding the frame back together.

All we have to do is ask and fresh sheets of material arrive next day from Thyssenkrupp and our supplier of military-grade and aerospace alloys is no less accommodating.

Then we have ‘The Virgins’.

You see, what happened was this.

Many moons ago when it became apparent that the Hapless Lottery Failure was exactly that we began casting about for potential sponsors and one of those we considered was the considerable might of the Virgin empire.

I made a tentative pitch but in the immediate, post-September 11th days most airlines were tightening their belts. I was still indulged for a few moments, however, by a gentleman called Will Whitehorn. He explained that Virgin were not considering anything other than aviation projects and there existed little chance of this changing. Fair enough, I’d not have been doing my job if I’d not at least tried. But Will didn’t close the door completely, instead leaving it open a crack in case we ever needed anything off the Virgin shelf, so to speak.

The opportunity almost came a couple of years later when we considered bringing an engine over from the US. Will kindly made the intros to the airline people and we set about calculating dimensions and weights and working out whether anything about an Orpheus posed a risk to the hundreds of holidaymakers sitting on the deck above. But it was all for nothing – the engine proved unsuitable and the plan dissolved. But still the door didn’t close.

Then one day, Paul Hannaford called to say that a Virgin train by the name of Donald Campbell was to be put to other use so its nameplates had to come off. Being both valuable and interesting items, Paul’s dad, Norman, a train expert, had immediately spotted that the nameplates might provide an interesting display for the museum and a potential source of much-needed funds for the rebuild.

I straight away left a message for Will who mailed back presently to say that we needed to speak with Mr Allan McLean at Virgin Trains. Since then, Paul Hannaford has project-managed a unique opportunity with Allan whereby we’re to have both plates from the train donated to the cause - one for the museum, one for the rebuild project.

Simultaneous to this, Bluebird has been heading towards the end of phase-one of her rebuild; that being a complete dry-build from front to back. We basically have a complete boat less the sponsons, which we’ll get onto constructing presently.

It’s fortuitous and exciting that these events have come together at the same time so we’re now in a position to host a press conference and unveil K7 to the world whilst gratefully accepting our gift from Virgin Trains. To this end we’re doing exactly what we did for the frame’s homecoming and hosting two photocalls on the same day; one in Coniston in the morning and the other in the BBP workshop later that afternoon. And because we were asked to mail images as far afield as America and Australia last time we’re going to make the publicity shots available via our web server this time around.

So here’s what we’d like you to do.

Below you’ll find an early publicity shot and our press release. This will shortly be followed by a second release with more emphasis on the rebuild for distribution outside of the UK. Besides, there’s bound to be somewhere in the world where ‘Virgin Trains’ takes on a whole new meaning. A pal of mine from Arizona was once mortified to discover I had a bottle of ‘Fairy Liquid’ in my kitchen…

What we’d like you to do is to ‘Google’ your local TV, radio and newspaper newsrooms. They all have a page where you can upload stories and images. We don’t care if it’s the Little Grattonby Tea Drinkers Gazette – send it to ‘em. Then if you have time, hit the biggies. Who cares if the Sunday Times, BBC News 24 and Sky have our release spewing out of every orifice – good!

Let’s see how big a splash we can make, and don’t forget to mail and tell us who you’ve sent it to.


Thanks in advance.

Bill Smith.




Press Release



Virgin Trains keep Campbell’s Bluebird on the rails


As Donald Campbell’s iconic hydroplane, Bluebird K7, nears the end of a significant phase in her rebuild programme, a generous donation will help keep the project on target.

Virgin Trains has kindly donated a pair of cast metal 'Donald Campbell' nameplates which were previously fitted to a high-speed Super Voyager diesel train named after the famous record breaker. Appropriately their background colour is blue.

One is destined to become an attractive memento in the new Bluebird Wing of The Ruskin Museum at Coniston where the rebuilt jet-powered boat will be housed, while the other will be auctioned to help raise funds and is likely to become a highly prized collector's item.

Regional general manager of Virgin Trains, Jane Cole said: "As train operators committed to serving Cumbria, we are delighted to help the project by donating these unique 'Donald Campbell' Super Voyager train nameplates.

“We are happy to pay tribute to a great pioneer in the quest for speed."

Following a crucial grant of £250,000 from Cumbria Vision, and other donations, £527,000 has already been raised for the construction of Bluebird’s new home at The Ruskin Museum. The Bluebird Wing is due for completion later this year though further funding is needed for the museum display.

However, the rebuild of Bluebird herself is entirely dependent on supporters’ donations and sponsorship from industry.

The welcome gift from Virgin Trains coincides with the completion of a major phase in Bluebird’s return to full operating condition.

For almost a year since her reconstructed frame returned to the rebuild workshop at Tyneside, volunteers have worked untiringly to conserve, repair and rebuild her entire aluminium structure from front to back.

With approximately 98 per cent of the wreckage recovered from Coniston Water returned to the craft, Bluebird is now plainly recognisable as her former, powerful self.

Bluebird will be unveiled in this temporary condition to coincide with the presentation of the Virgin Trains nameplates, prior to being dismantled and prepared for her final build to commence later this year.

The Bluebird Project would like to thank Allan McLean, the communications manager for Virgin Trains in Scotland and north England and Will Whitehorn, the president of Virgin Galactic, for their invaluable help in the efforts to return Donald Campbell’s Bluebird to both her former glory and her spiritual home in Coniston, Cumbria.




Nameplate presentation: This event will take place at the Ruskin Museum, Yewdale Road, Coniston, Cumbria between 09.00 and 10.30 on Wednesday 30th July 2008. In attendance will be representatives of Virgin Trains, the Ruskin Museum and the Bluebird Project.


Unveiling of Bluebird K7: Between 14.30 and 16.00 on Wednesday 30th July 2008 Bluebird K7 and representatives of the rebuild team and museum staff will be available for interviews and photographs at Kiltech Ltd, 66 Hudson Street, North Shields, Tyne & Wear, NE30 1DL.



The Ruskin Museum – contact Vicky Slowe 015394 41164, [email protected]

The Bluebird Project – contact Bill Smith 0191 2580611, 07721 524371, [email protected]

Donald Campbell died on Coniston Water in January 1967 when Bluebird crashed while he was attempting to break his own world water speed record.

A team led by amateur diver and engineer Bill Smith recovered the wrecked craft in 2001.

Since then, the decision has been made to rebuild her to her 1967 running condition and return her to Coniston. In addition to the Cumbria Vision grant, major financial support has been received from The Garfield Weston Foundation and South Lakeland District Council, and other bodies and individuals.


Notice to editors please feel free to use these high res images for publication









31st July 2008


My feet are killing me!


I only ever wear soft, comfy shoes for the same reason that I’d never wear laced and studded welding gloves with the name of some Italian homosexual embossed in the leather. Shoes are merely protective clothing – a view my wife doesn’t share – but now and again I don a pair of shiny relics from my corporate days and stand around on a concrete floor for days on end. So on Wednesday morning I struggled in the bottom of the wardrobe to get them onto my feet, wiped off the dust with something Rachel hasn’t taken the label off yet and set off for Coniston at six am.

The previous two days had passed in a blur of phoning and faxing a database of press and media contacts with a year’s worth of changes to put right and now the stage was set to discover whether the news-hounds still loved our big blue boat. Our last press day was based around the frame’s homecoming. A complete frame for the first time in forty years thanks to PDS Engineering and images of it were requested as far away as Western Australia so how would we do with a more or less complete boat?

First thing was a dash to the Ruskin Museum in company with Mike Bull and Alain where the Virgin train plates were presented by Allan Mclean of Virgin Trains and gratefully accepted by the usual suspects.


Left to right – Allan McLean then that Geordie diver followed by Anne Hall and Vicky. This nameplate has been cleaned up for display purposes. It’s about 12mm thick and made of cast aluminium. Allan was a friendly bloke who’d arrived the night before and enjoys a drop of real ale so I believe the local Bluebird Bitter went down smoothly. Novie and Paul gave the appearance of having appreciated it to excess. Paul’s dad, Norman, also came along for a look-see and it’s only because he knows his train stuff that we were alerted to track down (good pun, eh?) the right Virgins and ask them nicely.


Various reporters arrived in due course plus a camera person from Border TV. I’d never been interviewed on a building site before.


But I didn’t mind in the least and just look at the fab, new building to the left with a gaping hole between the tarpaulins where the door that’ll let K7 in and out is going to go. We still encounter the occasional individual who goes all incontinent at the thought of lighting a fire inside our Orpheus or having water on the outside of our boat. They’ll just have to plug their ears and look the other way…

But much as we enjoy a visit to Coniston we couldn’t hang about and were soon treating Mike (the lager-lightweight) Bull to a second serving of car-enhanced hangover on Kirkstone pass in a race to meet the second wave of reporters over on Tyneside. Mike and his good lady-wife, Ellie have been recreating the seat for K7 and have written their own diary piece so I’ll not tread on their toes. You’ll have to wait for it.


More reporters arrived – didn’t mind this one either.


Then still more arrived.


Doddy and I had a great afternoon posing about on the boat for photographers. They wanted to capture the idea of the old-hand and the new whippersnapper crossing the gulf of history or some such and tried all kinds of ploys.

“Pretend you’re talking about something,” they suggested.

I shrugged and turned to Doddy. “Bought any new hammers lately?”


And look at our display behind the boat. The eagle-eyed will notice that the banner in the centre was originally on the wall at PDS but when we went to collect the frame, John was called away at the last so we pried it loose and nicked it. Looks rather fetching up there, we thought, with our sponsor’s logos all around. The second nameplate came with us. It’s just as it came off the train, covered in diesel soot and corrosion, but that’s how collectors like ’em. Or so I’m told. We’ve spoken with Bonhams about auctioning it and will get to that presently.

Here’s another interesting thing.


The boat has grown a wooden sponson, which caused some confusion because we didn’t make it absolutely clear that this wasn’t how it was meant to be. The sponson, we explained, was actually the tooling we’re about to use to reproduce a pair of perfect replacements. Matrix Lasers allowed me to use their digitising kit for a day and drive their programmer mad into the deal by switching from millimetres to inches a dozen times as I checked every dimension. Then they water-jetted the tools from inch-thick plywood of the highest quality. We’ll be off to Kirkdale2000 soon to have some tubes bent for the sponson’s internal framework and that’ll be another vital stage in the plan underway.

The end result of our effort was major coverage on TV, radio and in the press – all of it extremely positive and something of a payback for those who’ve supported us all this time.

And next?

Well, sadly, K7 must be torn down to bare bones again. The object of the dry build was to make sure we had all the bits, which we do, and now each of those parts must be finally fettled, painted and fixed once and for all into what will become the reborn Bluebird K7.

Right then, that’s that, I’m off to soak my feet.





6th August


I knew she was a nutter the second I saw her dog.

I also thought I’d escaped the woman by being slightly ahead of her on the ramp from the beach but in that moment my sheepdogs mugged an unsuspecting spaniel, nicked its tennis ball and streaked off into the distance; lithe, muscle-bound little blighters that they are.

But whereas mine are a credit to their wolf ancestry her terrier-type seemed to be descended from a small sofa. And – horror of horrors – it was wearing a coat. OK, the sun wasn’t properly up but it’s still summertime.

People who put coats on dogs should be banned from ever keeping dogs.

I must qualify this, however, because I was once delivered to Anglesey in a Greenpeace helicopter where the woman, whose garden we landed in, had a terrier as bald as a snooker ball because it’d had steroid injections so it needed a coat. But otherwise… dogs have fur.

Nor was I in the mood for such silliness because I was running late and morning coffee was the one vital item culled from my itinerary.

I struck the fear of God into my mischievous hounds with a yell that, if you’re a thieving collie, translates into, ‘put that ’kin ball down before I thrash you to within an inch of your miserable life you b’stard!’ and tried to continue my escape but the grey-haired biddy was onto me. So that I’d not make a successful getaway she adopted that quickened-pace, finger-wagging, steady eye-contact thing that only women can do properly and closed inexorably as the Titanic’s iceberg.

“I saw you on the telly,” she called across the divide to properly set the hook. Her dog waddled after her as though encased in a pink quilted iron-lung.

I surrendered – it would’ve been dangerous to ignore a woman with zips up the front of her slippers for much longer – I was caught.

My dogs raced back and wrapped themselves around my legs with those tongue-lolling grins they use to ensure they never get thrashed for anything and stood by for further mischief.

“Saw you on the telly,” Mrs Dog-Coat puffed this time as the grade took its toll.

I turned to greet her but the smile on my face felt false as I watched her dog waddling towards a bed in the doggy coronary-care unit. The poor creature eventually crested the shallow rise despite being morbidly obese and flopped onto the cooling concrete at its mistress’ feet.

“I saw you on the telly… and I think what you’re doing with that Campbell’s boat is a terrible thing.”

Now this caught me off guard.

Remember the scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary where the bloke who’s sung the one-hit-wonder is accosted by someone in a restaurant and thinks he’s been recognised only to have it pointed out that he’s actually trapped the lady’s coat with his chair? It was one of those moments.

I’d been cocky enough to think she was chuffed at meeting me so next time I smiled it was for real and at my expense.

“Why’s that then?” I asked her, suitably disarmed.

I’ve heard every argument – some are valid, voiced passionately and worthy of respect while others are just plain stupid – either way, my answers are usually loaded into in the breech faster than one of those American missile cruisers can come alive. But this one got me.

“Well, it’s not very green, is it?” She said.

I’d not heard this before so I had no ready-use ammunition.

“It’s not, you’re right enough,” I offered lamely, “it’s completely blue, as a matter of fact.”

It was Mrs Dog-Coat’s turn to have her gyros toppled… she eyed me in a slanted sort of way.

“No,” she said after a beat. “That’s not what I meant at all. What I mean is that it’s… well, it’s noisy and you’ll… you’ll scare the ducks if you start the engines.”

That one drives me nuts! K7 has exactly one engine and anyone who suggests otherwise is evidently clueless on the topic.

“Noisy, like low-flying RAF traffic sort of noisy?” I asked innocently.

She’d obviously not thought of this and it showed.

“And as for scaring ducks,” I continued quick-as, because having a brood of recently hatched ducklings at home meant I held the high ground, “I terrify mine every morning when I rattle the door to their house to feed them but they soon get over it. The local blackbirds panic too whenever a sparrowhawk cruises over but a good fright does none of them any harm.”

I’d long since concluded that Mrs Dog-Coat was the type to save the world by carefully washing milk cartons and placing them in a council-supplied Noah’s ark for reusable materials but I thought I’d find out whether her efforts went any further.

“Do you keep ducks too?” I inquired.

Evidently she didn’t.


But really I knew I’d found two bird species she didn’t have back home.

“Ultimate recycling machines,” I pointed out. “Feed ’em just about anything and they pay you back with fresh eggs (whilst taking up less space than your fat dog – I thought but didn’t say) and if you chuck some chicken poo on the vegetable patch you’ll soon be re-enacting the story of the giant turnip… any uneaten turnip you can feed to the chickens.”

But she wasn’t impressed with agricultural notions not mandated by her local authority so I made a move towards my environmentally-unfriendly 4x4 to chuck the dogs in before they got bored and ate her pooch – or what they could of it anyway.

“You’ll pollute the lake,” she called after me.

“Excuse me…” I turned and fixed her with a level stare. “We’ve already removed two and a half tons of potentially toxic metals and one dead person from Coniston Water. What do you suppose we might put back?”

As usual… as ever… and typical of your average do-gooder, she’d not taken a moment to look beyond her recycling bin to consider the bigger picture.

“You deliberately want to make greenhouse gases,” she spluttered finally. “It’s people like you who are destroying the planet with all this global warming.”

Now she was really knackered. That’s like picking on a bloke cutting grass beside the M25 because his lawnmower is a tad smoky. I gleefully pointed out that Coniston Water was carved from solid rock by a glacier that seems to have melted approximately twelve-thousand years ago for reasons that can’t have had anything to do with 1960s jet engines.

She opened her mouth to spew more nonsense but in my caffeine-deprived condition I was on a short fuse.

“Why’s your dog wrapped in an eiderdown?” I shot back instead.

That silenced her momentarily.

“I beg your pardon she said at last…” Glancing confusedly between one of evolution’s finest designs melting in its man-made-fibre cocoon and a bloke she’d set out to vilify a minute earlier.

“That pink, quilted number,” I wagged a finger in imitation of her. “It’s August,

fair enough, and not the hottest day since records began, but it’s still the middle of summer so why is your pet encapsulated in one of those things they use to heat the tyres of Lewis Hamilton’s F1 car?”

Mrs Dog-Coat was aghast.

“She’ll get cold. Won’t you Chloe…” Her dog panted and twitched its tail beneath a layer of lagging.

So that’s what it was called…

The woman knelt to comfort the animal in case the very mention might cause chill draughts to waft beneath its quilt.

Your dog won’t get cold, you idiot – I wanted to scream, but didn’t quite.

“Have you considered,” I said instead. “One, that Chloe has fur – thanks to a few million years of evolution during which her great-granddaddy dined on Siberian hares and never met a human. And, secondly, that you’ve overfed the poor thing to the point where she’s obviously uncomfortable, unfit and in imminent danger of dropping dead.”

This appeared to hit the spot because Mrs Dog-Coat gushed concern and started taking the pooch’s pulse – so far as I could tell anyway.

I really didn’t want to upset someone’s grandma but she’d started it and by now I was so incensed that I lobbed a final round her way before buggering off.

“And I don’t mean to be rude,” I said sweetly, “but please don’t sermonise me with your lofty, do-good waffle until you can understand a dog well enough to give it a happy life.”

And with that, my bad day began as I reminded myself sadly that we’ll have to deal with literally thousands of ignorant, Mrs Dog-Coats in our efforts to run a boat that’s gone from hero to zero along with its pilot within my short lifetime. It was a blessed relief later, therefore, to get back into the workshop with the boys, back to our old routine and safe once again in the bosom of a team that say b*ll*cks to the lot of them…



A week earlier we had a complete boat. She looked fantastic and everyone was clapping us on the back for such a fantastic job.

Rob’s local rag even gave him a whole page with the headline, ‘Bluebird’s Back Thanks to Rob,’ which earned him some quality ribbing from the team. But the party is over and now our boat is back to bare bones. We hung the flutes from the ceiling because we’ve run out of space. There have always been at least some of the panels attached at any one time since last September but with literally everything stripped off and more panels than we started with we’re becoming somewhat cluttered.




We’d always estimated a few weeks to get the frame ready for the paint shop but once we got into it things fairly flew along. It’s only possible to stay on the same job for so long before morale begins to suffer. The nose was a good example – the air intakes another. The trouble is that when we go all specialised not everyone can get involved. I mean, it’s two people max on the English wheel and if that’s all that’s happening the rest of the team is at a loose end.

But give us a pile of fettling to do on the frame and we’re tight as the Royal Philharmonic.

One thing we decided on long ago was that the pilot’s harness would be properly fixed this time and fate dealt us a good hand where this is concerned. You see, all they did for the upper fixings in 50-whenever was to drill the transverse, upper frame tube at F-15 from the top downwards and stuff a bolt through. That was acceptable – just, at the time – and one of the fixings even survived the crash but only because the other three failed.

But, ominously, the lower ones weren’t actually attached to anything of any substance and, at the risk of causing much controversy, it has to be said that whoever arranged the lower harness fixings would, in this day and age were a similar accident to occur, be facing accusations of gross negligence, possibly even manslaughter. And I don’t say this lightly.

So we took advantage of the fact that both horizontal, F-15 crossmembers are non-original replacements and made a few mod’s in the interests of pilot safety.

We drilled the upper tube in the right places, drilled new fixings in the bottom one too where no holes existed before then sleeved each fastening properly to take some high-tensile bolts when the time comes to strap someone into Mike’s replacement hot seat.

John did the metal cutting after we’d brought the whole welding armoury to the party.


Then we drilled the frame tubes and fired the sleeves in.


Below you can see the work on the F-15 crossmembers where I’m busy welding the portside (left), lower hard-point for the harness. The starboard one is clearly visible above my head. The frame is portside-down and you’re looking aft so the upper crossmember is to the right of the pic where one of the upper mounts can also be seen.


Next we sleeved the holes in a section of vertical frame tube that PDS had to replace ahead of the main spar; same routine.


This is where the main spar bolts into the frame and as usual it’s been over-engineered by those Norris boys. What a privilege it is rebuilding history to their designs.

Next we did a spot of conserveering on the flange plates. These small squares of steel welded into the main frame are where the marriage between steel and aluminium takes place. They’re sharp little things and some of the forward ones have lost a millimetre or so. Not bad going for three and a half decades under water. Common wisdom would say chop ’em off and throw ’em away but that’s not how things are done around here so we doubled them instead.


This is the lower, starboard plate at F-15 and, as you can see, the original in the foreground is looking a bit thin. Not so the 2mm thick doubler behind it. Methinks the F-15 outrigger isn’t going to fall off anytime soon. This is also the place where the frame snapped. The repaired joint is internally sleeved with an extra external gusset inserted to the right of the flange plate just for good measure. The front of the boat won’t fall off again either.

The frame is therefore just about ready to go and Bill at Bettablast is soon going to give it a coat of paint. Well, actually, it’s going to get a coat of zinc followed by a polyester, powder coat in silver so it’ll look just like it used to and be guaranteed never to go rusty again. We’ll clean the insides of the frame tubes with a splash of Chemetall-Trevor’s liquid wizardry then put some inhibitor in there and she’ll be good as new. But painting the frame has thrown up one or two problems. Like how to support it so we can wheel it from spray booth to oven without touching it, for example; because if we touch it we then have an area without paint and that’s not an option either.

So we constructed this lethal assemblage.


Everything is upside down here but what you can see on top of the frame is our new moving-dolly for trundling K7 around the paint shop. It needs its wheels attached but you get the idea (ignore the castors in the foreground; they’re yesterday’s means of moving the frame around the workshop).


The frame sits on the dolly atop a series of steel spikes inserted into the existing rivet holes so the contact area will be virtually nil for painting purposes. We’ve built a similar apparatus for the front end so now all we have to do is build an extension for the oven at Bettablast and we’re in business.

Exciting times or what?





Recreating the Ultimate Hot Seat


By Mike (& Ellie!) Bull


Our involvement with creating the new cockpit seat for Bluebird came about after I jokingly told Bill that my wife Ellie- who can sew a mean historic or Gothic frock- was the possessor of an industrial flat bed sewing machine; you know, one of those ones with a motor so big, lights dim ten miles away when you switch it on. I was only kidding about but from there Bill seemed to ponder and then like the idea of there being a personal angle on the creation of a new seat for the boat, and eventually he invited us to do the job. That was the easy part…then I had to tell Ellie! Much like myself when first presented with a token piece of genuine K7 and a hacksaw, many of her bodily functions let her down at the news, though after a while some blood came back to her cheeks and she nervously agreed to help.


Searching for the best possible reference photos came next, and a very sincere thanks to all those out there in anorak land who helped us with this.


Initially my own part of this mini-project was to build a dimensionally spot-on mock-up of the seat area of K7’s cockpit here in wood, to give us a matching space to build the seat into. Then as research progressed, we soon realised that the seat itself had a few wooden parts and suddenly I was making those, too! Gulp…


During our research, we finally realised what Donald had been saying in his final cockpit transmission, too-


‘I can’t see much ‘cos my foam’s very thin indeed…I can’t see over the top…’.


I was also much amused by Donald describing it as a ‘G-seat’ a couple of times in his ‘Into The Water Barrier’ book; actually it’s clearly just ordinary foam and vinyl with the odd bit of plywood, a weaker and more basic structure in fact than that found inside the average 1960’s car seat! This made it seem all the more incredible to me that the seat had gotten out of the boat as intact as it had- seemingly, with only the top and the bottom halves partly broken apart from each other. Considering the condition of the surrounding metal seat structure, it’s astonishing that the thing wasn’t far more crushed. However, after a lot of pondering about it with Bill, I personally don’t think that the seat was held into the boat by anything other than it perhaps being a tight shove fit, and by Donald being strapped in on top of it, and that it thus shot out after Donald like a piece of wet soap in your hands as the rest of the cockpit was crushed around it. But, that’s just my own personal theory, and I digress; luckily from our reference material we could get a good look at the pair of wooden wedge shapes that supported the backrest from the famous images of the seat as recovered after the crash. There was the well known Paul Allonby photo, and here it is also in a still from a newsreel-




- as seen here it’s laying on the backrest, with the seat portion up in the air, and you can see the lighter coloured wooden pieces resting on the ground. From the shape and size of these pieces I was able to determine that the backrest angle wasn’t in line with the original metal seat structure in the boat- rather, it lent forwards of it somewhat. A picture of Donald sat in the seat when it was new at the factory, in a cockpit mock up, shows that the backrest was originally in line with the metal structure- so clearly, quite soon from new it was then angled further forwards- perhaps to make Donald more comfortable due to his bad back, or simply so he could better reach his steering wheel? Either way, that was another of the little nuggets of information that you can only find out as you go along, just as the boys have been doing with that big Meccano set of theirs.


Along with all of this, Ellie and I sat and pondered what clues we could glean from the original photos regarding the general stitching and original construction method of the actual vinyl parts of the seat. In the in-cockpit photos from before the crash, the seams that ran across the seat were visibly ‘grinning’ in some places- see, I’m learning all the sewing lingo- meaning, the seams were wearing and stretching open a little; not surprisingly, right under Donald’s backside as it happens. (Well, it was the fastest arse on water at the time!) So, that clued us in as to the original method of construction, and we made some practice pieces with some scrap vinyl and foam that we had, which looked pretty good. Bill approved, so it looked like we had our method settled.


A Christmas visit to the (pre-Spencair) freezing cold workshop then followed, where I was left to my own devices with the old girl (Bluebird that is, not Ellie) while the others got on with all that black-art metalwork stuff that they seem to enjoy so much. I figured out those skin-pin things by screwing them every which way and wiggling them a lot with my frozen fingers, and eventually various parts of the cockpit structure came free, so as Bill & the boys were busy putting bits on, I was busy taking them off, enabling Ellie and I to draw around them to make templates, take measurements, and generally get to know the relevant parts of the cockpit as well as possible. Following the Christmas break, I got on and built the cockpit mock-up here out of MDF; from this I could work out the final dimensions of everything relating to the seat, with the good old fashioned Mk.1 eyeball. ‘If this lines up with that, then that makes it this big, which means this part is this size…’…and so on. Basically, as far as I was concerned it absolutely had to match the original cockpit photos- such as they are- as well as possible. It wasn’t too difficult- a lot of it drew itself as I went along, absolutely proving the worth of having the real-size structure here to work into- and who needs a front room, anyway?!


Foam was purchased, and I swear, blue was the only colour it came in, honest! Once cut to size (Look, Ellie, I said I was sorry about the kitchen bread knife, okay?) this was immediately very comfortable and supportive in my cockpit when I had a trial sit on it, though an overhead hoist was needed to help get me back out of there again; it’s deeper than you might think in there! Bill supplied me with some squares of plywood- a bit alien to me, as I’m used to using rubbishy old MDF for making things- and I set about constructing the wooden elements of the seat. This took no time at all; indeed, our illustrious team leader seemed most amused when he rang me on the same day that the ply had arrived here, only to hear that I’d almost finished cutting it all out already! Only four screw heads show on the outside of the finished seat, and they’ll be hidden from view when it’s in the cockpit, but nonetheless I still used slot-headed brass woodscrews, just to keep the old ‘look’ right! A few coats of a nice subtle satin varnish- even on the bits that will never show- and the basic wooden parts were done.




There are some interesting square cut outs in those rear backrest wedges that just about correspond to holes in the sides of the metal seat structure, and presumably these were something to do with how the seat was once intended to be fixed in, but as the plywood parts came out of the boat absolutely intact, and the metal was annihilated, again I can only assume that there was no physical connection between the metal and the seat at the time of the crash. But for old time’s sake the cut outs were added anyway, even though they’ll also not be seen once in the boat!


Bill meanwhile was hunting about sourcing a suitable replacement vinyl fabric, about which he can probably better tell you himself. Suffice to say, I’m glad it wasn’t me who had to sign-off the colour choice, lest it be gotten ‘wrong’ and a herd of angry anoraks appear at my door late one night with burning torches and pitchforks! However, there were surviving scraps of the original for him to match to, including a piece from deep down in the cockpit where the sun wouldn’t have faded it, and I can say that the dark blue vinyl chosen looks absolutely fantastic both for colour and texture- it was great when a ruddy great big roll of it arrived here, and I couldn’t resist immediately photographing it in different lights, and in black and white, just to see how it looked!


Pattern making came next, flapping great big sheets of paper about over the wood and foam until it started to resemble something roughly seat cover like-




Then finally we could set about marking out the vinyl- a challenge in itself- and, gulp, cutting the stuff out! Ellie fired up the industrial machine on 8th March- seven years to the day since Bill and Co. brought K7 ashore. A coincidence, honest! Oh, and did I mention that the sewing machine was built in 1967? Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up. I’d bought Ellie a cone of a thousand metres of navy blue industrial thread, and had actually offered to buy her two, but was patted on the head and assured that one was enough. Well, I don’t know, do I?!


It took a couple of trial runs to get used to the properties of the fabric, and to ensure that the finished spacing on the seat panels was coming out as it should- I’d just about nailed this by eye, and was then absolutely delighted when Fred Blois was able to take a close look at the surviving original 1967 headrest at Filching for us, and confirm the sizing. Cheers, Fred! So soon we’d made this-




All the seams underneath this piece needed a gentle iron on the reverse side to soften the vinyl and make them all lay the right way, and I suggested we use a wallpaper roller on them too, a method which worked well- so well in fact the wife left me to it, but I’ll have you know that I did that ironing in a very butch and manly way, okay?! Could be a dangerous precedent to have set mind, next time I want a shirt flattened out a bit…


Then we moved on to what I called ‘Donald Campbell’s Posing Pouch’; the 2 inch wide section that sticks out of the front of the seat to rest in the curve of frame F17- under Donald’s knees, basically. (It’s the piece sticking out uppermost in the wreckage picture above)



Getting that shaped right in multiple pieces of the reasonably stiff vinyl was a nightmare, but gradually we could move on to making the sides, and it all started to come together more rapidly then. As Ellie got on with the sewing, I started to realise that I don’t speak seamstress, and she doesn’t speak fluent idiot, so as guilty as I felt, it was for the best if I just stopped asking stupid questions and left her to it!


I instead got on with making the bottom section, the piece which actually sits in the curved metal seat pan. This was one of those bits that I’d fretted about for months, and I dithered back and forth with Bill re. the method I’d use, only for it to go really easily and be done in no time when I finally knuckled down to it!

The only known picture of this section on the original is again in the post-crash wreckage pictures and some tweaking of the Allonby image revealed that the bottom section was also fabric-covered over wooden formers. Interestingly, this bit must have been another later mod made to the seat, as when pictured out of the boat ten years previously, (see ‘Leo Villa’s Bluebird Album’, page 92, and see if you can spot it!) the seat seems to have only had a bit of bare foam stuck underneath it. Anyhow, I made the formers, added foam between them, and covered the section with vinyl, heavy-duty stapled into the wood. This stapling was an assumed construction method on my part, but a totally valid one I felt as along with glue and drawing pins (!), that’s how the vinyl was fixed to the back of the original ’67 headrest, too. Each individual staple was then further tapped in with a light hammer (Well, it wouldn’t be K7’s seat if it hadn’t have been bashed with a hammer somewhere along the line) to make it conform to the curve it was on!




Ellie soon had the main seat cover finished, and after some final trimming and flattening of seams, it was over to me to glue it down to the two pieces of foam, getting it all positioned correctly and not making a mess with the glue as I went. No pressure, then! I worked extra slowly just to be sure, and bit by bit the cover went down onto the foam, and suddenly, a seat appeared; I couldn’t resist popping it into place in my ‘cockpit’ to have a look if everything lined up the way it was supposed to, and lo and behold, it did! So that was a good moment. The final task remaining was to glue the vinyl covered foam parts down to the base section, which only took a few minutes but which made me sweat like a pig, trying to work swiftly but extra-cleanly with the gloopy contact adhesive. And then there it was- the new seat for Donald Campbell’s Bluebird.




I’m pretty pleased with that; it didn’t come out quite as perfectly as I’d have liked, but somehow its homemade-ness seems ‘right’, and dare I say it, makes it seem more like the one-off original might have been- and I can live with that.


Soon it was packed up and couriered up to the workshop, and Bill pronounced himself happy with it which was a big relief, as we’d been bricking it here! Throughout though Bill was insistent that it would be me who first put it into the boat, and it transpired that a good time to have it in there was for the full ‘dry build’/Virgin train plates press day, so the day before that I was to be found crammed into the cockpit, sweating like a pig, pinning bits of seat structure back in temporarily before taking a deep breath…






It fits!!! It dropped in there pretty much perfectly, which was tremendously satisfying.

Such a relief! Throughout the course of the press day everyone said lots of nice things about it to Ellie and I, including one Mr Smith who remarked that it was like we’d ‘poured a five gallon drum of instant seat mix into the cockpit’- that’s good enough for me, then.


Next job for us now will be to make the matching headrest, which hopefully should be a lot simpler! But in the meantime, I’d like to offer thanks to Bill for entrusting us to do this, and to my Ellie for her hard work and expertise- after all, she did the bit that everyone will actually see!


One last thing to say about the seat now it’s made; I don’t care who you are- if you’re getting into the cockpit and thus stepping onto ‘my’ seat, WIPE YOUR BLOODY FEET!

It was good enough for Donald after all…





16th August 2008


Saturday morning dawned once again. Rachel plopped a pot of coffee onto the bedside table while I clutched the pillow to my head and vaguely heard Lucy tell her mammy that daddy wouldn’t wake up again.

I’d normally correct this within a minute or two but fate had conspired to shut the BBP down for a day. How dare the guys take holidays with their families and children with so much aluminium still un-fettled? So instead I lay there listening to the sounds of the house enjoying the luxury of not having to get up.

Rachel bustled through the bedroom door presently, shot off a couple of questions to check I was in there then called, “I’m going downstairs to watch the cockless fairies.”

At least that’s what it sounded like through the pillow.

Cockless fairies, thought I…

Concluding that she must’ve discovered some niche-porn, streaming-video site to tickle her fancy and wondering whether they might have something for the aluminium fetishist I chucked the duvet, brushed my teeth and arrived half asleep in the living room to see what was what.

Sadly I wasn’t to be mortified and fascinated all at once by what some people do for pleasure. Instead I found Rachel watching four blokes in a rowing boat hurtling along as though trying to outrun a tsunami.

“What’s this then?” I asked, yawning.

“The coxless fours,” she said without taking her eyes from the screen.


“What’re they doing?”

I just don’t do sport unless it has wings, wheels or engines. Rachel, on the other hand, loves to watch people running and jumping so she’s been glued to the Olympics and feels I’ve missed the point somewhere because all it means to me is that material prices shot up when the Chinese worked most of the world’s spare metal into their stadium.

“They’re racing,” she explained exasperatedly, “and the Aussies are beating us.”

Now I don’t mind being beaten by the Aussies – they’re a good bunch – but again, Rachel felt this wasn’t quite the way to view the situation. Then, as I watched the combatants powering towards the finishing line, the Brit lads suddenly set their jaws and seemed to vow death or victory as the commentator grew increasingly excited and willed ‘Great Britain’ to win.

I paused to wonder when I’d last heard this. Wherever did ‘Great Britain’ go? Somewhere along the line the political-correctness freaks downgraded our pair of letters from GB to UK. It’s like when seventy degrees was a hot, summer’s day, eighty was killing heat and you sometimes saw a hundred on your holidays if you were rich enough to go ‘abroad’. Now folk tell me it’s going to be thirty-degrees tomorrow and I think, is that hot or cold?

But back to rowing boats… The Aussies were busting themselves but somehow they had no answer for our boys who found a reserve of something special and pulled as though collecting their children from Gary Glitter’s welcome-home party. No doubt the Aussie lads had trained as hard as us and they probably had the same things for breakfast. I’d reckon they wanted to win just as badly too but with clenched teeth and bulging veins and sweat pouring down their faces the four lads in our boat just ground the Aussies lead to nothing and grasped their prize in the last couple of hundred yards. The commentator cheered Great Britain as the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

Later that evening I tried ingratiating myself with a barmaid whose forearms were barely visible beneath rolls of those, ‘I support this or that’, rubber bands in myriad colours. She set out to discuss the abolition of world poverty but recoiled from this Anti-Christ when her suggestion that the G8 nations handing out a squillion dollars and all the oil you can drink would make the world a happier place was matched by my theory that if you gave everyone who’s a bit skint a council house and a new Mondeo on Monday half of them would’ve sold the lot by Friday and drank the proceeds.

“Cynic!” she accused.

“Definitely… I think it came in a selection box with my grey hair and flabby tum.”


“Of course,” I agreed.

Her mouth fell open revealing a ball of chewing gum the size of a bull’s testicle and a five-eighths Whitworth bolt through her tongue. I thought I’d best qualify my answer before she rang Bob Geldof.

“The Germans manufacture machines better then anyone else in the world,” I said knowingly. “The Italians produce brilliant designs that often don’t function for very long and the British, when they put their minds to it, can jolly-well overcome all obstacles.

“Donald Campbell said that, you know.”


Her jaw clamped down on the ball of gum – I think it was symbolic, but mine wasn’t the variety of racism she’d been brainwashed to recognise.

“Donald Campbell…” I repeated whilst waiting for a hint of recognition but blankness came effortlessly to this girl.

“Seven times holder of the world water speed record and one time holder of the… oh never mind.” I collected my pint and sat down in the far corner. I imagine she’d be more thrilled with free minutes for her mobile than anything Great Britain might achieve.

Yet I live in everlasting hope of firing the imagination of youngsters so I was excited to see the process beginning at a recent meeting with some of the people who will eventually shape the museum display and bedazzle its visitors.

For the first time since I stood in the Bluebird Café having just returned from a dive only to witness the disappointment on a little kid’s face when his dad told him he couldn’t see Bluebird because it sank I could finally see a way to put it right.

So I hosted last week’s meeting bubbling over with fascinating stories from the past twelve years (don’t forget that we started looking for K7 in 1996) and was initially asked for some info on Donald.

Now there are many people with a far more in-depth knowledge of the Campbell’s history than me and I made this known thus skipping several items on the agenda though I did provide the name of someone who knows the job inside out. Next on their list was an idea to really get the kids buzzing.

Despite being married to a teacher I still don’t do fluent teacher-speak and keystage, foundation, SATs for level-two remains gobbledygook to me but one thing I remember vividly is the thrill of being a small boy . “Too much time to grow up and grow old,” said Donald once upon a time. “It’s a sad day when the man loses the enthusiasm of a schoolboy…’

So the proposal to stun the youngsters with awe and amazement was something I was really looking forward to. It turned out to be a real corker…


“We thought about a piece on health and safety issues comparing then and now… For example, they may have used flammable foam in the seat in the sixties but presumably you’d not use such a thing nowadays?”


I swear on Lucy’s ducklings I’m not making this up. Please believe me.


Health and flipping safety, of all things!

Donald was a health and safety free zone, for God’s sake! He drank, smoked and…


[Rachel made me delete this bit so all you need to know is that sex with a stranger has since been proven to be a potentially life-threatening situation.]


Oh, and he drove a jet-powered, tin-boat at stupid speeds until it killed him. I’ve done dozens of presentations, lectures and interviews on Donald and Bluebird K7 but not once has anyone ever asked whether his seat was likely to spontaneously combust. Easy to wipe down, perhaps, but who gives a flying fling at a rolling pastry what it was made of?

Ellie and Mike have a made an historically perfect and beautiful reproduction for the rebuilt cockpit but will it catch fire? How the hell do I know and I care even less. Anyone daft enough to sit on it while it toasts their gonads deserves all they get!

Rant over…

I took a deep breath before replying.

“Now I usually get myself into trouble,” I said slowly, “and I seldom care. And now I feel I’m about to do it again.”

Had my interviewer been from the Hapless Lottery Failure I’d have… no, they’re not allowed in the building. In fact I did ban one once on the basis that she was an archaeologist and therefore oblivious to what was required. I did relent eventually and proved myself right, but I digress.

“If you want to excite kids,” I suggested in a controlled sort of way, “what about pathology, crash investigation, diving, marine salvage? Do you know how much G-force it takes to break a man’s back?”

They didn’t.

In the course of our search and discovery of K7 we became involved with the RAF school of medicine and the AAIB at Farnborough to name only a couple of interesting establishments. Health and bloody safety… get a life.

Anyway – bless ’em – my interviewers seemed to take this aboard and by the end of the afternoon we’d laid the groundwork for a dozen interesting concepts. Just goes to show what kind of a disaster we may have ended with had the musos and HL-effers been given free rein.

As things stand it’s looking like the museum display will be full of offerings from those who were actually involved. Artists, engineers, crash investigators and don’t forget the two electricians, an IT engineer, a warranty clerk and the amateur tin-bashers who’ve been slaving away in the workshop to bring you this.


The frame is up on her moving dollies. I had a quick conference with Bill at Bettablast before we built anything. He asked me whether we had wheels for moving the frame about. “Yes,” I told him, thinking the ones we’ve been using all this time were perfectly adequate. “And what will happen to them in the oven?” he asked… fair question, seeing as ours are made of plastic, so we greeded some of his cast iron ones instead. Good job he asked that one or we’d have had our boat standing on her axles in four bubbling puddles of polyurethane.

The next problem is that to make our frame corrosion-proof it must undergo a process whereby a coating of zinc powder is applied then stoved at 180 degrees C for twenty minutes to properly cook it. Then a second coating of polyester powder is applied electrostatically (the powder is given an electrical charge that makes it want to stick to the frame in the same way as dust likes to stick to a TV screen) then this is cooked too. But there’s another problem – the frame was filled with oil in places and we’ve since splattered Ardrox all over it, some of which will have inevitably made its way inside through the multitudinous rivet holes. We need to cook the whole frame first to burn off any nasties that may contaminate or discolour the paint and we’ve no idea how long that might take.

Not so straightforward, is it… and to make matters worse Bettablast’s oven measures only 5.5 metres and our frame is nearer 8m long so we’ve been building an extension. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought of writing such an absurd idea into our application to the Hapless Lottery Failures back in the bad old days. They, of course, would want to spend thousands having the frame hauled around the country to an architectural powder coaters only to have themselves shafted by an outfit who would see the word ‘lottery’ and apply greedy-rates to their invoice. Naturally the lottery failures would then immediately declare this ‘not value for money’ and the whole plan would collapse in a bureaucratic heap.

But imagine the outpouring of stupidity we’d have got from them had we said, ‘give us a hundred quid and we’ll build something to do the job – that would’ve thoroughly baffled their ‘experts’. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Thank you, by the way, to the last two people to purchase one of Keith Hick’s fantastic paintings from our web shop… you just paid for our powder coating oven.

First things first. We popped across the street to see our mates at Percy Hudson’s Sawmill and went on the scrounge, as we do. We’re forever greeding bits of MDF and plywood from them and we nick the bits of timber they leave lying in the street overnight too. They occasionally bring a piece of broken woodworking machinery for us to weld back together but it’s mostly one way traffic so it was nothing new when we went begging for the few unused lengths of industrial racking through which weeds were growing at the bottom of their yard.

Good as gold are Hudson’s boys…


This lot will likely cost us several cases of lager for their Christmas bash so someone else get in that shop and buy another painting, please.

In double-quick time we’d set about it in true Scrapheap Challenge / Junkyard Wars style and chopped it into pieces.

‘Bluebird Project, you have eight hours remaining – eight hours.’


Next, we welded it all back together again in an exact size and configuration that’ll assemble into the mouth of the existing oven. Still looking a bit rough at this point but you see where we’re going with the concept.


But the interesting part was specifying a suitable material to keep the heat in while the powder cooks. Insulating materials abound but go looking for a board that’ll happily take 200 degrees C for twenty minutes and the options close-in rapidly. Fire-board will do it but it’s frightfully expensive. Normal loft insulation can handle the heat but by the time you’ve built something to support it and fitted an inner skin to prevent particles flying about and sticking to your wet paint the cost has skyrocketed again.

We finally settled on a foam board, which coped very well in the oven except that its foil backing began to blister after a while. Concerned that fragments might get loose we simply stapled cooking foil over the top and it performed beautifully from then on. Job sorted – a pack of said foam was purchased at reasonable cost from the local stockist and ‘Rob the Saw’, as we named him for the occasion, was charged with cutting to our carefully marked out dimensions while Mike steadied the job.


When only balanced in position you can see that our lash-up is going to get the job done.


This stuff is 1.6 times more efficient than your normal glass-wool insulation so we effectively have the equivalent of about 80mm here and we have to build a pair of doors to close one end. It’s a bit laborious but all in a good cause because we know that the surface coating on the old girl is going to be absolutely the last word in attention to detail and corrosion protection.

Our new rollover jig is nearing completion too at Ivanhoe Forge – I’m off to inspect that part of the job on Monday. The time is fast approaching when K7 will start going back together for real…