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Nowt like having a deadline to ramp things up

Coming thick and fast now – nowt like having a deadline to ramp things up but in fairness it’s perfect timing. We now find ourselves assembling all the lovingly recreated and rebuilt parts prepared then stored away without time-pressure or compromise over the years and it’s the best fun in the world. Parts previously only fitted with a spoonful of pins are now going on with a full complement of screws and more often than not that last fighty fastener will keep us on our toes for days so there’s lots to do and write about so the diary is fun all over again.

Garnered a load of extra followers since our day with Sky News and the One Show too. We’ve been under many people’s radar as a bit of a geeky project for many years but with the admixture of our massive media shot and a pot of blue paint we’re suddenly hot property. Our shop is busy and the donations keep coming, which is just as well because we’re always a bit skint whilst haemorrhaging money on our Bute trip – but it’s worth every penny.

So – here we go. The Don Quixotes have mostly run for the hills now but one threw a final insult over her shoulder by calling me a sexist as she went. Oh, how I laughed at that and wished she could come live in our house for a week. So, for a serving of K7 with a kale smoothie and a Quorn side, scroll to the first pic, otherwise, be prepared to fire up that keyboard…


Sexist indeed!

Well, I guess I ought to be. I live with three dyed in the wool sexists so it’s bound to rub off.

First off, there’s the wife of 15 years whom I’ve been friends with since she was nine years old and I was twenty-one (not like that). Then we have two daughters – Lucy. who’s twelve and breaking in her new bras, and the little one, Emily, who is nine and loved her appearance on the One Show alongside her Daddy. Can’t imagine where she gets it from. And even the dog (Meg the collie) is a bitch.

And so, within this environment, where the kids get to school on time properly fed watered and attired, the bills get paid and everyone gets done what has to be done, there are rules about who does what.

There are blue jobs and pink jobs.

A pink job, for example, would be putting things in the dishwasher. Despite my best efforts over many years I’ve failed to decrypt the code that defines which plate goes where relative to whatever mug or used cooking utensils on the second Tuesday in July with the result that I’m barred from loading the dishwasher and must leave my used offerings on the worktop above. But should the dishwasher fail in any way – well, that’s most definitely a blue job and Daddy is expected to immediately disembowel the kitchen and have everything working and as before in record time. Likewise, the exotic washing machine... Operating that is a pink job through and through but should it stop working, getting it going again is unquestionably blue. And the ironing board and iron – pink all day. I’m not ironing because that’s women’s work and there’s an excellent reason for this. Whereas women can iron, natter on the phone to their mum and watch the soaps all at the same time, a bloke with his innate inability to multi-task can only iron so its torture and we make this known. But then the bra-burning, roll their own tampons brigade would rather disavow this clear advantage over their male counterparts because it suits their innate need to call us sexist instead.

None of that nonsense in our house, however. Those clumsy females are barred from ever touching the lawn mower, chainsaw or anything to do with house electrics, plumbing, cars or any other piece of bloke-kit because they’re not checked out on it and would simply make work for the man of the house and, probably, the local A&E dept.. And guess what, everyone is blissfully content with our arrangements.

How could you not be? I mean – I’m sure with enough careful instruction and guidance I could train one of them to start the mower and cut the grass without trying to multi-task and losing a limb, whilst I’m equally sure the dishwasher code has to be simpler than that devised by Mr. Da Vinci, were I to properly apply myself, but who gives a crap? We’re perfectly happy sexists together with our pink and blue jobs.

But that’s quite enough blatant common sense – let’s get back to the dysfunctional world in which we live. It was suggested this week that we carry out our proving trial on Coniston Water in either April next year or October just before Records Week.

April is most definitely out because we won’t have a boat. The list of things we’re going to have to do properly once we get back from Scotland is growing steadily. By way of an example there’s something like a hundred bolts holding in the main spar but not all of them have worked. A few captive nuts wouldn’t play and some bolts just wouldn’t start. Now there’s no way this is an issue for what we plan to do on Bute because half a dozen good ones either side would do what’s needed but we could never sign her off as finished with spar bolts missing so all that has to come apart again for starters. Then there’s the paintwork, onboard air start and myriad other tasks along with a detailed inspection of every crevice before we can say we’re 100% happy that our rebuild work is complete. We’re going to be at least 12 months in-build when we get back so that leaves October. Not a lot better because, having consulted with various attendees of Records Week, we reckon the weather will deny us so much running that we’d achieve next to nothing – we need a glass-calm, or very nearly. The best guesstimate is that we’d get one day out of five so there wouldn’t be much chance of anyone seeing the boat run and only half the period suggested is in the school holidays so that’s the chances of inspiring the kids pretty much up in smoke too. Apparently years go by between those who enjoy lie-down hydroplanes getting to chance their luck at Records Week because they need flat calm too.

Moons ago we obtained ten years’ worth of Met Office wind data and crunched it to see when we had the best chance of success. May, June, July and August and after that it gets blowy again. Or, put in Malcolm Speak, we can only run in months without an ‘R’ in them.

Ah, but climate change and all that nonsense, one especially annoying enviro-mentalist tried to argue. It’s all changed. But, of course, it hasn’t and enviro-mentalists are mostly stupid anyway. More often than not their standard question regarding running the boat is simply,

“But what about the environment?”

And that’s all they have! They never work out all on their own that were we to take K7 fully fuelled into the middle of the lake and dynamite her there’d be nothing to see by morning and that would be that. Nor have they worked out that the vast expanse of reeds at the South end belches huge quantities of oil and methane straight into the lake and atmosphere so they’re unlikely to get that the wind is still the same as it ever was and ever likely to remain so unless we all live to be a million years old

But being blown off the water is not the biggest issue.

To go to Coniston intending to run at any time is going to cost a fortune. Yes, we have some sponsors, (and Coniston must find some too as all their traffic management and hospitality and such won’t come cheap) but our backers won’t cover everything and should we burn our bridges by purposely choosing the wrong time of year they’ll be away down the road before you can say, ‘I’m going!’ In reality they’d most likely just question why we’re messing about in winter then stand down. We could ask our fans and loyal supporters instead but with the very real possibility that they too would see nothing for all their generosity but us staring frustratedly over a choppy lake for two weeks then going home. Then there’s the question of our team of volunteers spending a second family holiday largely ignoring their loved ones in Coniston after spending the previous one ignoring them on Bute – especially in October. It’s a big ask.

We’re spending our savings to go to Bute and it’s not a spectator event, strictly speaking. It’s something we have taken upon ourselves so it’s on us if nothing goes right and no harm done. But going to Coniston is different because the moment we announce any activity over there the media will spring into action and before you know it literally tens of thousands of people will flock to pay homage to Donald and his big tin bitch (or to see another gladiator swallowed by 150ft of water) and if that’s going to happen it may as well happen when the weather is likely to offer the best chance of seeing something. It has been hinted that October is on the table because things might be quieter and therefore easier to manage but it wouldn’t be quieter for long, would it. There’d be more people turn up in October because we’re there than ever there was in a month without the R so why not just pitch the whole circus into when the weather is best and the days longest?

It would be a PR disaster if we put the world to so much trouble then got blown out but not for us because people are going to ask, quite rightly, why we rocked up just as winter was taking a grip and we’ll righteously stand before the cameras and say it wasn’t our idea and we warned against it. It’s a very high risk strategy for no gain that we can see.

And this is all without the question of putting the boat on public display. We’ve always said she should be home-ported in Coniston but then we always said she’d run there first too and that enterprise is temporarily stalled. Along with organising the proving trial we should have long since been discussing terms for displaying the boat. No one we’ve ever met wants to see her wheeled in, the doors closed and her never to see daylight again. At the very least she must brought out a couple of times a year for anti-deterioration measures because she’s a living machine and if left standing things will stop working. Fuel and fluids must be poured in and everything started and cycled to keep everything free and in top-class order. Then there will be times when the BBP needs to borrow her back for charitable or promotional reasons – only fair considering our ten years of superhuman effort and our intention to continue the BBP to sponsor young engineers, record breaking projects or whatever takes our fancy, so all of this must be carefully thought out lawyers instructed and contracts signed.

What is not going to happen is that our proving trial burns its money along with the fire in the belly of its sponsors and the public’s enthusiasm by being blown off the water through poor planning only to then throw the boat in the museum with contracts unsigned and we all go home.

Over my dead body!

But that’s all away in the future so for now we’re madly spannering bits onto our big tin machine and it’s getting very exciting.


The first thing to do was to get her down off her rollover jig. This has been our single most indispensable tool; serving us wonderfully whilst not killing or seriously injuring anyone, which is a marvel in itself. But now it had to go because it completely closes out two areas that we have to build – the transom and the main spar box.

Built for us ten years ago by Ivanhoe Forge, who are currently recreating our launch and recovery trailer, it has come to the end of its working life so we packed it away with mixed feelings and lifted the boat back onto the dolly we used to get her out of the lake in 2001.

The damn thing had a final gotcha for us, though. You see, when we modified the dolly with those cut-outs to accept the lifting beams the boat was further back because we’d taken her off the jig to do the spars and sort out the geometry at the front and as the sponsons stick forwards of the nose by a couple of feet, further back was a good idea. Then we somehow got her back onto the rollover jig and forgot about all this. So you may imagine our consternation when next we slung her up only to find that the cut-outs were in completely the wrong place. After much puzzling and head scratching we resorted to bodily lifting the hull while someone slid the beams one at a time until it all lined up.

We put plenty of fleece under there too to avoid any damage to the paintwork. When she goes onto the new cradle it’s topped with oak planking and neoprene rubber as per Ken’s instructions.

The air intake structure was painted at the same time as the main hull but to mount that up we first had to get the fuel tank painted and check on its fit as it lives inside the intakes encompassing the duct like a huge doughnut and it all has to be loaded as one large assembly – a task involving about six people to lift it high enough, pass it over the boat then lower everything into place without it jamming or scratching anything.

The tank, beautifully mended by our friends at Proalloy, was given a few coats of automotive two-pack silver with a satin finish to look exactly like its former self before we fitted it.

Came up rather well, did that, considering what it’s been through and here it’s about all set to go back in.

One thing we’ve done a lot of lately is to install something completely. We’ve had the tank in and out countless times 07 this was the first time we built and installed the steel strap that spans over the top to hold it down and it’s going nowhere.

With the tank and intakes fastened down we could plumb in the fuel system as far as the engine. For those new to all of this, and there’s a quite a few if our stat’s are anything to go by, when the Orpheus engine was installed in 1966 the engineers at the time decided to add an additional fuel tank low in the hull with a 24v electric boost pump to apply a positive pressure – in the order of 9psi – at the entrance to the engine fuel pump. This little tank held about six gallons and was filled with fuel siphoning down from the main tank via a filter mounted on the bulkhead immediately behind the main tank. But this didn’t work, or so they thought, so they took out the filter (there’s another on the engine itself so no bits would reach the super-sensitive hydro-mechanical computer that is the fuel control system) and added a second one gallon tank with a second pump so now there was 18psi at the engine and this worked – briefly.

If you look at the back of the tank you can see two hoses emerging. The one on the right is the breather and it leads through a grommet to a piece of ordinary copper pipe bent into a rough right-angle.

In the pic’s of 66/67 some days it was seen to be facing forwards, perhaps to give a small amount of tank pressurisation, and sometimes facing aft. On the morning of the 4th, it faced aft. Either way, probably the best that could be hoped for is that it would let the tank breathe, as per its design intent.

The other pipe takes fuel down to the swirl pot and thence to the engine but notice the little sticky-up widget just after it leaves the tank. The thing is, the fuel delivery is via a siphon and that will only work when there’s not a big bubble at the top so what you do is fill the tank to above the sticky-up thing then depress a valve on the top of it, which vents the trapped air and forms the siphon. Next stop – the swirl pot.

No picture of the small tank, or swirl pot, as we call it seems to exist from 66/67 so its revelation in 2001 confirmed the anecdotal evidence of its existence. It’s 100% original though with a new outer skin welded over the perforated one beneath and the pump is the rebuilt original too.

That’s it there being all grey and shiny. Now then, what they did when making this improvement was to simply spanner the fuel filter out and shove this in its place but a big problem was forcing the rubber hose that came off the filter around the crazy angles to feed the next tank down. It was so tight that they cut and gas welded one of the fittings to squeak enough of an angle to get the inch BSP fittings to start. This was never going to work for us because standards for hydraulic hoses are very different today so if you want an inch BSP fitting what you get is a hose like a tree trunk and with the best will in the world, no amount of bending and cutting and gas welding will get you around that same corner. Another problem existed further down too and that is the utterly inadequate way in which the other tank was held down – two pieces of seatbelt with buckles. This wouldn’t be so bad but for the fact that the LP fuel cock is mounted rigidly to the tank so the action of opening and closing this most essential safety feature wobbles the tank back and forth alarmingly with seemingly no means of tightening the belts enough to stop it. It’s not very often we stray from original, especially when you can see it, so it has to be essential but in this case we replaced the rubber hose with a rigid, stainless pipe so now the fuel can be delivered without risk of a hose kinking and it also solidly mounts the other tank and takes all the play out of the LP fuel cock linkages.

One belt is lapped over the top at the right and you can just see the other, unfastened at the left. The LP cock is in the centre with that link rod spanning across to it from the right. This little lot is now fully built and just needs an engine attached to it.

Another system now fully installed and working is the electrics.

Seen here just above Richie’s immaculately restored hydraulic water-brake gubbins is the back of the main electrical panel that has been recreated entirely by our Checkie Rob and Jon Wright. It’s an absolutely faithful recreation because much of the original was past its best but all the choc-block connectors and boxes are original as is the panel itself. One or two other connectors made it through alive too.

Here’s how it used to look…

A nice little choc-block from up in the cockpit was saved too. This is where the cockpit wiring joins the rest of the boat. It came from somewhere in the left-hand cockpit wall but we never positively determined where from because it fell out with the mud when we hosed it out in 2001.

We did, however, make one modification. You see, Bluebird had no fuses, anywhere! So give her an electrical short and we’d likely end up with a fire or serious damage at the very least, so a pair of period, Lucas fuse holders have been sneaked away out of sight to catch any hot, sparky problems.

Whereas every other system on the boat has been a team effort involving everyone, the one notable exception is the wiring, which has been Checkie’s with Jon as his sidekick from the get go. And with it complete our Checkie now has the time to get back to his motorcycle projects so, from all of us – many thanks like you’d not believe. See you soon, Jon, eh?

The hyd system was more or less adopted by Rich and has been his baby for many years and now that’s all properly installed and tested one last time too with the offboard pump. The pressures came up and held beautifully and the ram travels on command from one of Checkie's switches up in cockpit-

-though a small error in one of the connectors to the selector valve that diverts oil to the extend or retract sides of the ram meant that we had some peculiar effects going on before that gremlin was caught and killed. All working now and, of course, with the transom finally clear of rollover jig the water brake and other transom furniture could finally go on for good.

First, though, a nice slathering of high-build primer to give that, many coats of paint over the years, softening effect…

Then a toot of good old Perfection Pro from Rich’s expertly wielded roller.

And with that, clash, clash, clash, on went all sorts of hardware.

Baz from Grimsby took on the steering and did an amazing job of assembling the shafting through bearings the whole length of the boat such that it didn’t jam up or feel tight with only two-thousandths of an inch clearance at each station – quite a feat over the distance involved. So, naturally, to him fell the task of fitting the slightly ill-fitting rudder bearing tube. With the boat having been apart and back together again things move subtly and the tube has to pass through and be attached to the outer floor so some careful needle-filing and dressing was needed to get it all perfect. Loading the rudder involved winching the boat upwards with chain blocks hooked into the Orph’ mounts – they didn’t let go, you’ll be glad to know.

While Baz slid the rudder home.

And there it goes – all buttoned up, connected and ready for action.

Just waiting for Baz to put the split pins through the castellated nuts and the rest of the paint can be touched in. That little housing to keep the water out that encloses the tiller arm at the top of the rudder is the original one too. We call it the ‘pie tin’ and when not connected to the boat it’s a flimsy little thing yet soon as the rivets went in it seemed to set like concrete. The lid is held down with 4BA screws into captive nuts and that’s it all buttoned up and sealed with choccie to keep the water out. Cool, eh…

So you get an idea for the rapidity of the build, and that’s without the staggering amount of organising going on to get us to Bute; some of that next time, perhaps.

So for now we’ll keep on clashing the tinware together and report in due course.

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