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Bluebird K7 returns to action this weekend
Donald Campbell's most infamous speed record icon takes to the water again
Big news: this weekend, Bluebird K7 takes to the water again. Sure, it’s a boat, but it’s a very special one. An infamous one, too. It’s the boat in which Donald Campbell broke water speed records, and also met his end trying to break another.
On 4 January 1967, just before 9am, Bluebird K7 left the surface of Britain’s Lake Coniston shortly after hitting an estimated 328mph. It sank within seconds, Campbell dying in his attempt to take the water-speed record above 300mph.
The boat wasn’t recovered until 2001, after hobbyist diver Bill Smith located it, eventually bringing Bluebird – and its iconic captain – to the surface. Campbell was buried close to Lake Coniston, while Smith set about restoring K7 in the hope of seeing it take to the water again.
And this weekend it happens. Smith and his team are transporting Bluebird to the Isle of Bute, just off the Scottish coast, to figure out the intricacies of working a boat that was last propelled across the water 51 years ago.
“We’re going up there to train the crew,” Smith told us as the journey to Bute began. “One day we will take Bluebird back to Coniston, but you can’t display it if you don’t know how to work it.
“It’s half a century since anyone put her in the water then got her back out again. Or put fuel in and started the engine whilst afloat. No-one knows how she handles or the best way to jump out in a hurry if needs be. We don’t know how quickly the boat will move when it’s idling – you can’t start a jet engine in neutral…”
It’s an open invite to go and watch, too. “Come and watch us fumble about, drop things in the loch then have to send divers down to get them back. Enjoy the sight of us stood in a huddle scratching and shaking our heads. Come and have a beer with us afterwards and we’ll tell you what went wrong, but be patient and you may just see this icon hitch up her skirts and skim the length of Loch Fad in a cloud of noise and spray.”
There’s no doubting that Bluebird and Campbell’s retrieval was controversial among Coniston locals back in 2001, perhaps more so given the time it’s taken to get K7 to this point. But it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of a speed record icon returning to action. We’ll keep you updated with Bluebird’s progress.