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Becoming an Amateur - Part One

Updated: Jun 11



Now that K7 is out of her workshop and in the wing we get a lot of feedback on what's going on because anyone who looks at K7 and is in the least bit interested wastes no time in finding BBP and this is good. It keeps Debs' little shop busy and gives us a clear idea of the sort of things people want to know, not to mention all the extra traffic to our website.

BBP is without question the greatest resource for students of K7 and our mission is to make that information available and to ensure that the historical record remains straight.

Of late we've had some trolls trying to belittle the role and work of BBP but it hasn't worked. Even a blind man on a galloping horse can see the superhuman effort and attention to detail that went into the restoration and childishly changing the word 'workshop' on Wiki to things like 'industrial unit' only shows them for the sad and pathetic individuals they are but last week something else came to my attention because I received an email from a visitor to the museum who reported a film being shown that suggests the equipment we used to locate K7 was commonplace, that any divers could have rocked up and done the same job and that lots of people knew where the wreck was anyway. Now I haven't seen the film and I don't know the person who did so his report may be inaccurate but there's no reason to suppose it is because nothing else he reported was inaccurate so, for the record, let's get the truth of this one out into the public domain.


Let's take the last point first.


When we first went to Coniston with a view to locating K7 we hoped someone would be able to point us at the wreck. We also thought there might be some secrecy about it or perhaps a closing of ranks to keep strangers away but it very soon became evident there was no need because absolutely no one we met in the village had a clue other than a vague indication towards the water and assurances that it was, down there somewhere.

Of course, those who want to belittle our work tried to argue that actually some people did know but they weren't telling us, but if so they were hugely outnumbered by those who were as curious as us and equally eager to see K7 located because no shortage of people tried to help and were K7's whereabouts commonly known someone would have got the information to us.

But let us pause for a moment and think about this logically.

Who would be likely to know? And when I say 'know' I mean someone who could by some method lead us directly to an 18ft long target in 140ft of water. Certainly the local shopkeepers, publicans and farmers would be unlikely prospects. Sailors? They're not fussed about what's under their keels unless they're likely to crash into it. The diving fraternity didn't have a clue so that left the fishermen who go out to catch char and pike. They seemed our best chance and we thought we'd got off to a good start when one told us of a rope that reached upward from the lakebed and local folklore said it was attached to the wreck and how it once tethered a marker to which Lady Campbell had tied flowers following the accident. That got our attention but much to our disappointment no one could get us to the rope either. It seemed it was viewed as a hazard to be avoided when char fishing and its location was only vaguely known. No one used any form of navigation while fishing in the lake. It was very difficult to get lost and no part of the lake seemed to fish any better than any other part so why bother with pinpoint navigation? It simply wasn't a thing. One or two of the fishermen we spoke to had snagged this rope at some time but could only point out its general whereabouts and, to make matters more difficult, they told us it was only visible when the lake was quite low because it had been cut off some distance below the surface. It was an intriguing lead but not a great help. We eventually found it in the course of our searching and it not only wasn't attached to the wreck at all, it was nowhere near. It turned out to be the datum marker for the navy search team and it had been placed well to the south of the crash site as a starting point.

Then you have to ask, if someone did know where it was, what method did they use to record its position and even if such accurate data was in someone's hands the knowledge would have had to survive since the late 60s in a form that was still valid in the mid 90s when we started looking and even then what were we looking for?

Yes, the wreck was photographed in the days after the accident but what toll had the intervening 34 years exacted on it? Had it totally sunk into the mud leaving a flat, featureless lakebed and only a tantalising magnetic signature to hint at its presence? The front spar had. We honestly thought that's what might have happened when we got to the bottom of the mysterious rope because it just vanished into the ooze. Or had Bluebird fizzed away to an unrecognisable jumble to join the litter and pond weed down there. Even with an exact position there was no guarantee there was anything left to find and that was a nagging doubt as we searched.

There was no GPS in the 60s and even when it did arrive it was hopelessly inaccurate until May 2000 when the Americans turned off the deliberate downgrading of the data so about the only effective method would have been shore transits. This is where you line up the church spire with the end of the cliff behind then find two similar features in another direction and when it's all lined up at the same time it puts you over the target. It's 100% reliable and deadly accurate so long as no one demolishes your spire or the cliff collapses but no one had any shore transits either. Turned out even the fishermen weren't interested in the wreck.

In the sea, wrecks provide shelter for the fishes because it's windy down there. For all but a few minutes of the day the tide is blowing first one way and then the other. The fish can get amongst the wreckage to stay out of the gale then, on slack water when the tide stops running, they dash out and feast on all the goodies that the tide washed up to the wreck. Then they get back into their hidey-holes and let the process repeat. But the life cycle of freshwater fish in a lake is defined by a food chain that doesn't wash up and down because there's no tide so wrecks are meaningless.

Another feature of wrecks in the sea is that more often than not they are absolutely festooned with snagged fishing gear but when we lifted the K7 wreck there wasn't so much as a millimetre of fishing line on it so it definitely wasn't a target for fishermen, but we knew that already because they'd told us.

One small aside to that is when we went back in 2007 to look for a missing piece of frame we mapped the whole crash site down to a very high resolution with a new sidescan sonar we were developing, (more of our sidescan capabilities in part 2) and to the south of the impact site we saw a small, reflective target about 18 inches long. It was definitely metallic and had all the hallmarks of Bluebird wreckage but acoustic imaging isn't always so easily interpreted and being well south of where the boat struck the water it couldn't possibly be associated. Or could it? In theory it would have had to fly backwards about 40m in the direction from which it had just come but I remembered my old mate, Steve Moss from AAIB, telling me that at every crash site he'd ever visited he always found a chunk of aeroplane where he thought, how the hell did that get there?

Therefore, just to be sure, we threw the scanning sonar and an ROV over the side and went for a look and sure enough it was a piece of wreckage. Next followed the divers and up came the piece. It was a crossmember from the frame from the forward step under the bow and attached to it was the the throttle pedal but by far the most intriguing thing about it was that it was wrapped in fishing line. That someone had snagged it was obvious and it seemed pretty certain also that once snagged it had been lifted out of the mud and carried south as an excited fisherman tried to land what would have felt like a good sized fish. But how did the story end? Did he land the piece of broken metal and, with no idea what it was, simply pitch it back over the side? Or did he gasp in horror at seeing a chunk of what absolutely must be a shattered chunk of Bluebird and return it reverently to the deep, or did it part the line and fall back to the mud without its temporary captor ever setting eyes on it? We'll never know, but I digress.



 So the fishermen, the guys from the boating centre, the Gondola crew and many more were consulted without result but all was not lost because all roads lead back to one man. The one man in the village whom everyone was convinced would have the best idea. Robbie Robinson.

Being a village elder, Robbie didn't take any tracking down. He ran the Coniston Lodge Hotel with his wife, Liz and had been on the safety boat with Leo Villa when the crash happened before his very eyes. Not only that but his family had a long association going back decades to the exploits of Malcolm Campbell so he was thoroughly steeped in the legend.

The Coniston Lodge soon became our base when the divers gathered and long after the diving was done I'd stay there regularly with Rachel and the girls. Robbie and I had a long standing and entertaining point of contention. He hated tomato ketchup with a passion but cooked a magnificent full English breakfast with local sausage, bacon and eggs and viewed it as totally ruined if tom sauce went anywhere near it. But I like tom sauce on my full English and argued that it was now my breakfast as I was paying for it so I should be allowed to have it how I liked. In the end we compromised and a bottle of 'tomato flavoured condiment' was kept just for me, though I suspect Robbie kept it outside.

Anyway, back to the early days. Robbie was actually the first to dare to suggest that Bluebird be raised and put on display but it was spoken of in whispers as we discussed our ongoing efforts to locate the wreck. He was our best hope of someone knowing where it lay. He was there when it happened, after all, but even he couldn't nail it down with any degree of precision. One of his less useful, tongue in cheek suggestions was that we caught a young pike and trained it to sniff out aluminium. Along with Leo Villa, Robbie was about the closest person to the crash. His statement to the police reads as follows.


'About 8.50 am, on Wednesday, 4th January, 1967, I was in position on the lake at the north end of the measured kilometer [sic] when Bluebird made a very fast run from north to south. The boat then turned and commenced the return run. Bluebird appeared to be travelling very fast and when about 200 yards from the north end of the kilometer [sic], the bow rose fractionally, then hesitated and then the whole boat rose out of the water and began to climb steeply. The hull of the boat then appeared to storm [sic] in mid-air, then dived into the water. When the spray subsided, Bluebird rested on the surface for a short time and sank before our boat could reach her.'


Now you would assume that such an event would be etched into your mind and, as with all traumatic events, you would remember where you were and what you were doing, but Robbie later elaborated on his statement when we were sitting chatting one evening and said he had no recollection of K7 flipping over. His memory was of it climbing out of the water then slapping back down again.

But could he show us, as near as he could recall, where this had happened?

One afternoon early in our search Robbie and me set out in his little green Peugeot around the lake to the east shore and down towards Brantwood where we pulled over and, as did everyone else, he flung an arm at the lake and said, out there. It didn't put us up and down on the target but it ought to have got us very seriously in the ballpark. Yet there was a problem.

Along with the other divers I'd studied every photograph and frame of footage in minute detail noting any clue in the background as to where we ought to be looking. We'd also located the remains of the north timing post with the help of a few Campbell enthusiasts and reckoned we had the crash site nailed down to a fairly small and manageable search area. The trouble was, Robbie had us a way north of our guestimate yet he ought to know so one of us was off target.

The only other resource we had was the diver's report compiled by John Futcher, the navy commander who led the dive team in 67. Having tracked down John Futcher and worked with him on his memoir I went to Brisbane for the book launch and there he presented me with an original typewritten copy of his report complete with 1967 vintage staple. It's a treasured document a copy of which I'd first come across in 1996 courtesy of another Campbell enthusiast. Unfortunately it's of very little use because it relies on the positions of the news cameras at the time and those positions weren't recorded. They could have been given an OS grid reference and those included in the report and that would have done it but, nope. No such luck. Sadly, the divers left us no real clues we could use , another dead end.

(The example below is the photocopy I obtained in 96. John's original is put away.)



The upshot of all of this is that we had to begin from scratch and find the thing all over again because - contrary to what some would have you believe and would love to write into the history books - there wasn't a load of people who knew where it was. There wasn't a single living soul so far as we could tell.

As a post-script to this. Once we'd located the wreck we took Robbie out on the boat so he could direct the ROV pilot and have his own private viewing.

He was doubtful that we had the right place and once it became obvious we had, he concluded his memory had played a trick on him.

We'd found K7 a few weeks earlier and gone to see Robbie triumphantly bearing a piece of spray baffle to prove it.

"You've earned that." Is what he said.

Twenty years later we put that piece of spray baffle back onto the rebuilt boat.


So that's what happened regarding anyone knowing where the wreck was.

The second point I must address is the suggestion that the equipment we used was widely available so when I get a few spare minutes I'll write a beginner's guide to differential GPS, proton magnetometers, USBL acoustic navigation systems, ROV's and the various types of sonar we we employed then everyone can pop to the survey kit supermarket and get everything they need for a weekend's underwater exploration.


Back soon...

Bill

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Richard Francis
Richard Francis
13 de jun.

As I have said many times, I love these posts for their human content and for the purposes of my education. Suffice to say (again) I give no air time to those who take a negative stance on this amazing project. We're lucky when any band of people have the time, the money and (most importantly) the expertise to drive a vision from "I wonder if..." to completion. It doesn't happen often. Whatever happens in the future - the very fact you've been involved with this amazing bit of 20th C history is enough to make ongoing contact with the page and the people behind it compelling.

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Rhys Nolan
Rhys Nolan
10 de jun.

I am approaching my seven and a half decades, and I discover almost every day that later day belittlers have a need to put other people down , perhaps to enhance their own perceived status.

What Bill and the team havedone deserves more support, not downgrading. My heart goes out to you ll. Thanks for what you have achieved, all I can hope is that a number feel as I do.

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Richard Francis
Richard Francis
13 de jun.
Respondendo a

We do!

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