August 2011

I’ve just spent two weeks herding two, cat-like children from shady spot to beer-bar beneath the scorching Mediterranean sun but it made for a pleasant break and, as the dedicated follower of fashion that I most definitely am not, pretty much every garment I own is embroidered with the BBP logo nowadays. Consequently, its significance was questioned here and there and, as the world seems full of whingeing pains in the arse, I thought I was in for the usual treatment at the hands of one of those eco-do-good fools when someone mentioned that old chestnut – our up and coming ‘environmental impact’. But no! If the Type III idiot has an opposite I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d just met one. Just imagine coming across someone who understands that having an electric motor in your Prius is a bit of a waste of time because what actually makes it go is the petrol you just burned to charge the batteries in the first place, and that’s before you find out just how horribly environmentally unfriendly it was to manufacture to begin with. Someone who knows without having to have it pointed out that Coniston’s glacier buggered off before the catalytic converter or that the constant alarmist cry that cutting down rain forests is killing the lungs of the world when in fact mature trees metabolise oxygen just the same as you and I and that the world’s O2 is actually produced by photosynthesising algae in the sunlit layers of the oceans. Oh what a joy to discover a vein of common sense when the world seems silted up with H&S and rampant political correctness. This bloke made many valid and equally irrefutable points but my favourite, which I’m sure anyone with a spoonful off common sense will gladly lap up for their own defence against the enviro-mentalists, concerns that dreaded scourge of our delicate planet - carbon dioxide. He began with a lesson in biology – what are trees made of? They’re made of carbon fibre, he explained, just like Formula 1 cars only it’s nature’s version, a bit like bamboo cane. That’s carbon fibre too because what photosynthesis does is snaffle CO2 from the atmosphere and use the sun’s energy to fix it into organic compounds. The big trees in the park are built of gas and water and they’re bloody strong. But way back when, the vegetation got a bit out of hand, fell over and got buried for a zillion years until mankind discovered you could hack it out of the ground in the form of coal or oil and keep warm in winter by setting fire to it thus releasing all the energy the sun poured into it in the first place and the trapped CO2 along with it. So here’s the point… Next time some macrobiotic vegan sets about you for trashing the planet with your car be sure to point out that the CO2 you’re spewing out actually came from the atmosphere in the first place. OK – it’s been out of circulation for a while, but even so, all you’re doing is putting it back from whence it came and, assuming some resultant global warming results from your efforts, the plants will soon go crazy and promptly lock it all away again. Such arguments are always handy to have in your pocket and another that’s likely to crop up is the best month for running the big tin boat. It’s one of those politics-riddled issues where there’s an almost gravitational pull towards putting on the Bluebird show outside of the tourist season to boost visitor numbers. It makes sense on paper but there’s a good reason why there’s no visitors – the weather’s crap and this might possibly affect a craft designed for mirror-smooth water because it has a freeboard of only about two inches and the wash from a passing swan could easily sink it. We wouldn’t even attempt to get her wet unless we had a good forecast so to that end we’ve had a word with the Met Office for a heap of data to see what is actually the best time of year based on hard facts and irrefutable data. We don’t know when that is yet but whenever it proves to be is when we’ll be going for it. I’ll not laugh much if twenty years worth of hard data points at July, and I really won’t laugh if it shoves us straight into January but fair is fair – we’ll roll the dice and go with what it says because ultimately that’s what’ll be best for the boat and the public’s chances of seeing it go. It’s all somewhat academic without the tin machine though and we’ve taken a holiday recently from cruddy tin and corrosion and spent some time on new stuff. The last diary entry ended just as the engine cover was starting to go back together. It sits up top and only keeps the weather off and it’s a delicious, doubly curved shape too so we didn’t want the endless pain of inserting weld repairs and reworking the shrunken metal this time around so, once assembled, it became doubler-tastic.

We constructed a tool to hold it clear of the floor in the vertical position and the whole team set about closing every last corrosion hole and patching the skins. One area of particular interest was where those two little horns poke out of the top. Go check a few images of the boat before her mishap and you’ll find two of these things.

So far as we can tell all they did was blow a draught of air down into the bilges. On the inside they were attached to thin-wall tube that meandered its way to the lower recesses of the hull then pointed aft so that air shoved down the pipe by forward motion was blown the opposite way at the bottom. Presumably this was to waft nasty vapours overboard before the whole lot exploded but for now the problem is that the steel horns completely demolished the alloy skin into which they were fastened to the point where we had to completely double the first station of the engine cover on the inside then shape patches where the horns go. It proved a good fix… There was a hell of a lot of dissimilar metal lurgy in there though. All it takes is a former to be a slightly different alloy to the outer skin, which is close but not quite the same as the rivets then simply add water and you have a battery that nicks your electrons and scatters them to the four winds.

Here’s the job part-done. The doubler with the row of swaged holes was immediately named a ‘cheese grater’, by the way. Girl worked out and perfected the process for making them so any cheese grater requirements are immediately sent her way. We put them over the worst affected formers. It took several weeks to fabricate all the doublers we needed but the end result is tremendous. 100% originality.

Another important job we did while the engine cover was being mended was to make sure the start system still squeezed underneath it. The bottles, being steel, had a good old munch at the surrounding aluminium when it was all wet so many of the original edges were long gone and as the inside of the engine cover was hacked away in 66 to make room for it in the first place we had to be sure that what we’d put back didn’t foul anything.

It took some getting back in the hole! The bottle frame has been welded as has K7’s main frame and between the two of them moving slightly as a result and various thicknesses of paint combined with the tightness of the installation meant we had a struggle, but it went.

And, of course, it fouled all sorts of things under the cover until we took some remedial action so the exercise was well worth the effort. We’ll not now be grinding the paint back off to get the lid down. The final act was to pull it all down into a heap of scrap and deliver it to Bettablast for painting.

There was one last use for the engine cover before it went though and that was to align the aft edge of the air intake skins. They’re new-build and had to be trimmed to a nicety so we knocked that job off too, which enabled us to finish the detailing on the intake structure and there was no shortage of that! Wheeling the skins didn’t take long at all and they looked smart with their little letterboxes down the lower edges…

There’s three skins covering the intakes. One down each side and a larger one over the top that’s a properly tricky shape though it doesn’t look like much. It’s flat at the front edge where the flip-up canopy used to hinge but rounded at the back where it meets the forward edge of the engine cover and for some reason we found it especially challenging.

We got it in the end though, and another irritation was that we didn’t have a big enough piece of tin from which to make it so look at the end that Girl is holding and you can see that we had to weld a strip on to get the size we needed – a 2x1m sheet just isn’t the same an a good, old-fashioned 8x4. I always feel well chuffed when a piece of tin is made to fit, especially if it’s tricky, but when I see the work that then must be done to turn it into an historically perfect piece of Bluebird the simple act of pushing a shape pales to nothing. Take this for example…

This is one of the widgets that held the inboard end of the strut that supported the spray baffles seen here still attached to the original outer skin. You can see where the bolt has torn through as the spray baffle let go so that had to be fixed before the thing could be repositioned on the new skin.

Mended. There’s actually a fair amount of work in this considering it’s the original. The other example was completely wrecked because that’s the side that hit the water first but we fixed it just the same.

Then there’s this… At the front of the intakes directly above the headrest there’s a small tube about three inches long and an inch in diameter that passes from the inside to the outside. It’s either a vent of some description, though if so its design intent still eludes us, or a wiring conduit for antennae and the like, but it’s original so we popped it back in place.

It likely makes little sense in this shot so we added this piece next.

That grey piece of steel is the hinge from the flip-up canopy. Just look at the left-hand edge and you’ll see that it was once a hinge and our pipe passes straight through it. Then we made a little cover just like the one Donald used to have and popped it over the top…

Now you’ve seen it I bet you can find it on the pic’s of our boat at the time… It’s one of those things that tends to go unnoticed until it’s pointed out. Still don’t know what the pipe was for though.

Further down, the upperworks are connected to the rest of the boat below the waist with closing strips that, on paper at least, should be four inches high. It’s fun to measure the originals and poke fun at the Samlesbury workmanship as they wander between three and three-quarters to a smidge over four inches wide as the poor sod tasked with making them fit had to file them into some very wibbly-wobbly joggles in the panels above and below. At least ours had parallel edges.

All this stuff is now finished and away to the paint shop and that only leaves the tail cover to do. Despite it having a massive, steel saddle inside to support the fin and being positioned over the steel end of the engine it’s actually in better shape than the engine cover, this being mostly because we brushed and painted the inside shortly after it came off so the oxygen hasn’t been at it in the meantime. We saw it starting to fizz and took the executive decision to conserve it with a coat of etch-primer. It was a completely reversible process in keeping with museum practice and we thought we were doing no wrong. But we were also in negotiations with the lottery fools at the time and thought we’d best alert them to this urgent conservation requirement but their reaction was to summarily ban any further interference with the wreck or they’d take their ball and go home – morons! Another conservation need concerned the bluebird motifs on the flanks.

This is the starboard side one and it was intact when we found it but it suffered an unfortunate accident. What happened is that we’d not really noticed them back when we started diving the wreck and it was while we were imbibing a beer or three in the Bull that someone spotted them in a pic above the fireplace. Next morning we set about finding them with the ROV but we knew they were right down by the mud line so they might be buried. We flew up and down the port side without success – that side was completely buried – but had better luck on the starboard side where the mud wasn’t heaped so high. There’s a gentle current running north to south down the lake and the wreck was facing roughly east/west so the sediment was piled a little higher down the weather side but the lee side gave us a glimpse of the top of the motif through weed and mud so we sat with the ROV lights shining on it. Big mistake… Divers, being what they are, one of them wandered over to see what we’d found and decided that what the motif really needed was a good shine up with a scratchy diving glove. That was the end of that one… The other, we decided, would be preserved at all cost so the divers were briefed to avoid it and we successfully got it out of the water only to have some numpty reporter prod it as we reached the beach and smash the blistered centre into a million bits.

You may also notice that what remains of the motif has been varnished in the above pic’… well, not exactly, it’s been consolidated with Paraloid – a soluble, clear plastic that you dissolve in acetone then paint on. We just didn’t bother telling the lottery fools this time as they’d undoubtedly have dreamt up a way to cock that up too.But what to do about these iconic pieces of artwork? We couldn’t exactly consign them to the stripping bath or blast-room but to properly fix the panels they simply had to go so in a move that would give a museum purist a coronary we took them out with a drill.

It reminds me of another argument we had with the museum lot. They told us we couldn’t rebuild Bluebird because every ding and dent was a snapshot in time and we’d destroy all that history. I argued that they had a hundred thousand snapshots and we only needed the hundred best ones to tell the story so we could use the rest to make a boat and end up with the best of both worlds. Naturally they didn’t buy into that but it worked and the motifs are no different. OK, so there’s now a hole in the panel that we have to mend but big deal… we still have all the history intact. Next we threw it at Rob to pull it down.