top of page

Diary August 2013

“I’m a project manager,” said the man confidently. “Your job seems to be taking a long time, perhaps I can give you a few tips.”

Now then – one thing I have learned on this job is that sometimes, even when you so want to tell someone to stick their idea where the sun doesn’t shine, it’s worth a listen just in case they happen to know what they’re talking about. Another thing is that people often pitch themselves way above their station.

I remember, for example, being fascinated whilst earwigging on a conversation by the pool on holiday one time. It was a cheapie, package deal to a chunk of scorched, Greek rock, jam-packed full of folk whose idea of a good time was to drink from morning ’til night then throw each other into the pool. A bloke was explaining to his new-found drinking buddy that he’d brought fourteen pairs of shoes so as not to be seen in the same pair twice. Not even the wife is that bad! So, next day, when Johnny-Footwear, as I immediately dubbed him, was onto only his third pair, I nonchalantly tackled him at the bar intrigued to find out what sort of a bloke owned so many shoes.

He was a project manager too – he explained. In fact he was a project manager for a major UK manufacturer, no less. The truth, when I eventually got to it, was that he made sure the likes of British Rail (or whatever it was then) had a ready supply of bogroll on its trains. Now I’m not denigrating his job – far from it – I mean, I have met people who exist within their own body so far down the defecatory chain of command that they may actually find themselves having to bare their bum to a BR pot and, as if that wasn’t bad enough, what if Johnny Footwear had failed that week and there was no paper?

But this latest project manager was nothing so mundane. His job was to specify, purchase, install and commission machines that made biscuits. Machines a hundred yards long that performed a thousand tasks a minute without stopping for weeks – a big responsibility but, sadly, he was of the breed that has no grasp of why it takes such a long time to complete any sort of restoration or conservation project.

There are two types of these people – those who get it once it’s explained and those for whom it floats obstinately beyond their grasp. He was the latter variety but he meant well and soon gushed with how we needed a clear roadmap of where we were going with properly defined targets and budgetary checks and balances, and…

“We don’t have a budget,” I explained. “And we’re trying to decipher Norris Brother’s drawings with no Norris Brothers, and we struggle to buy half the materials we need because they’re not made anymore…”

The fact that you just cannot buy what you need from a regular stockist simply did not compute – the bloke was flummoxed. After all, the designers’ responsibility is to blaze a trail ahead of the PM sourcing materials and specifying suppliers, clearly in this instance they had let the side down. I patiently explained that the boat was designed at a time when you could get all the things on the shopping list but now it wasn’t so simple. The answer was obvious – use the modern equivalent! But he couldn’t tell me what modern equivalent of a quarter UNF bolt would go into an Orpheus engine.

It was like watching a chess player trying to carry on as I nicked half his pieces. I explained how the designers did their work in 1954 and that the roadmap now had rather a large chronological issue. This was evidently an unusual problem for the modern-day PM

He couldn’t weld either so what was he going to do for a welder when he took the reins? Hire someone? Recruit a lifelong apprentice to the art of welding with twenty years of experience? But there’s no budget to hire anyone and even if you could there’s no recognised welding ticket for gluing together old scrap.

The list grew endless. He couldn’t say where we could get spares for the Bloctube controls or if or when Barry could make new ones. Nor did he have a clue how long it would take a volunteer to get it all working and historically correct once we did have it. Where were the bean-counters to tell him what his budgets were or HR to draw up the employment contracts?

Check-mate came swiftly and without mercy, which was somewhat worrying because the smart move from his point of view would have been to do some basic research then either talk a good job or give the subject a very wide berth.

It’s an unfair test, admittedly – the Bluebird Project has evolved in its own unique way into what it is and it defies all the rules but here’s the difference, not for one living second did I pretend that I could tell him how to install a biscuit machine…

One thing that did happen, however, is that our very own Mr Bull, for no apparent reason, walked into the workshop one day and made it his mission in life to sort out the very same control linkages. Now we know exactly how long it would take a volunteer to mend them and as we speak, Barry is making up the missing parts in his workshop. Strange how this job twists and turns.


Control Freak

By Mike Bull

Since moving on from building up the air intakes and then months of sponson torture, I took it upon myself recently to start looking at the various bits and pieces of fuel control rods that had been removed from Bluebird during strip down in 2007 and largely abandoned ever since. With engine work ramping up again and an empty hull, it seemed time to start thinking about putting something in there!

Bluebird has three fuel control linkages, fitted from new in 1954 and largely unchanged since then. Bloctube Controls of Aylesbury were tasked with fitting the necessary parts into the boat as she was built, and it’s all about pivots, levers and tubes elegantly sliding through bearings…

This type of Bloctube control system was, as far as we can tell, largely used in marine applications- on trawlers and the like. It’s difficult to be sure though as that aspect of the original company is long gone and with it, any hint of any real information or worse, spare parts. So all we were left with was what came out of the boat herself, and a very few spares that we did manage to procure.

The system was largely made up from thin-walled aluminium tubing of 5/8” diameter, which was cut to the required lengths and fitted with whatever kind of ends were wanted. (Stainless steel tubing was also used) The ends comprised very clever ball and socket arrangements for the pivots, and also ‘helicopter’ joints for the straighter runs; the ends were held into the tubes by taper pins. In each case the socket end was released by lifting a securing spring and turning a little cam, whereby the ball end on the next rod could be clicked in and out. Turn the cam back, and the whole lot was secured again; a very simple arrangement- when it works!

The rods ran through bearings, mounted in Bluebird’s case, at pretty much alternate stations. The blocks came in single or double form, and Bluebird uses the double kind; two brass bushes mounted in a Tufnol block.

As recovered, the control rods were brutally torn off at the front under the main spar and of course seized solid into their bearings through the rest of the boat.

The rods and bearings had been removed during strip down and had been largely ignored since then, bar some cleaning. However, aside from the obviously torn rods, the remainder of the linkages were in very good condition, and were all reusable; only a couple had the slightest of kinks in them. (Amazingly, after one was lightly tapped back straight, water started seeping out of one end; yup, there was still lake water trapped in there 46 years after the crash. Surely now that’s the last of it..?)

The three fuel controls are all mounted on the boat’s right hand side-

The first control is that for the Low Pressure fuel- this is the push-pull handle mounted through the frame structure at F17.

The original handle, rod and bearing were still attached to F17 when it was recovered, and were repaired some time ago; the associated bracket and pivot that attach to the diagonal frame tube ahead of this have also now been refitted.

The LP cock works on a rotary motion- push the handle forward to ‘ON’ and it pushes a (currently missing) link down, rotating the link shaft (stainless steel, in this case) which runs along the outer right hand side of the boat back to the first bay behind the air intakes, which is where the auxiliary fuel tank lives. The rotary motion of the shaft pushes another link that runs across the boat, opening the valve. (The greenish coloured rod just above centre of this pic)

The next fuel control in the cockpit was the High Pressure fuel ON/OFF- this was controlled by the lever on a control box mounted below the LP handle, between F17 and F16. By now most of you will have seen the superb reproduction Bloctube control box as made by the project and Barry Hares-

(The Original control box, still left in the ‘ON’ position, is now on show at the Ruskin Museum in Coniston)

The HP box acts in a push-pull manner on one of a pair of linkages that run together through double bearing blocks, from the cockpit back to the mid point of the hull.

The links run straight back from the cockpit, then diagonally outboard under the main spar, before running straight back again; the diagonal path allowing for the boat narrowing towards the bow.

The picture shows this diagonal section- between frames F15 and F14- and the stainless steel LP rod on the outboard side. This area was where the original rods had been torn in two, and with the original location of the bearing at F15 being lost in the difficult repair of the panel, it took quite some effort to work out the required bearing position and necessary length of the diagonal rods needed for everything to move smoothly. (The only way to access this area, short of lifting the air intakes off again, was to squeeze my head inside the frame aperture where the main spar would pass through! I’ve just about straightened up now…)

The second of the closely-paired linkages is that for the throttle pedal. The original pedal and its link rod were recovered in 2007 during the hunt for the missing piece of cockpit frame, and have been back in the boat for some time-

Still missing, however, was an upstanding bracket that comes up from the cockpit floor to take another pivot, where the motion of the pedal is translated into a push-pull on the main linkage. Of this original bracket - seen in the archive photo above- only the holes for it remained in the cockpit floor, so from these and some high resolution reference images, I was able to not only make something that looked right, but which lined up with everything and worked right, too.

The actual pivot, with it’s ball at each end and bush in the centre, was created from two original Bloctube right angle spares, similar to that used for the LP cock above it; two sections were very carefully cut, shaped and welded together, and a surrounding flange added, to create a missing part out of nowhere that was both very strong, and a visual match to the original.

Both the HP and pedal linkages work together, inputting into a single fitting mounted back near the engine mounts which we call the ‘fingers’. This very clever arrangement allows for two separate inputs to give one output; one rod moves it part of the way, and the other the rest.

The bottom input is the HP; the next one up, the pedal. The final link at the top is the single output, with a return spring and followed by a final pivot and linkage which cross the boat right in the bilges and arrive at the underside of the fuel system on the engine.

The last piece of this linkage is very Heath Robinson- a piece of bent steel bar is brazed into the end of the steel link tube, presumably a modification made for the Orpheus conversion. At the very end of this (corroded away here) would be a spherical bearing connected to the throttle valve of the fuel system itself.

So, move the HP lever forward to the ‘ON’ position and the associated linkage moves some two inches, essentially cracking the HP fuel open just a little bit for engine starting; put the pedal down, and you get the rest of the travel on the fuel system CCU. The pedal closes on a spring, and then you shut the whole lot off again with the lever in the cockpit.

It took a bit of time to get everything running smoothly, but once it did and the HP box was connected up, the resultant action was very satisfying- moving a beautiful new control in the cockpit and feeling a link moving right through the boat to actuate something with a ‘clunk’ way behind you was great, and a little spooky of course- another little glimpse of the old girl starting to twitch and come back to life. Of course, everyone immediately wanted a go on the lever! It was also interesting to compare the newly working system with how things were found in the first place- it can now be stated that as found, the controls were set at HP ‘ON’ and throttle closed. (The throttle likely would have closed itself on the return spring in the course of the accident whether Donald had lifted off his foot beforehand or not)

Finally, this little You Tube sequence shows some of this action- in this case, the pedal linkage; the HP fuel is already on, and this is the travel of the throttle pedal linkage thorough each station of the boat-

The control rods are stripped out of the boat again now for painting of some of the components- next time they go in, it will be for real!


That was all very handy because it’s long been one of those jobs that looked like a game of Kerplunk gone wrong that you really don’t want to pick up and mess with – or if you do, you soon put it down again. But one thing we have learned is that if you pick something up and don’t put it down, after a while it begins to become clearer until you can see what’s what and shortly afterwards it begins to take shape. Not so the wiring or any form of ‘elastic trickery’ for the simple reason that none of us know the first thing about it. Well, Rob can do domestic wiring and Tony is an expert three-phaseologist but ordinary 1960s car wiring, which is what K7 contains, is a mystery to us all. All except Checkie, that is.

For anyone who doesn’t know the tale of Robert ‘Checkie’ White, it goes as follows. Checkie hails from Liverpool and some years ago – I think, imagining that K7 has as many wires as a 747 – he offered to sort them out seeing as he’s a radio engineer and can work things like soldering irons and multi-meters. Now we knew that the old tub actually has as many wires as a Morris Minor, but, we needed someone on paint-stripping and patch-making duty so we accepted his offer then gave him two things. Crap jobs and an equally crap heap of rotten wires with the promise that, ‘one day this will all be yours’.

And so it came to pass. As Mike began widgetising the main hull and applying the hand-brushed coat of ‘suitably-shabby’, suddenly there were reinstated grommets simply crying out for wires to pass through them. It was time to discover if Checkie was any good.


Rebuilding K7’s Wiring Loom and Electrical Systems – Part 1

As a thrilled 14 year old boy in December 1966 watching K7 streak across Coniston, little did I realise that I would one day work on that same craft, playing a small part in restoring her to working order. Fast forward to 2001 - the sight of K7 emerging from Coniston Water after 34 years revived those boyhood memories and over the next few years I followed events through the BBP website and ultimately decided to offer my help in restoring this iconic craft. I am a radio and radar engineer by profession, so reckoned I could contribute most in the electrical and electronic areas. In 2009, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Workshop, even luckier to be allowed to stay, and spent the next 3 years doing many things – making tea, sweeping floors, stripping paint from crumpled bits of aluminium, making patches for parts of K7’s floors and engine covers, opening up her crumpled fuel tank so it could be straightened and welded back together, getting oil flowing in an old Orpheus turbojet donated to the Project by the local ATC – lots of routine and also very interesting and rewarding tasks – but nothing electrical! Then in 2012 I was asked to make a control panel for our Orpheus test bed and this year, to look at the overall wiring and electrical/electronic systems for K7..... mmm..... at last..... wires!!

During the tragic events of 4th January 1967, the boat’s wiring loom was torn into at least three parts when the cockpit was wrenched away from the remainder of the hull. The major part remained in the main hull and was carefully removed and labelled when the hull was stripped prior to restoration.

The forward part of the loom was torn into at least two sections, one from the engine bay to the instrument panel and the section that connected to the panel itself. During subsequent dives, the Team recovered the section from the engine bay to the instrument panel, but the final part of the loom remains lost together with the instrument panel itself. An inspection of the remains confirmed my belief that we could not use any of the original wiring from the loom in the restored boat – 34 years underwater had taken their toll. So the decision was taken to save any hardware we could (such as connectors) but re-create a new and reliable loom using suitable period wiring and components to create the most authentic copy possible.

For reference I had most of the boat’s wiring loom, albeit in two pieces – now for the diagrams, I thought. Wrong! It seems that nobody ever documented the wiring, which started life supporting the Beryl-equipped boat and was then adapted incrementally as K7 went through many design iterations, culminating in the relatively big changes during the Orpheus installation in 1966. The result was a mass of differing types of wiring, from original 1950s cloth-covered to late 1960s plastic insulated wire and even some of the old red, black and green cored domestic mains appliance cable!

Using photos of the boat, the Team’s knowledge and a process of deduction, I created a list of the electrical and electronic systems in the 1966 revision of K7: Start system, Orpheus Igniters, LP Fuel Boost Pumps, Fire Suppression System, Orpheus Rev Counter and Jet Pipe Temperature gauges, Low Oil Pressure and Low LP Boost Pressure indicators, Bilge Pumps, Water Brake control, Radio.

Next step was to lay out the old wiring loom and try to match the remains with the list of systems – several attempts were needed to account for the function of all wiring ways and it struck me that as I connected my equipment to the various wires for testing, I was the first person to energise the loom since Donald Campbell fired up K7 on 4th January 1967. That focused my mind considerably...

The sharp-eyed among you may be able to see the Battery connections at the top left of the wiring loom photo. K7 used a 24 Volt d.c. supply, derived from two 12 Volt batteries in series. The main feed from the battery bank is brought to a central terminal panel and fed out to all systems from there using a star type distribution. In the wiring loom photo, this panel is in the centre of the picture.

The next picture shows a close-up of the main battery input terminals on the connection panel – they are under the black cover in the centre. Battery power enters from the bottom, negative on the left and positive on the right, and is then distributed out to the many systems via multiple connections, mainly at the top. Note how the top left hand side of the cover has been cut away in the corner to accommodate the increasing number of connections as systems were added (like the Water Brake) over the years.

During my tracing tests, I removed the top cover from the main battery terminal connector and was surprised to see that there was no sign at all of a clamp screw on the right hand positive stack of connections. None at all, not even some corroded remains. Contrast that with the left hand negative side, where the clamp screw is very much intact and tightly screwed down. The only thing containing the right hand positive stack of connections was the shaped top cover:

I assumed that perhaps someone else on the BBP Team had been in there before me and left the screw out. I thought that unlikely, however, and Bill soon confirmed that I was the first person to open the cover since the loom was recovered. Although the cover was retaining the stack of connections, they would not have been in firm contact and we know that the boat vibrated to varying degrees, from gently to quite viciously if the water was disturbed and depending on speed. So this loose stack of connections could have been making intermittent connection at certain speeds and times and this would affect all systems, including the LP Boost Pump ......which could reduce the input pressure to the HP boost Pump ... which would at least cause surging and maybe a complete flameout. At this point I started looking for flaws in my argument, something to refute the bad connection theory. Then I remembered the radio, which recordings show worked flawlessly and continuously throughout. So, it looked like I was wrong after all and the connections had somehow remained good even though they were not clamped firmly. However, a conversation with Bill and Mike revealed that the military radio system installed by the Army for the 1966/67 attempt used its own local battery supply.... not K7’s on-board power. So the radio would have kept working, even if the battery terminal in K7 was making intermittent contact. This means we have found a possible cause of unreliable fuel pressure and flow – whether this was the case and contributed to the final accident is a matter for considerable debate............

Work to re-create a wiring loom for K7 is continuing and I will provide a future update in Part 2.


So there’s two major jobs largely underway with just the finishing to do and the truth is that, so far as big challenges are concerned, we’re almost done. Think about it. The hull is essentially finished to the point where Mike is refitting widgets and twiddly bits. The sides will rivet on in a couple of days when the time comes so the only big unknown left is the outer floors, but we’ve come so far down the road in terms of mending blasted aluminium that a job that once struck fear into our hearts now lies on the mezzanine looking like just one more thing to do before the choccie and rivets go in.

The sponsons are a done deal – just look at them – works of art built exactly as per the drawings and undoubtedly better examples than the originals, though whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up for debate.

The engine fuel system is in the final stages of being adapted to run a 101 Orph’ and the other systems are only in need of some fine-tuning so what does that leave? We need a canopy and that’ll doubtless be a trip into the unknown, we need a launch cradle too but that’s just a welding job. The long and short of it is that we more or less have a complete boat now and all we have to do is take the time, stick with the programme and put it all together to the appropriate standard.

Keep tuning in…

57 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

An Open Reply to an Open Letter

Dear trustees, Your open letter was read with dismay and some team members have responded privately to which I add my thoughts, which have recently been echoed by many. Everyone is entitled to voice a


bottom of page