BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: UK
Front Page 
Northern Ireland 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Monday, 1 October, 2001, 01:20 GMT 02:20 UK
Quicksilver aims for speed record
Designed to skim over the water at 400 mph
By the BBC's Peter Gould

A British man is planning a new assault on the world water speed record.

Nigel Macknight says that after an absence of 34 years, it is time the record was returned to Britain.

Going for the record is not entirely safe, but it is an acceptable risk

Nigel Macknight
He believes his boat Quicksilver can make him the fastest man on water, and plans are underway for an attempt on the record at Consiston Water, in the Lake District.

"There is unfinished business on Coniston," he says, with quiet determination.

Campbell legacy

He is referring to Donald Campbell, the last Briton to hold the water speed record. He died on the lake in 1967, attempting to take his boat Bluebird through the 300 mph (480 km/h) barrier.

His body was recently recovered from the depths, and is now buried in a local churchyard.

Nigel Macknight
Nigel Macknight: Focused on the record
Nigel Macknight aims to succeed where Campbell failed. Construction of his boat is now well underway, with water trials scheduled for next summer, possibly in France or Switzerland.

The attempt on the record is expected to follow at Coniston, during the winter months.

Quicksilver is designed to reach 400 mph (640 km/h). But because the lake only provides a five-mile (8 km) run, it will be difficult to go beyond 325-330 mph (520-530 km/h).

The current record, set in 1978 by Ken Warby of Australia, stands at 317.6 mph (511.1 km/h), leaving only a small margin for success.


Nigel Macknight's challenge will cost 3m. It's a huge sum, but he has already raised half, through sponsorship with more than 30 companies.

Quicksilver design concept
Speed: 400 mph
Engine: Rolls-Royce Spey 101 turbofan
Thrust: 11,030 lbs
Construction: high tensile steel tubing, honeycomb panels
About 100 individuals have volunteered their support, among them members of the Thrust team who captured the world land speed record.

Nigel does not back away from the obvious question: isn't this incredibly dangerous? Donald Campbell died when his boat took off and flipped over. Others have been killed chasing the same record.

"The risks are on a par with motor sports and mountaineering," says Nigel, who is 46 and lives in Lincolnshire.

"It is not entirely safe, but it is an acceptable risk."


He points to the improvements in technology since Campbell's day, and cites motor racing as an example.

Donald Campbell Quicksilver
Donald Campbell: Died trying to break 300 mph barrier
"It has altered out of all recognition," he argues.

"We like to think there has been a similar evolution in our project."

Donald Campbell's boat Bluebird was never designed to travel at 300 mph.

Quicksilver has been through an extensive period of development, including tests of models in a wind tunnel and a water tank, and inevitably in this day and age, computer simulations.


"The key is that we are making the risks more acceptable by applying modern technology to the age old problem of going quickly on water," says Nigel.

"A speed of 300 mph is borderline. If we are to get to the next level we have to understand what happens at the interface between water and air.

Years in the planning: the futuristic Quicksilver
"If Campbell had modern technology it would have saved him. Sensors would have warned him that the boat was close to taking off."

Nigel Macknight is determined to see his quest through to a successful conclusion.

He clearly feels an emotional pull towards Coniston, and bringing the record home to the Lake District would be a tribute to the memory of Donald Campbell.

But his determination is tempered by caution:

"We will be pretty fired up, but we have to be calculating. The excitement is driving us on, but we have to keep an eye on the science.

"We lost the record six months after Donald Campbell died, and we want to bring it back to Britain.

"But it's not death or glory."

Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories