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May 2011

At a kiddie’s party recently the missus asked if I’d like a drink and in a moment of nostalgia I asked for a can of Lilt, remembering the sweet pineapply taste I so enjoyed in my youth. But what arrived was not the Lilt of old. It was nasty, watered down waste that you and I might describe using a word beginning with the letter P or, to a medical professional, U. In 2003 with the help of their marketing gurus it seems the Lilt people successfully removed the sugar, grown from cane or beet then extracted at moderate cost, and replaced it with a few drops of a cheaply synthesised amino acid without actually letting on. Well that’s not strictly true. They do tell us that it was ‘reformulated’ to reduce its calorie content by 58% and go on to tell blatant, barefaced lies about it still having the same great taste it’s had since 1975. Of course, the economics of selling flavoured water with a toot of CO2 has nothing to do with this… quite clearly the product is better for you without the calorific disaster that is sugar.

And again, later that same day, by pure chance, I happened upon a tube of Primula cheese. That rich, creamy, flavoursome luxury we used to squeeze onto celery sticks as kids then smack our lips at its smoked ham, prawn or chive accents. Not nowadays… oh no. The modern day, translucent ooze I squeezed from the tube bore a sickening resemblance to gentleman’s fluid, but look on the bright side; they’ve stripped it of all fat, cholesterol and anything else that might ultimately kill those of a sedentary persuasion. Your cleverly packaged tube of half cheese, half emulsified slop has been defused, you’re safe again.

And that’s without mention of the cracker I chose to spread it on, which once upon a time would have been one of those deliciously sharp, salty jobs with ‘Ritz’ on the box but salt is now as much an enemy as sugar so they may as well cookie-cut their product from discarded beermats for all the taste they have nowadays… On the plus side I did buy some extra thick double cream this week to make Roquefort sauce for my steak and each and every calorie was present. The downside is that they stole it off the top of my milk in the first place then sold it back to me, but never mind.

Despite this anomaly the modern way seems to be flogging less for more then dressing it up in clever marketing as the populace becomes increasingly besotted with what they read on their computer screens or soak up through TV advertising.

And, in a similar vein, our project is being noticed more and more by organisations that smell a great opportunity as it nears but completely failed to pick up its faint scent ten years ago and now imagine they can buy in at the last by offering bugger-all in exchange for rather a lot. They’ve mostly missed the boat, literally, and we turn down various offers of so-called help most weeks. We just don’t need the hassle because after ten years of quietly beavering away we’re self-sufficient and being beholden to someone we don’t need would be utter madness.

For example, we had an erstwhile sponsor make a pitch lately to throw in a few quid but with a completely unworkable string attached; a finish date. This, as you may imagine, was an absolute must were they to do us the huge favour of shamelessly exploiting the last five minutes (historically speaking) of our project for their own commercial ends in exchange for what amounted to pocket money when compared to the value of work done without thought of reward by more understanding partners.

No can do, I explained to this quaint little outfit, unless they could tell me how long it would take to calibrate the air system, stop the hydraulics from leaking or mend the tail cover. They tried a different tack. How much quicker would it be done if we took their pennies? Hang on a minute! We don’t get this from the big-boy, aerospace lot so why should we put up with it from what’s a cottage industry by comparison? Needless to say, I could only answer politely saying that it likely would make no difference because even when the boat is ready the deciding factor will likely be weather.

It wouldn’t matter how many new sponsors crowded aboard at this late stage because we couldn’t go any faster anyway. There’s nothing we could write a cheque for today that would be a showstopper later on. We’ve still enough of our unique work to do on the main hull that everything else can be acquired in plenty of time and paying for it up front would not alter the schedule.

Now that’s not to say we’d look a gift horse in the mouth, far from it, and having a few quid spare would certainly give us some latitude when the boat is finished and we find we suddenly need unforeseen tools or maybe an extra hire vehicle or hotel room, but for now the project runs sweet-as with only its light snowfall of donations and the steady exodus of our goodies. It seems more honest and pure that way anyway so we vowed to carry on as before and turned them down – a tiny blip on the screen compared to sacking the lottery fools.

There’s a more sinister aspect to this, of course… Just suppose we involved ourselves in such a scheme and signed away our lives to a timetable while their marketing and promotions lot went hell for leather gearing their richest clients for a thorough fleecing on the appointed day. And then we failed to deliver…

Sour relations, lawsuits, compensation and that’s without the stress in our camp... Best we pick and choose and don’t expose ourselves so stupidly, methinks. Or so the lawyers tell us…

But while we’re on the topic of lawyers – we have our very own bylaw. It’s official, we can go faster than 10mph on Coniston Water without getting arrested and having that in the bag is something of a coup. After years and years the waterlogged derelict that is bureaucracy has finally fetched up on a shoal of common sense and the yes/no conundrum regarding us using our lake of choice has been answered. Our byelaw application has been approved at long last by someone from the government, no less. Our history is sad catalogue of begrudging adoption of one backup plan after the next but here it looks like we’ll get the gold medal position for the first time. We’ve grown up at last. (Metaphorically speaking only, of course).

There’s too many people so richly deserving of praise and thanks in this process and I’m never sure who wants to be named anyway because so many pull strings or drop hints in the corridors of power because they believe in our madcap scheme but daren’t own up for fear of being cast into some committee-free wilderness for a slightly edgy view. Therefore all I can suggest is that you all know who you are and how hard you’ve worked so thanks… and thanks again.

The downside of all this is that our dedicated though small volunteer team is now centre-stage again with ever more people asking the dreaded ‘when’ question so it’s all hands to getting K7’s clothes back on. Building her structure offered little in the way of visual progress most days as the sprouting of an extra outrigger here and a doubler there was difficult to spot and not very exciting anyway but there’re big bits coming together now. Take the flutes, for example.

Having been to Bettablast ( for the standard issue chromate etch-prime and a coat of silver-grey polyester we brought the left hand example back and set about assembling it to the jointing strip that forms a lap joint between the flute and the panels above. Lashings of choccie sauce and hundreds of pins later and we were ready for the rivets.

It took the rivet twins only a few days to bash this little lot together but the end result was very satisfying. All panels below the horizontal deck are designated ‘KWO’ or ‘Keep the Water Out’ as are the joints between them and this one, as you can see by looking, passes muster first time.

Unfortunately, the panels higher up consumed a considerable amount of time that we hadn’t budgeted for. You see, had someone explained back in the day to those involved that should K7 spend thirty odd years under water then be rebuilt it would be bad practice to fasten steel and brass fittings through thin alloy skins because the dissimilar metal corrosion would turn out to be a proper nuisance, things may have turned out differently – but they didn’t.

It took much careful patching to get ahead of this little lot.

As ever, the big problem with inserting patch repairs is the shrinkage caused by welding and the ensuing difficulty in getting the shape back again. In this case we must work to a tolerance of 1/32nd of an inch or 0.79mm because these panels are held on with 1/8th diameter rivets, which is of course 4/32nds, and the next size up is 5/32nds, so if we can get within a 32nd we can upsize and put fresh rivets into lightly tickled-out holes making the boat stronger than ever she was without losing originality. It’s a fusion of heavy rock and microsurgery with hammers.

It took weeks to get them just how we wanted them but the result is excellent.

Every trace of corrosion has been excised, every hole lines up and the shape is precisely as nature (or rather Samlesbury Engineering) intended… One positive to come out of this exercise is that, having cautiously crept up on the problems on this side and bottomed them by degrees, we can now bash seven bells out of the other side knowing precisely the consequence of every hammer blow so there’s much time to be recouped there.

It looks even better with its paint on awaiting final fixing. I’d also like to proudly point out that you’re looking at bare metal with no more than a thin film of polyester on top of a wash-coat of etch primer and not a hint of filler anywhere.

And it’s a far cry from the day it was stripped away back in 2006.

Apart from the tinwork we also have to think of K7’s systems because she obviously has to live and breathe. I remember a discussion with a lottery fool during which I was told it was poor value for their money to connect up the airspeed indicator or throttle pedal or, though the fool didn’t actually say so in as many words, anything else that might’ve made the boat work. It was their somewhat pathetic way of trying to ensure K7 remained properly dead. I just let them go then offered to recruit a volunteer team to rebuild the systems once they’d paid for the hull – you may imagine how that meeting ended. But now the systems are coming together rapidly with the most amazing help from volunteers and British industry.

The good people who are rebuilding our fuel system chose not to accept their share in the glory until they see if it all works, a stance that appeals to my wicked sense of humour no end, but their names would raise your eyebrows and, though I can’t shout their praises from the rooftops as I’d like to, this ought to give you an idea of how seriously everyone takes this work and the level of professionalism involved.

The CCU, or Combined Control Unit, by the way, is basically the engine’s fuel injection system. It meters and controls fuel delivery to the burners in the engine dependent on throttle position and inputs from other modules in the control loop. A very clever hydro-mechanical system from before the days of digital engine controls and its rebuild means that when K7 runs again it will be all the same systems making her move that Donald asked so much of back in 67.

Humbling, isn’t it, and I’d not really appreciated just how fortunate we are to have support at this level until recently, after a presentation I made, when a member of the audience came to see me once I’d shut up and asked how we’d done it as his project had unceremoniously bounced off the same set of sponsors.

Taken unawares, I had no answer… ‘Depends how you ask’, I answered somewhat lamely, though I suspect Donald’s legacy had a hand in our successful outcome...

Another aerospace monster, we were eventually to learn, swallowed up Lucas Rotax, the company that manufactured all the air-start gubbins and they happened to be sitting on all the drawings and tech data for the various valves and twiddly bits. The problem was the lawyers – no surprise there.

Quite rightly, in this day and age, were they to supply information pertaining to a HP air system and I made a hash of it and blew my left ear to kingdom-come this would all be all their fault and I’d be obliged to run crying to my lawyers, bloodied stump in hand… Erm… I think not. I offered that I once crawled through fishing-net-festooned shipwrecks for fun with a HP air system keeping me alive so were I to blow off my ear it would likely be my own stupid doing and I’d be glad to sign anything to this effect. Having had this accepted and subsequently signed a disclaimer I was then given access to a treasure trove of drawings by a splendidly helpful individual who shall remain nameless for now and a long-suffering though equally helpful lady in the print room. The result is this beautiful example of engineering art…

Now I’ll not go too far into this at the moment because its resurrection is to be the subject of a special diary piece all on its own but basically what you see here is K7’s original, bespoke air-start system completely rebuilt, working and properly tested. It’s a monumental example of buggering about in a good cause but more of that later. Back to the flutes… with one finished and painted the other rose to the top of the pile, this one by far the most badly damaged. The forward end was smashed to smithereens for starters. Because the boat crashed down on her left side and flipped over the right took a proper pounding on the first roll and the water punched straight through here.

Disentangling the shredded metal from around the frame tubes required hammers and crowbars and it wasn’t very healthy-looking once we got it free.

But we soon mended it with a new piece of tin. Ironically, we could have mended the original knowing what we know today but those were early days so instead we replaced the mashed part. The section we cut out has since gone on to become a training aid for the rivet team for setting rivets in awkward corners and at the end of that working life it will likely go back into the boat as something else. Waste not, want not…

The new section was pretty enough though. We welded it in for the dry build then didn’t go near again for years.

We got back to the serious stuff recently. It’s one thing to make these parts look OK but another entirely to make them watertight, capable of being fastened to the rest of the craft and reliable in service. John spent countless hours dressing back welds where once there were rivet holes or around patches where corrosion had threatened the integrity of the part.

Next he thoroughly crack-tested the whole thing from one end to the other with gallons of pink dye and shouted for a welder the moment a defect was located.

That took ages too but eventually the flute was ready to be put back and have new holes drilled. They’re 1/8th diameter because the rivets are 5/32nd at their finished size and we’ll drill to the final diameter when it’s time to stitch her together.

You may also notice that the foremost three outriggers are unpainted at this point. That’s because they were shattered in the back of that big hole and had to be repaired and set up at the same time as the flute was mended. The whole shebang was soon despatched to Bettablast and it wasn’t long before the last outriggers were up there with the rest awaiting the attention of the rivet twins.

Now, as everyone knows, this project is led and run entirely by volunteers and you’ve met most of them but here’s someone you’ve not come across yet.

Meet Barry… The story goes like this. Being interested in all things engineering I often wander off across the good old Interweb in search of intriguing things of that nature and one day I came across this. Here’s another. Finding myself absolutely flabbergasted I looked further and found this. And this… Let me give you a few facts about those model engines… The magnetos actually work and deliver something like 24 sparks per revolution – Barry wound the coils using wire he unwound from mobile phone earpieces and the sparks go down little stainless braided leads to teeny-tiny spark plugs. Then there’s a set of fully functioning, 1/5th scale instruments on the back so he can see what’s going on when things are running. The oil rings on the miniature Eagle engine each have eighty holes drilled through them and when I asked Barry how on earth he managed that he simply shrugged and said, ‘with a cobalt drill’ – the list goes on. I have since seen these engines for real and they are utterly mind boggling in their detail and precision so you may imagine that I could think of a few jobs that Barry may be able to help us with if only I could track him down. This took a while but having proved marginally easier to locate than Osama Bin Laden, Barry eventually mailed me his phone number having been introduced by a mutual associate and after a bit of a chat he agreed to help. This was one of our early collaborations. See this crudded up lump of junk…

… it’s one of two igniters shot fed sparks into the Orph to get the fire going and after 34 years under water it was knackered.