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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 01:26 GMT 02:26 UK
Rivals prepare for speed challenge
Ken Warby's boat
Ken Warby's garage-built boat is waiting in the wings
By the BBC's Peter Gould

It's the most dangerous speed record in the world, and many of those who have tried to break it have died.

The quest to be the fastest human being on water has inspired generations of speed fanatics.

Nobody who is building a boat at the moment is going to break my record

Ken Warby, the world's fastest man on water

When Australian Ken Warby propelled his jet boat to a staggering 317.6 mph, back in 1978, many people thought the limit had been reached.

In 1967, Donald Campbell was killed trying to break the 300 mph barrier. His boat Bluebird took off, flipped over and disappeared.


This year has finally seen the recovery of Bluebird, and the body of Campbell, from the depths of Coniston Water in the Lake District.

By coincidence, this renewed interest in one of Britain's greatest record breakers comes as three men are preparing to do battle over the water speed crown.

Ken Warby
Ken Warby thinks his record is safe
In the Australian corner is Ken Warby, still the fastest man on water, who has built a new boat to try to ensure he holds onto that 23-year-old record. But this time his son Dave may be the driver.

Their principal challenger is Nigel Macknight, who aims to bring the record back to Britain with his boat Quicksilver. Construction is underway, and his futuristic craft should be in the water next year.

But a third hat has now been thrown into the ring. American challenger Russ Wicks already holds the record for the fastest propeller-driven boat, with a speed of 205 mph.


Now he wants the big prize, and he has put together a consortium that includes aerospace and motor racing engineers. Their boat is still at the design stage.

Nigel Macknight relishes the prospect of a three-way fight.

Famous record holders
1930: Sir Henry Seagrave (UK)
98 mph
1939: Sir Malcolm Campbell (UK)
141 mph
1964: Donald Campbell (UK)
276 mph
1967: Lee Taylor Jr (USA)
285 mph
1978: Ken Warby (AUS)
317 mph

"The contest for the record was almost moribund, so it's wonderful it is all coming together in this way," he says.

"Competition can provide a tremendous spur. It will help us all to raise our game as we try to beat one another."

As the record holder, Warby is dismissive about his rivals, and says he will wait to see how they fare before he enters the fray.

"Nobody who is building a boat at the moment is going to break my record," he told News Online.

"I would like to see it happen, then I will let my son Dave take out the boat and push the record up to 400 mph."

Sound barrier

And Warby believes that even higher speeds will be achieved in future.

Russ Wicks
American challenger Russ Wicks already holds one record
"One day someone will go through the sound barrier on water," he predicts.

But although he says that driving his previous boat was "very easy", he is in no doubt about the risks involved in going for the record:

"It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication, and you do not want to enter into it lightly. It is extremely dangerous."

The Australian, who now lives in America, built his new boat in his garage. He thinks that if someone does take his record, it will be a lot easier to get sponsorship from his home country, as national pride will be at stake.

"But at the moment, we're just sitting and waiting," he says.

Sporting contest

You get the impression that he would relish a fight to retain his crown, and he has thrown down the gauntlet to his rivals.

Nigel Macknight
Nigel Macknight plans to return the record to Britain
"So far there is a lot of talk out there," he says.

"So let's see them put their throttle foot where their mouth is."

But Nigel Macknight won't be drawn into a war of words. His response: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have got to be sporting to one another."

Since the 1920s, the world water speed record has been held by Britain, the United States and Australia. So it seems appropriate that the old rivals are once again preparing to take to the water.

The spirit of Donald Campbell and Bluebird is still alive.

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