23rd June 2003

Quite a bit to tell this time, most of us had a chance to chat with Ken Warby when he was over here. Ken was across looking for jet engines but had also pledged to raise a few quid for our very worthy cause. Engines in Australia are apparently called “Donks” which may or may not be short for donkey and Ken was looking for a Rolls-Royce Viper or a Turbomeca Adour engine.

That particular Donk would get his boat moving! Take a look at: http://www.baesystems.com/facts/programmes/airsystems/hawk.htm
Ken arrived on Thursday evening with his partner Barbara, totally jetlagged and knackered they had a bit of barbecued steak, a glass of wine and crashed until the Friday morning.

I’d been on the phone to the local press, TV and radio, I’m on first name terms with most of them anyway so they promised to pop over throughout the day to have a chat with Ken. Sure enough, 8.30 the following morning there’s a van parked on the drive with a ridiculously huge extendable mast poking out of the roof and enough electronic kit where the back seats ought to be to run a small space mission. Ken and I did the interview for the local station and then both set about trying to work out how the extendable mast operated. After the radio journalist (who was not technically minded in the least) had lowered and raised the mast a time or two in order that we could satisfy ourselves as to exactly how it worked, he was finally allowed to fold his tent and dash to the next job.

Next we went to have a look at Bluebird herself. Ken had never set eyes on the boat and I never asked him what it felt like to stand there. Maybe he’ll tell us? I’ve seen a great many people walk in there and stare up at the tail. It towers over your head. They all stop dead in their tracks and stare for a bit. Ken and Barbara were no exception. Soon we had a few more reporters, then a TV crew for the local news, all the usual questions as the “scribes and shutterbugs” got their copy and their pics. Next it was lunch at the local pub which overlooks the river Tyne. Ken comes from Newcastle Australia and he told us that the place looks similar but then we discovered that all the suburbs and surrounding towns have the same names too. They have a Wallsend and a Hexham. We must have shipped a few Geordie criminals over there with their A-Z.

Whilst munching on our plate of fish and chips we were joined by a photographer working on behalf of the local paper. He sat quietly and obviously impatient for about 45 minutes while Ken finished his lunch, dashed back with us to grab a few pics and then discovered that we’d kept him hanging about for so long that he’d missed his next job. Well he had nothing else to do for half an hour so I talked him into taking a team shot free of charge. He was disgusted that I’d not only made him late but I was now trying to scrounge “about ninety quid’s worth of work for nothing too”! He did it anyway and richly deserves his credit for being one of the good guys. After all the press had finished with us we wandered off to visit with Les Richards. Remember Les? He was the aircraft breaker Guy who sorted us a few instruments for our Orpheus engine. He’s a bit of a dealer in engines so Ken spent a while chatting to him about such things while I enjoyed the hot sunshine chatting to Barbara about life and the world in General.

Many thanks to
r Benn of
Megascope Photography for the picture

Later we all went out for dinner where the restaurant got our order hopelessly wrong and trying to compensate us by offering us a dish that they had to reluctantly admit they didn’t have anyway after checking in the kitchen. Eventually, the manager came over to apologise so I said “do you realise who you’ve upset”? and proceeded to spin a tale of Ken flying halfway around the world to dine with us. He was happy to join the game by introducing me as the Bluebird Guy. Just as the manager was about to burst into tears we let him go. It was cruel but funny all the same.

Next day we set off for Rheged, we’d asked the Institute of Mechanical Engineers to add a date to their talk circuit so that Ken and I could get up and do a piece. The aim was to raise money for the Bluebird Project. As has been the case so often, we were up against the weather. Normally we have problems because it rains / snows, blows a hooligan or all three. This time the sun split the sky and the temperature was well into the 70’s. Of course when that happens in the Lake District, the whole world wants to be outside and that’s where they went so we didn’t get the numbers we had hoped for but it still went brilliantly well. Ken showing his video of the record attempts then doing a talk and I did a PowerPoint piece on the project. Then the fun began. In the process of setting all this up, I’d been working on the daytime while Mr Over Enthusiastic himself our old ally Novie had organised a dinner for later on with all the enthusiasts. We needed an auctioneer because Ken had rooted out loads of old photos, some badges and a couple of SOA T shirts, the plan being to sell them off on our behalf. Caught completely off guard, we cornered Paul Hannaford / Hannarak and promoted him to chief auctioneer. What could he do but stand there in front of the congregation saying “what am I bid for this splendid picture? Do I hear a tenner”? He did brilliantly while Novie scribbled furiously in a notebook ( that stopped him taking pictures for a few minutes) keeping the accounts up to date. I brought a few BB Project fleeces and polo shirts too and they sold like hot cakes. Then it was off to Coniston, I got the chauffeurs job as I knew where I was going and at Robbies place (best breakfast in the world) I left Ken and Barbara in the capable hands of the Speed Freaks while I wandered round the corner for a pint at the Sun Inn.

Questions after the talk

Ken loads Bill zero

Sotheby's watch out

(but is the auctioneer supposed to bidding as well !!!!)


Later that evening we all met up for a very good dinner at the Waterhead Hotel, Novie and Paul had been hard at work organising it and it went off without a hitch, we showed Ken’s video again and he did another bit of a chat for those gathered and then signed dozens of photo’s for those who had bought them because Novie and Paul, having conducted their first auction earlier in the day, set about doing another one in the evening only this time they were right up to speed and turning their extreme enthusiasm up an extra notch, they managed to create what can best be described as a feeding frenzy. Ken’s pen couldn’t keep up with the demand for signings as Mr Hannarak banged on the table with a dessert spoon and shouted “SOLD” every few seconds. Novie had to engage secretarial support to help him do the books and everyone was skint when they were finished. It was 3.00am when we got home.

St. Ken gives his second talk of the day
Honourary anorak
Mr Ken Warby


Thanks to Ken for doing so much to help us, for parting with his memorabilia and giving so freely of his time. Thanks to Barbara for putting up with us when she could have had a relaxing trip to England. What can I say about those two crazy speed freaks? Give them an outlet for their mania and they produce extraordinary results!

When all came to all, the project is about 2 grand richer and as I’m going to have to interview and appoint someone to start stripping the boat down prior to rebuild work starting next spring, I’ve now got a sensible amount of money in the pot to get some decent work done.

29 Sept 2003

Time for another update, they're a long way apart but you get them as we've got something to report. We've been off adventuring in Greece lately. Remember Carl Spencer? One of our divers during the wreck lifting phase of the project. Well he was working on an expedition to the Kea Channel to dive the wreck of Titanic's famous sister at the time and it all came to fruition this month. Of the original Bluebird team we took Alain and Graeme in their usual capacity, techies, sonar operators etc. And we also saw our old mate Zaidy. This time it was Carl's project though so I was delighted to be able to do as he asked without any weight of responsibility. For once I had a stress free existence.

with his diver propulsion vehicle that also doubles as a video platform
checking the kit and making ready for action


Our brief was to shoot some stunning side scan images of the wreck. Secretly, our aim was to shoot better images than Bob Ballard produced in 95. This we accomplished easily but I'm not posting any of them up here yet because we shot them for Channel 5 and National Geographic and it seems only fair that they get to make their documentary before we start giving away the pictures. At the end of the Bluebird diving episode, when we brought Donald home, I announced that I was to retire from diving. After fifteen years and having done everything I'd wanted to do, I was quite content to become one of those clear water, dive on holiday only sort of divers and that's what I did

That is until I was offered a dive on Britannic. It's a challenging dive at the best of times, even when you're fully trained and up to speed. Diving is like any other sport, leave it alone for a while and you get out of practise, unfit and generally not very good. Diving Britannic is like running the London Marathon in terms of the scale of the dive and the level of commitment that should go into preparing yourself. It's 100 metres to the top of the wreck! That's 330 feet of water. It's also one of the most prestigious wrecks in the world so I was going to take the opportunity as it presented itself and just have to be knackered when I got out of the water.

Retired diver
1st dive of the year 10 metres looking at fish on holiday
2nd dive 100 metres looking at fish (I believe there was a bit of scrap down there as well)


I got the deep support divers job. No one wants to do it because it simply involves going down the line to 45 metres and hanging about for ages waiting for the divers to return. Then you flash a card at them reminding them to change gases for the ascent, tick their name off a list of returning divers and write down how many minutes they have to go before surfacing. When the last diver goes by on his or her way to the surface, you then have to clip the slate containing all this info to an orange inflatable sausage and blow it to the surface so that everyone up there knows what's happening in the water.

What no one bothered to tell me was the maximum depth allowed to a deep support diver and so I just carried on down until I landed on the stern of the wreck next to the propellers. All I had to do, I reasoned, was to get back to 45 metres before the first diver so that I could tick them off the list. That gave me about 5 minutes to see a 900ft long wreck!

I'd checked that this was OK with Carl and our dive officer for the day Rick Waring, they gave me the nod so that's how I came to be on the wreck. I'd borrowed a rebreather, some dive tables I didn't understand and a computer on which Zaidy gave me a crash course before throwing me over the side. It was fantastic! Utterly amazing. I swam around the props and the stern of the ship but it's just too big to get very far without a DPV (that's one of those scooter jobs that you hang onto and it drags you about).

I did my 5 minutes and then ran for it. As I had to sit about at 45m to do my deep support thing, I totally lost track of the tables, which were designed around getting out of the water ASAP rather than hanging about for half a day at just the wrong depth using just the wrong gas to heap up loads of decompression penalty. I tried the computer, it was a big improvement but I'd upset it somewhere between 100m and 45m and it was telling me to refer to tables even though it was, rather huffily I thought, still giving me deco information. I completed my gas switch, from a bottom gas containing lots of non-narcotic helium, to a deco gas with much more oxygen but I couldn't for the life of me remember how to access the menu on the rebreather in order to alter the oxygen partial pressure in the system. I topped it up manually as the first diver went by, then again as the next one was ticked off my list. On the third one I got a bit over enthusiastic with the O2 injection and managed to set off the HIGH OXYGEN alarm. Not a clever thing to do so I tried blowing the rebreather through with gas but by now I'd switched to the higher O2 content deco gas. Blowing through with that stuff just sent the figures off the clock. I had a frantic minute plugging in the bottom gas again, blowing the system through with helium until the alarm shut up, then swapping back to the other gas and blowing the helium back out of the loop before letting the computers sort it all out.

Just then, Ritchie Stevenson floated upwards past me. As I ticked him off my list of returning divers he gave me the OK signal. I gave it back, quietly glad that he hadn't seen my performance with the hoses and bubble blowing only a minute earlier. When the next diver came by, I handed him the rebreather handset, told him what I wanted and watched while he made the adjustment for me. The technique for doing it of course, came flooding back the second I saw it done. I was OK after that.

It took me 160 minutes to get out of the water but a rather lovely Greek girl decided to swim about in a bikini over my head for most of the deco so I didn't really notice the time. That NEVER happens in the North Sea!

Helena and Gordon on top of the wreck site
Guess who made Bills' deco go so fast


Back to the Bluebird Project, we had another meeting last week at the rural regeneration offices in Cumbria. The purpose of the meeting was to go over the draft report from our consultant, Mr Paul Jardine. There are 70 odd pages of it. It's a formidable document and it covers about everything you can think of relating to visitor numbers to the Lakes, statistics for the number who will make a detour to see our boat. Lots of detail relating to the rebuild works and associated costings. It took a bit of getting through. In a nutshell, yes another of my famous nutshells, we have in place a funding package that will allow the project to go ahead. It's a shade over £2.25 million and it is designed to fully rebuild the boat to running order as it was on January 04 and then house it in a rather special purpose built wing of the Ruskin museum in the village of Coniston with lots of audio-visual equipment. There is also provision for some extra facilities at the museum, a bigger shop, tea and coffee, meeting rooms, that sort of thing. All the figures are there to support it and it will definitely work. It will bring a general increase of wealth to the village, which ultimately will benefit everyone there and the South Lakes in general so ours is a flagship project.

Now here's the downside,` firstly the HLF is all but spent up for this

Part of the NEW Bluebird Project Team
73 page business plan covering everything from how many rivets we'll need to how many extra Pot Noodles the village store will have to stock when Bluebird comes home.

financial year. Unlikely sounding I know, but true nonetheless. That means that we need to be first in next years' queue rather than last in this years' which in turn means that it will be April 2004 before it's worth putting our application on their table. Problem number two is that we are still asking the HLF for over a million and that means a 2 stage application but more of that in a moment. Problem number 3 is that although getting HLF money is a long process, we know that we can do it. Only thing is, we've got another million lined up from other funders who may have given it all away before we get the HLF side of things sorted. It's all a question of timing.

Back to the more than a million problem with the HLF, the obvious answer is to ask the HLF for less than a million, that brings all the timing into line but it leaves us about 150k short of the mark. You can't ask for £999,999.99p. They know what you're up to. They're not daft this HLF lot and they'd rather spend the right amount of money for a proper job than watch you trying to make it all fit on what is really an undersize budget. We need to be asking them for about 900K so we're still short.

Enter, Virgin Atlantic and the ballooning, boating, entrepreneurial, Sir Richard Branson. At least that's what I hoped would happen. I've spoken a few times with Will Whitehorn. He's Virgin's press officer and Sir Richard's "right hand man" at least that's what it says in the autobiography. Originally we'd entertained hopes that Virgin would be able to provide some sponsorship, that most elusive of commodities in this age of budgets and cost-downs, but as we developed the plan to spend public money, the need for sponsorship dropped right off. I got down to needing about 150K and we can have that as work in kind. My grand plan was to ask Virgin Atlantic if we could install our boat in a hangar somewhere and borrow some maintenance crew to spanner the engine into the hole, connect up the pipes and wires and give the engine a quick spin over to make sure that it all worked before thanking everyone very much, smiling for the cameras and setting a course for Coniston.

I don't know how the relationship between an airline and its maintenance facility actually operates. I presume that a 747 needs a bit of looking after. I fly helicopters and they are an endless round of CAA paperwork and someone spannering about under the engine covers, so what a 747 must be like can only be imagined. I sort of thought that even if Virgin didn't actually employ a single mechanic, they could point me at Bert the gas turbine man and Fred the hydraulic fitter so that we could get our boat fixed and I could go back to the funders and say "please write in the daily rate for a jumbo sized hangar and some specialists, thank you very much!"

Unfortunately it was not to be, as brilliantly simple as the plan appears; we were very politely turned down by Virgin. Will explained to me that Virgin is devoting its resources to aviation based endeavours and let's face it. Bluebird might look like an aircraft, be built of aircraft type stuff, sound like a jet and travel at about the right speeds but less said about aviation the better! So we're back in the market for someone with a big hangar and some techies. Maybe I can get thrown out of BA's offices?