Spring has definitely sprung here in the U.K. and with it the timing could not have been better of the warmer dryer weather that came with it with regards to the next stage of building our jet hydroplane Longbow but more about that later within this update. 

News this month from our good friend Dave Warby over in Australia is that he and his team are due to resume testing of their jet hydroplane Spirit of Australia II. The location for this latest round of tests will be Talbingo Dam NSW, for which we wish them every success. This latest round of high speed development runs will be done in a private rather than as previously public setting as a condition of using Talbingo Dam but Dave says video and photos of the craft in action at this location will be available for all to see in due course. If the weather is kind and these latest tests all go to plan, then Dave and his team hope to return to the more public and larger Blowering Dam, NSW in the second half of this year. 

This month my wife Gill and I attended an evening invitation by the Ruskin Museum, Coniston to celebrate the life and record breaking achievements of Donald Campbell, CBE, his famous boats Blue Bird K4 and Bluebird K7, along with his car Bluebird CN7.

At this gathering of enthusiasts, we were treated by the Museum to a superb buffet and bottomless supply of drinks prior to being seated for a showing of the superb documentary film by David de Lara, titled ‘Remembering Donald’. Gill and I had not seen this film prior to the event and I must say it is highly recommended for any Campbell / Bluebird enthusiast with a terrific collection of interviews, not least of which includes some footage of Donald’s only child, Gina Campbell QSO.

Gina and her partner Brian had come up that evening to be part of the celebration, so after the film was shown it was lovely to hear her speak candidly about her father, both the public side he had to portray to gain the support he did for his record attempts and also the more personal side away from the cameras, that charisma that had people hooked and wanting to be a part of his great adventures. 

My wife and I have known Gina as a dear friend for many years now and whilst she has spent a lifetime being asked about her famous father and grandfather wherever she goes, many are either unaware or fail to give her the credit she so rightly deserves for being an Outright World Water Speed Record holder herself. 

How many Campbell supporters or Bluebird enthusiasts truly appreciate that Gina has driven a powerboat at getting on for 150mph and in 1984 whilst attempting a water speed record, travelling at around 120mph her hydroplane took off and somersaulted, throwing her out of the cockpit in the process. If you have an accident at that speed on water without a modern safety cell then you are going to be very lucky to survive it. Her lower body bent the steering column of the hydroplane as she was ejected from the cockpit on her way out and as her body then went on to impact with the water it broke both her collar bones and fractured her sternum. Amazingly she remained conscious throughout and as the rescue boats approached she asked them to search and recover her precious mascot teddy bear ‘Mr. Whoppit’ which was the very one her father Donald had with him during his record attempts. 

Gina has competed time and again in offshore powerboat championships over the years, as has her partner Brian who won the 1.3 litre World Championship. Anyone who has the skill and determination to get into a high speed offshore powerboat and battle not only with other competitors but take the awful battering and risks of disaster racing in the open sea disserves both tremendous credit and huge respect. Her father and grandfather may have cast awfully long shadows but for a lady with such a pedigree it is no surprise that she has proved time and again that she has more balls and integrity than a lot of men, that are anything but ‘gentlemen’ that I could mention.

Back with Longbow we had to wait a fortnight for the last coat of paint on the underside of the hull to harden before we could make arrangements to turn her hull over for the rest of the build to continue. The specially made trailer for Longbow had been sat on the driveway covered by tarpaulin weighted and roped down all through the winter storms and now we were finally ready to marry it with the craft she was designed to carry. 

Comparing the beam of the craft to the limited height of the forward part of my cottage workshop it was readily apparent that Longbow could not be rolled over within the workshop and therefore she would have to be lifted up and carried out on to the driveway for her to be rotated. 

Just getting Longbow out of the workshop would not be an easy task as a quick check with the tape measure revealed that at her widest point where the sponsons are located on the forward part of either side of the hull we only had an inch to play with between the door frame and this area of the craft. That meant the folk who would carry the hull in this area from inside the workshop would as it came to the door frame, have to pass the load on to a number of people on the outside of the workshop before the rest could follow without falling over each other. 

Whilst there are plenty of videos on the internet showing people turning quite large hulls over with chain blocks and slings from lifting rigs, the curved shape of Longbow at the bow did not particularly lend itself to such an arrangement without fear of her slipping a rollover lifting sling. 

This being the case we agreed that if we had people already here to lift the boat to take her outside on to the driveway, then they might as well roll her over on some old tyres covered by blankets to act as a cushion the same as we had done last time. If we could get that done without damage then the plan after that was to carry her the right way up on to her specially built trailer. Then to dismantle her workshop build table including some quite heavy steelwork, remove all of that to the driveway which would then give us room to push Longbow on her trailer back into the workshop to carry on with the rest of the build.   

The last time we turned the hull over it took around 15 people to pick her off the build table, take her outside, roll her over on tyres acting as a cushion and put her back on to the build table as the following photo taken at the time shows. 

However that was without the sides and underside of the hull along with planing shoes / sponsons being fitted which they were now. So back then she was narrower, much lighter and a lot easier for everyone to get hold of by the hull frames than she was now. Plus back then there was no paint on her and for those who have followed the build to date then you will know what a hassle the painting to the underside of the hull turned out to be, meaning damage to the paintwork was the last thing I wanted to happen during the rollover. 

Weighing things up I imagined in her current state that Longbow would take around 26 people to carry her out from the workshop this time, then turn her over in the manner previously described and get her on to her trailer. My initial thoughts were to ask the local army barracks if they would be interested in helping provide the manpower and their initial response as a local community outreach was very positive but then as luck would have it, events elsewhere meant the Battalion have had to be deployed to far more important duties.  

In any event as it transpired we had no shortage of folk wanting to lend a hand and it is amazing that there is such goodwill and enthusiasm from everyone I have approached to make our little project happen. Examples of this were my friend Howard Bryan who heads an enthusiasts club for TVR sports cars (which used to be made at Blackpool), called Blackpool Thunder. Howard said he was sure he could muster a good few club members to lend a hand, Gina’s partner Brian brought some of his friends along and some of the British Powerboat Association members that I know were glad to help too. 

All told with friends and family joining in we ended up having around 36 able bodied people on a gloriously sunny Sunday morning plus a good few who had come to watch it either be a success or go straight onto social media as how not to turn a jet hydroplane over!

Despite my appalling instructions, the confines of the very limited space we had to work in and trying not to fall over the tyres and blankets as we went, it all went surprisingly well as shown in the video below taken by my good lady Gill and edited by Howard that I hope you enjoy.

I have to say that the trailer I drew up for Longbow, that our sponsors John W. Laycock, Peak Dynamics and Below Decks all provided materials for and which was fabricated by the apprentices at WEC Training Academy is superb and thankfully fits the underside of Longbow so very well indeed.  

With Longbow now sat upon her trailer and the build table dismantled then removed, we managed to push her back into the workshop then the workshop was tidied back up. You may note that the tow bar is not bolted on to the front of the trailer in the photos and one side of the trailer is hard up against one of her jet engine stands whilst the other is against the workshop stairs which perhaps illustrates what a tight fit she is in there. 

When people ask how big Longbow is, she is right on the limit of how big I could build her to fit in my cottage workshop.  

Having had a good nights sleep after all the worry of whether the rollover would be a catastrophe, I could begin the task of sanding the epoxy that had dripped down into the hull when putting the external skins on her hull. This is where I am up to at the moment given it is not going to be a two minute task. The issue is not so much the quantity of sanding but more the awkwardness of access to some areas and the attention to detail required but thankfully it is a walk in the park compared to the 22 times that I sanded the entire underside of the hull when putting the paint on!

A couple of days after we had Longbow back in the workshop we had a visit from my good friend Colin Fletcher of our sponsor Wessex Resins who are very kindly providing the WEST SYSTEM Epoxy for the entire build. Colin arranged for us to be stocked up with their products so we can crack on with the build once I have finished the sanding referred to previously. 

It was also nice to have a visit from photographer Tony Stuchbury a few days after Colin. It was the first time Tony had seen Longbow’s hull in person and said he was rather bowled over by her size compared to Bluebird K7 that he had previously had a look at in North Shields some time ago. I have seen examples of Tony’s work before when he came to photo the K777 that I worked on at Lytham over a decade ago, so there was no problem with him snapping away at whatever took his fancy with some examples shown below:

Very kindly at his visit Tony also passed on to me with the author’s permission, a special edition of David de Lara’s book on the legendary Campbell’s titled ‘The Unobtainable – a story of blue’ along with the DVD ‘Remembering Donald’ that I am so very grateful to both of these gentlemen for.

By way of thanks I tried to talk Tony into having our last Standard poodle puppy with all the rest of the litter now having been sold to their loving homes. Despite the pleading eyes he knew that he would be in trouble with his good lady if he said yes, so if you or your friends would like this little bundle of fun (that’s the puppy not Tony) then just let me know.

So that is all for the March update folks, there is no hiding my relief that Longbow is safely turned over and on her superb trailer for the rest of the build to carry on. Thank you for dropping by and if you have not already done so please like our Facebook page to be notified of updates as our fun little adventure continues. 

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