Well, well well… it’s been a while since I last sat down to write. I never seem to find the time these days. Much has gone on since last time and now I’m even under pressure from total strangers to write something! Terrible case of writer’s block, I’m afraid. You see, the format is well and truly established; then suddenly I can find nothing to rant about and that’s rather worrying. I mean, all the old stuff still goes on but these days I just think, do I care? You know, the eco-nutters still wibble about how come the world is headed for the next mass-extinction event and it’s all our fault and we have to save all our milk cartons by next Friday or the planet will fry us all in twenty thousand years’ time but nowadays I just think, so what, because according to my doctor I have about thirty years left and if the sun is shining a bit more by then and the place is a little warmer for my aged bones then so much to the good! The fools will blight the skyline with machinery as tall as a Martian fighting machine to eke a few ergs and ohms out of the wind but they wouldn’t dream of binning their iPhones or stop watching a thousand channels of crap on telly ’til daft o’clock in the morning rather than read a book. Crack on… Vets, on the other hand, still deserve a good slap before they get too far out of hand! Remember the last lot that tried to double their bill? They wouldn’t give it up either. For months afterwards I got letters offering a multitude of easy ways to cough up until I wrote to the practice owner and asked him whether he still wanted a new dog. That shut him up at last – or it seems to have for the moment. But that’s only half of the story, you see, because I have, or rather had, two dogs. The recently filleted one is quite young and doing well but the other was getting on and therein lies a tale. He was born in Coniston and offered to me as a pup because he’d proved himself the Billy Elliott of the sheepdog world, preferring sticks to sheep when it came to chasing things so I turned him down but was destined to be unknowingly reunited with him at a rescue shelter three years later. This time I got him out of jail and he spent the next thirteen years methodically crapping on my lawn and absconding at every opportunity, such that I had to bail him out of the police station and the dog-pound on several occasions. But old-age caught up with him and he stiffened with milky eyes and gradually confined himself to snoozing or ambling around the garden. His last excursion was to the hairdressers but everyone in the village knew him by then so they soon had me on the phone and I sent the kids to retrieve him. Then one night I came home to find him having some sort of seizure, foaming at the mouth and thrashing his legs. He recovered but the writing was on the wall. Over the next few weeks he shrivelled to a walking skeleton, had a few more episodes, then one day he lay on the grass, stopped eating and declared game-over. Next morning I called the vets – not the ones who can’t add up – I rang another practice up the road in the opposite direction. “Hello, I have a sixteen year-old collie that’s end of life and needs euthanased.” I explained. Now that ought to have set the tone, you’d think. After all, I’ve buried a few dogs so I know the drill. They booked an appointment for lunchtime and all set for the execution I loaded my knackered old dog onto some old towels in the back of my Land-Rover and set off. The Land-Rover has a rubber mat in the back, which is handy because when a dog dies it bursts and all manner of nasties flood the place – told you I’d done this before. What you don’t want is to carry a smelly old mutt through the surgery then have to lug its sagging carcass back to the car with juice splattering your boots. They’ll give you a rubble sack if you ask or offer to cremate your pet so you get a pot of ashes that includes bits of anthrax infected sheep but that’s horribly undignified so best to take a van so you can just open the back door and let the vet do his thing. So, soon enough, Mr Herriot was prodding and poking and telling me things I knew already. That something terminal was heralded by the catastrophic weight-loss and seizures, that the dog was old and end of life and it would be the kindest thing to ‘help him on his way’ but first we’d have to set up his records on the practice computer because I’d never set foot in the place before so none of us knew one another. “What’s the point of that?” I asked. “It’s not like you’ll be adding a lot to it.” But t’ vitnery wasn’t to be got round so easily. In we went while the poor animal heated up in the back of the van and a girl on the desk tapped in my address and phone number (why?), asked if he was castrated? WTF! and a thousand other details they needed before they could kill my dog. I’d already made it clear that I wanted the deed done in the back of the van so all the vet had to do was grab his kit so, having had my life story punched into the computer, he finally fetched a nurse, some tools and a muzzle and headed back to the van. There really wasn’t any need of a muzzle, the poor old boy was too far gone and anyways he knocked most of his teeth out years ago chasing stones. They snipped some hair off his leg, popped a catheter into the vein then, after a minute to let him settle, the vet squeezed a syringe full of Ribena down the pipe. The effect was near instantaneous and it was a mercy to watch the stress evaporate and the breathing stop. Job done. I went back inside with my debit card but Mr Herriot had hurried off to his next job and by the time I arrived there was no sign of him. “What do I owe you?” I asked the girl who’d taken my details. “Sorry,” She said. “The vet has to update your pet’s record then close out of there before I can raise your invoice and he seems to have forgotten and gone off somewhere. “The dog’s dead,” I pointed out bluntly. “There’s nothing to update, nor will there ever be.” But she was having none of it. Vet-Boy had to be located, sent to his office and sat down at his computer until he closed out of the file so that girlie could hit me for ninety-four quid. That was that. Well, sort of. Next I had to dig a bloody big hole in the garden through a layer of semi-set clay, wrap the dog in a burlap bag (at which point the ooze got me – yuk!) and plant him with a nice rose-tree on top and a few rocks so the foxes can’t have him back out of there for supper. We had a few tears from the kids but the cycle of life is well accepted and understood in these parts and life moved on swiftly, so I imagined that to be the end of the matter until they start shouting for a puppy. That was until I received a hand-written card in the post, signed by it seemed the entire staff of the vets. ‘Thinking about you at this difficult time’. They have to be joking! I only met three of them. One killed my dog as he does every day for a living, the nurse barely spoke and the other hit me for a hundred quid at what ought to have been the very height of my grief without batting an eyelid. Whoever the others were I have no idea and had any of them paid the slightest attention they’d have known in an instant that it wasn’t a difficult time there and then so it was hardly likely to be one a week later. Their card should have read- ‘Thinking of how to hang onto a customer.’ Vets – bloody mercenaries, every one of them. But having had a second vet experience I took the time to re-read the last diary to see where we’d left off. Basically, we’d mostly sorted the sponsons leaving us the upper fairings and a thousand other details to finish. Although they’re the same to look at, as a rebuild the sponson tops were very different, mostly because we had lots of Righty and almost none of Lefty.
It all came down to how the boat hit the water. Because Original Lefty hit first the skins were obliterated but those adorning Original Righty’s top were blown away and fluttered harmlessly to the lakebed, a bit crumply but mostly available to us as you can see above. Took a bit of straightening, though. Mending them is like sitting watching a clock. It definitely moves but you just can’t quite seem to see it doing so.
Many hours of careful pushing, welding, patching, tweaking and shrinking and you look and think, when did we do that?
The noses of both sponsons are new-build, unsurprisingly, as both originals stayed with the sponsons, crushed horrifically flat. They’re a very tricky shape so they took a bit of thinking about, not to mention many rounds of modifying. In actual fact we built four of them and worked in the best two. Aft of the nose, the next two panels on Righty are original. The one where the front spar passes through and the next one aft that used to say ‘Do Not Stand Here’ on the top, which is removable-
The chunk aft of that where the main spar passes through is new but the end-cap is back to original as are most of the formers underneath.
Although the shapes look about right they’re only roughed out at this early stage and that section of sponson top with the infinity symbol scribbled on in Sharpie was destined to be cut and shut a time or two more before the shape was deemed correct, which is all a little pedantic when faced with Ken’s drawings of how he wanted them to be and the pictures of what was actually built. But the shapes were challenging and there was no excuse for not rising to it. You can also see some repairs going into the end cap. See where a triangular piece has been grafted in at the bottom? We noticed later that a portion of the missing piece was left clinging to the recovered sponson.
Spooky or what? Interestingly, the reason the end cap didn’t just pop off intact is due to an error in the drawings that Samlesbury didn’t spot and we very nearly followed suit. The drawing calls for both side skins and the bottom sponson skin to extend beyond the final bulkhead by an inch to allow for attachment of the end cap, which is joggled in behind it. But the drawing has this misrepresented and it’s easy to get it wrong, though a careful study makes it beyond question what was required. But they missed it first time around leaving the only option to squeeze the end cap skin between the outer sponson skin and the aftmost bulkhead with lots of rivets and oodles of yellow Yak-Poo sealant, all blended in- very roughly- with lashings of filler. Thus secured there wasn’t a hope of it getting loose in one piece so we didn’t get it all back. We built to the drawings this time. Then as we progressed our top covers, and with perfect timing, one day this bit of tangled tinware turned up on eBay, of all places-
We all immediately recognised it as very likely being a genuine piece of the boat, and the seller was a sound chap and weighed it over FOC when he realised that it had a rightful home to go to. It was local to our Jordan, who was despatched to collect it, and upon receiving and flattening it out somewhat we knew without any shadow of a doubt that it was from the boat.
Note the thin canvas, used all over K7 in conjunction with the Yak-Excreta to seal all the joins. The next question was, where did it come from? With the sponson tops so well in progress we were already extra familiar with what we had, what had been recovered in ’67 and what was missing. Mike was in his element, swiftly narrowing down the location it had come from. Turns out it was a piece of the right hand sponson top, the second section which covers the front spar.
Not only was it a perfect fit, but astonishingly, torn fragments that were still trapped under the screws fitted perfectly back into their holes in the outer, spar closing plate.
From there on it was just a matter of fully flattening the piece, blasting it clean, reinstating the joggle and welding it back where it had come from. Marvellous!
That was that for the first round of Righty mending. We have a sort of an unwritten code in our workshop that says that when you get bored of something you just park it and do something new. It all gets revisited and finished off in the end and the result is way less boredom and morale-sapping drudgery than if we were doing this for a day job. So we wandered around to Lefty. Not much to play with over there, I’m afraid, so we had to build much from scratch. The nose was all new… and the keen-eyed will notice the addition of the lower plate under the front of the sponson in this shot, but more of those later.
Initially, the next section aft of the top cover was new too. That was until we enjoyed a last flutter of ‘reverse conserveering’. It’s likely the final time we’ll do it. For those new to the party we invented the term ‘conserveering’ to describe the fusion of good museum conservation practice and practical engineering in order to bring an otherwise dead machine or components thereof back to life. The museum people hated it for its suggestion of change and advancement and all sorts of other forward-thinking but we liked it. Reverse-conserveering meant building something new then using it as a sacrificial tool to conserve the old material. How it works is this. You make up a brand new part then partially push the old scrap you dragged from the lake to the shape it used to be then let it into the new panel where it steadily supplants the beautiful part you just made. Richie was justifiably proud of the new panel he made but was blissfully unaware that we had all that lovely original tin waiting in the wings…
It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster of a panel but at this point most of Richie’s carefully crafted new skin is in the scrap bin and the old stuff, retrieved from where it had clung to the end of the front spar in the crash, has been reinstated near enough to where it’s supposed to be that we can shrink and planish until it’s spot on. Then, once again, the job was shelved so we could assuage the boredom with a change of scenery, namely the removable top cover.
This, again, is all new-build right down to the internal formers but at least these new parts are quick and relatively easy. We could have rolled this in one but to be sure of getting it spot on it was rolled in two pieces with a weld along the spine. The next section back is also new.
It might look like a straightforward shape but, believe me, it isn’t! If you study K7’s sponsons carefully you’ll see that the radius on the inside is much tighter than the outboard one. Ken – why? By the way, it’s all built with 1mm material so there’s no use in trying to get it close then grinding and sanding and filing as you’d be through it in no time. The shape has to be right in the first place. The former in the back was new-build on this side too so that only leaves the end cap. We made a tool from the other end cap but a minor manufacturing error in Lefty Sponson (that you’ll never notice in a million years) meant we had to make a mod’ or two before we were happy.
Here the side has been cut out again. It was built once then deemed no good so out it came. There’s also a chunk of the former missing but it was all very soon put back with a better result next time. We’re only building one of these so it’ll be right and you’ll all just have to wait.
There, now. That’s an acceptable shape. Only some finishing to do and it’ll be signed off by the quality man. By the way – because we’re always honest – about that manufacturing fault. If you look very carefully at the very rearmost end of the side sponson skin you can just about see that it leans in slightly towards its upper edge. It was just enough to ruin the lines of the end cap, which is why we made the mod’. Those top covers were a world of rolling, wheeling, welding and hammering but much other stuff was going on at the same time. One example was these superb stabilising fins for the planing wedges which Barry from Grimsby, or ‘BFG’ as he’s known, had made for us-
The fins were yet another instance of there being three totally different original drawings from 1954, none of which matched the fins that the boat actually rolled out of Samlesbury’s with, which were subsequently drastically altered into the shapes seen here anyway…honestly, how do we ever get anything done on this thing? But after yet more archive photo scrutiny to create our own drawing, BFG was able to have these made and thus by default lumbered himself with the task of drilling into the precious planing wedges to fit them. As he did so, we were all very quiet and respectful, and in no way tried to take the wee-wee out of him or put him off…
Another job that BFG largely made his own was the part repair, part rebuild of the lifting lugs for the ends of the main spar, seen here in a nice coat of zinc due to the tolerances being such that our normal thick powder coat could potentially cause bother. These only have to support the entire weight of the boat should she be craned into the air, and in no way did we wind Barry up about that, either…
Another nice aside from the sponson drudge was a visit from Bluebird’s new driver Ted Walsh, who popped in at the start of the year to see if the cockpit had gotten any bigger yet. It hadn’t.
And how’s this for sweet- a recreation of the boat’s radio aerial, made by return of post by the incomparable Barry Hares- or as we call him these days, especially when BFG is around, ‘Clever Barry’.
Largely, though, everything has stayed pretty sponson-centric one way or another, but at least we have more crew these days so there’s never a shortage of willing hands, not least because the other thing that’s happened since last we set some of this down is the tragic demise of the poor little Barra’ Project. Everything was wonderful until museological control migrated to Portsmouth following the merging of four museums and suddenly everyone was running scared because now there was three too many of everyone. Change was afoot, redundancies loomed and everyone was petrified of admirals, which is OK if you joined the navy but we never did so an admiral is just a bloke who puts his trousers on one leg at a time like everyone else. Now here was the problem, because even though it was a crunched up ball of scrap, the old Barra’ was still on their books as an aeroplane and each aeroplane, should it go off-site- on loan to another collection, for example- must have a contract, insurance and a contractor to take care of it. But they had volunteers in this instance and no paperwork – only trust – so this needed changing in a hurry before Admiral Sir Timothy-Ponsonby-Smallpiece had them all keel-hauled. But the contract offered was untenable so we refused to sign. Apart from anything else it committed us to insuring their scrap for 50K while we had the pleasure of making it back into an aeroplane for them for free! Panic set in at once and they pulled their project to cover their bottoms before said bottoms were dragged over the barnacled bottom of a ship. Thus far we could at least see what had happened and a hundred ways remained to part company graciously but instead they told the most hideous lies in public about how we weren’t really volunteers, and that they’d been trying for two years to negotiate a contract when they’d done nothing of the kind, and here began to emerge a hint of the old HLF mentality. You see, one of the Hapless Lottery Failure’s best tricks back in the day was to say something ridiculous from their position of believing themselves above question only to have it pointed out that they’d missed something on the way in and were now being held up as the fibbers they actually were. Of course we were volunteers! The whole world knows that much. And why had they stripped and shipped the entire rear fuselage for their plane to us only a few weeks earlier if contract negotiations were so shaky? It was all a bluff from their Office of Public Misdirection. We were disgusted and they were soon told they’d lost the changing room and that we’d now have to empty the unit and convert it back so it could be let. We told them to put someone on the EasyJet to come and see their junk off the premises but they didn’t want to blow the fifty quid even though they were sitting on six grand that we’d raised for them so instead they wriggled and twisted and tried not to pay the rent they owed, claiming they weren’t actually tenants even though they’d negotiated a 100% rates rebate with the local authority and paid rent invoices for two years. While we waited the four months it took them to sort themselves out we boxed and bagged and the mess was finally shipped out but they managed to lose some of it, thus adding insult to their self-inflicted injuries. At the same time, we also had a box of small bits left here that they didn’t even know they’d missed because there was never any inventory or manifest when material was shipped up, so we sent that back along with a band-saw that the museum had given us to make wooden tooling. They said it was broken so if we could fix it we could have it. Fix it we did and then they demanded it back – we sent it. At one point they even accused us of nicking their scrap – as though we’d willingly tarnish our reputation over a spoonful of their rubbish. Then their chief liar got to walk the plank, leaving the rest of them to attempt on their own time and limited budget what we were prepared to do for a laugh. A more perfect demonstration of self-defeat would be difficult to envisage. At last glance, they’ve already started making totally unnecessary brand new parts for their plane when they have perfectly good original material to work from, so they’ve already failed, but we’re long past caring now; it was like dealing with children so they’re sacked. The upside of the debacle is that Aerospace Rob is back to being Maritime Rob-
-and the Barra’ Babes gained a ‘Bluebird’ prefix instead.
So with the sponson tops all but done we turned to the other myriad details that soak up so many hours yet look like nothing once they’re done. One especially annoying job was the sealing strips. Enough just never seemed to be enough in the K7 design department and having made sealed to death sponson cores and watertight wedges for the boat to run on they then added, just for good measure, a strip of material all the way down either side bridging the joint.
They’re 12 feet long, an inch and a bit tall, a couple of mm thick and extremely wibbly. The original drawing calls for them to be cut from a single sheet, most of which would go to waste because they change direction halfway along, so we welded ours at that point. Then there’s the problem that whoever designed the sponson cores clearly wasn’t speaking to the bloke drawing up the wedges so the top row of screws are 4BA and the bottom ones are 1/8th BSF. Whose stupid idea was that? So you go to the local fastener stockist and ask for those threads in countersunk stainless and they look at you as though you just asked for a unicorn. Then there’s the question of what to screw them into. The wedges were drilled and tapped at MKW but the sponson core drawing called for 4BA captive nuts to be fitted along the inside of the lower extrusions. Yeah, right; a gynaecologist couldn’t get in there to fit captives so once Mike had painstakingly marked and drilled the holes, our great friend Rich became the undisputed king of the Helicoil.
Every hole was tapped and a threaded insert wound in; there’s a fair amount of ‘feel’ required with such tiny Helicoils but Rich made them work. The hundreds of 2BA ones he set all the way around the top of the cores to hold the covers in place worked too.
The sealing strips were dry-built then sent off for painting ahead of the requisite round of choccie and a very careful session on the screwdrivers to gradually pull them into place.
There was a full workshop session in fitting each sealing strip so getting the lot down and cleaned off was a good couple of weeks’ worth of effort but they look just like the old pictures now they’re done.
Then there was the question of the lower plates and here it’s time to put a ghost to rest. Anyone with the faintest interest in K7 will have heard the expression ‘planing shoes’, and here’s why. The aft underside of the sponson is fitted with what the drawings describe as a ‘float wedge’. That’s the item you see above, the part that the boat actually runs on when she’s planing. But the forward, upward sloping part of the sponson was supposed to be clad with something called a ‘shoe’. You can see how they got their name.
But what we didn’t realise until after we’d had new ones manufactured is that the originals didn’t last a week on the boat. Presumably, due to the weight-shedding exercise when she wouldn’t plane, the undersides of the forward ends of the sponsons were instead fitted with a much lighter plate with a downturned edge at the inboard side that proffered a measure of directional stability in the absence of a keel and also kept any inboard-bound spray to a minimum. If these plates were ever committed to a drawing then it’s one we certainly don’t have a copy of, so we delved into the photographic archive again to pull out the salient information, then we acquired the requisite material and the guys at Kirkdale kindly gave it a push for us to get the downturned edge and we set about making it all fit the job.
Naturally we made a meal of getting it all spot-on. We cheated a little with the fasteners and substituted the quarter-BSF stainless, countersunk screws (hard to come by) for M6 (sorry to the purists). We blanked the void in the front of the wedge with choccie-soaked open-cell foam (apparently this recipe is used in combat aircraft to limit battle damage) then slathered choccie everywhere else.
That’ll keep the water out.
Then the final fit.
Lefty received the same care and a beautiful job they turned out. Very pleased with those.
This left us with only the spar fairings to make or mend. Both spars are totally clad in outer skins which overlap in a particular order until you get to the finished job. The first one to go on the front spar resembles little more than a section of heating duct, and it wraps around the top, bottom and rear of the spar-
-and this is followed by the front piece-
Both of these fairings were in excellent condition on the right side, though only the rear piece survived the crash over on the left- the curved, forward fairing, already dented and creased by the previous impact with the duck and subject to the worst of the initial impact in the crash, was absent. Where the spars leave the main hull and where they meet the sponson covers they’re faired in with a further two bits of tin at each end, some of which we had and some we didn’t.
Some parts came up clinging to the ruined skins or to the spars and these underwent the usual repetitive rounds of mending until they looked OK and will look great when they come out of the paint shop.
Like I say – it’s like watching a clock. You can see here that both the fairing and the sponson top have been slowly evolved ever closer to the final shape. We made it a mission not to use any new material in the fairing repairs unless we absolutely had to, and tiny bits of scrap were foraged from the LOOF box and used in. The sheer number of tiny patches needed was quite something, and I think someone was trying to tell me something when I found this set up on my welding bench...
When a much larger piece of original material was needed we turned to the retired inlet duct seeing as we had it to hand and it had no story to tell. After much cutting and bashing, we managed to salvage this piece, which measured about 12x18 inches-