Happy New Year!
There's some catching up to do with the diary so expect a few extra entries. Here's the first.


Picture the scene - Bluebird is to run today - nothing dangerous, a few jet-powered pirouettes on the lake followed maybe by a gentle stretch upto her points to show what this retired dancer could once do.
You've brought the family, the kids stare in fidgety anticipation; the older folks reminisce about the good old days.
Security around the launch site it tight but K7's sleek form is easily visible across the lake from the eastern shore. Traffic everywhere, police in quiet command of the road and yet nothing seems to be happening. Through your binoculars, Bluebird's engine cover remains off as the volunteer handling team scurry back and forth to their temporary workshop constructed of scaffold and blue sheeting.

*


On our side of the lake frustration is running high, if only that damn low-pressure boost pump would stop dripping jetfuel we'd be able to get on with the job.
The team finally strip it from the tank and tear it down onto a sheet of blue paper towel, the array of shims, washers and seals is bewildering. If only someone had taken the time to set it up properly in the first place we'd not have lost the whole day messing with it. Someone fires up the generator and switches on the lights as daylight begins to fade.
"Anyone want a brew?"

*

That's why K7's second LP fuel pump (not the one expertly prepared by Kearsley) was stripped all over Rachel's kitchen last weekend - in the hope that it'll work perfectly when required.
Then, having spread itself magically across the new worktops, pieces then began to migrate onto the dining room table too.
It says in the manual that 'cleanliness is of the utmost importance' so Rachel's kitchen seemed the perfect environment.
Remember how the pump looked when it came out of the mud.


It's the slightly green bit bolted into the base of the auxiliary fuel tank.
But then, like everything, else it cleaned up nicely.
However, that's only half of the story. As a pure conservation exercise we could've reassembled it from there and been most pleased with its appearance. It would be about as useless as an archaeologist in an engineering shop though...
I had endless arguments with the Hapless Lottery Fund and the Tweedies on the subject of reassembling things to short of working condition.
Oh, by the way, and departing on a slight tangent here. I was asked this week what, exactly, a 'Tweedie' is.
It's a name I invented for those tweed-clad museum types who live their lives in the same semi-darkness their precious collections require and who seem to view the public, for whom museums exist, don't forget, as ill-informed simpletons.
The public vociferously ask to see a rebuilt Bluebird yet the Tweedies tell us that's not what's best for us. It's time they switched the lights off altogether.
Anyway, back to the argument. I'd mention something about connecting up Bluebird's airspeed indicator or similar only for some know-it-all bureaucrat to say,
"Why d'you have to connect that up? After all, you're not going to use it."
I'd go through it all again.
"If the ASI is going to be on the dashboard what excuse do we have for not connecting it up?" I'd ask fairly. "Which piece of the system would you have us leave out? And how do you know it'll never be used?"
Neither the Hopelessly Lamentable Fund nor the Tweedies ever provided an answer to any of the above.
The same thing went for the fuel pipes, compressed air bottles, hydraulic lines, steering gear, you name it.
Instead they'd argue,
"Putting it all back together doesn't represent value for money - we're not paying for it."
"Fine," I'd reply, "we'll do it ourselves; you just get on and build us a museum." Sadly, we came to realise that they'd never get organised in our lifetime.
So - here's the latest chapter in the Bluebird Project guide to forward-thinking museology and another excerpted proposal from our lottery application - such a shame no one bothered to give it a read.
This is what the second pump looked like when removed from the tank.


But you'll recall that when stripped and cleaned it came up like this.



The rusty staining on the black-anodised alloy mostly came off but some remains as any attempt to shift it results in losing the alloy. I wasn't completely happy about leaving it but until someone can show us how to make it go away, it'll have to stay.
It seems inert enough, however, so the bits above are ready go back together and here is where the argument would have begun all over again.
Had we got into bed with the bureaucrats we'd now have had a politically appointed museologists as well as a clutch of HL-effers (They're the Hopeless Lottery lot) standing over us (well, perhaps not in Rachel's kitchen) panicking about how to treat this pump.
"First thing's first," I'd begin. "Those studs are knackered so we need to fit some new ones."



It's at that point that they'd get their underwear in a tangle but remember it was the museologists who said that nuts, bolts, screws and rivets are all proprietary fasteners. Chuck away as many as you like, they told us, so I gave the pump body a quick simmer in a saucepan of water.



(Got into mild trouble for this)
.to heat the alloy whilst leaving the steel studs almost cold.
Aluminium soaks up heat and expands in a completely different way to steel so it soon freed itself from the studs.
Next - out with the TIG gloves and a pair of grips.
Rachel though I constructed that island for her to prepare food on. Wrong. who else has an indoor workbench eighteen inches above the beer fridge? The rags never seem to get dirty either.



Out with the old studs and in with the new ones - much better.



"I hope that's clean," Rachel said in warning tones whilst examining her violated saucepan in search of the tiniest excuse to unleash her outrage.
Everything has been in the ultrasound bath," I assured her. "It's spotless."
My reassurances were immediately followed by a spurt of long-trapped kerosene from beneath the threads of a replacement stud as it was tightened in.
Big trouble that time!
Guess where the new bits came from, by the way. Same place as this little lot of treasure.



Yep - our old mate, Martin at Kearsley. What a gem. I mean, where on Earth would we ever get such things otherwise?
Oh, by the way, museologists, as we've so far successfully added welds to the list of 'proprietary' bits I'd like also to include gaskets, shims, o-rings, filter screens, Dowty seals and locking washers.
Back to the job. We do have the proper rebuild manual for the pump but it's still something of a head-scratcher as it's obviously supposed to complement the in-depth training course I've never attended.
This results in some of the more obvious procedures - like which way to route the motor wiring - being not that obvious at all.
No worries, the motor casing went neatly together after a few attempts and then came the really tricky bit.



Top is the assembled motor, the clamping ring is red because it was heavily rusted so I gave it a quick ali-oxide blast then took it over to Bill and Debbie at Bettablast and asked if they could powder coat it the first colour they had in the gun. Never thought it would come back red but never mind. It's suitably protected against corrosion now and you can't see it when the filter screen goes on anyway.
Paint is proprietary too, by the way, and sacrificial. You can join the old paint society or whatever it's called if you're really keen on the stuff - just what I've been told by the industrial museologists.
Back to the pic'. Bottom left is the pump impeller; next is a set of shims to set the height of the impeller on the motor shaft. Then there's the 'vapour assister assembly', which includes a carbon face-seal that's 'rare as rocking horse manure' and which was scored during disassembly due to everything being seized to buggery! It needed some TLC.
Then there are more shims to set the preload of the carbon seal against a stainless steel bellows at the base of the shaft.
I'll not bore you with the details suffice to say that by the time the carbon seal was lapped-in and everything measured-up inside of tolerance - and we're talking within a hundredth of a millimetre here - the impeller / seal / shim arrangement had been on and off with the regularity of a lady of ill-repute's undergarments!



So far - so good. I powered it up to bed-in the seal then stripped it again and re-shimmed it for the sake of perfection.
Next, a sparkly-new gasket, which the manual said should be sealed with 'Blue Hylomar'.
Anyone remember sticking their Mini engine back together with Blue Hylomar? The spotty, pierced youth in the car accessory shop certainly didn't, though he was well versed on exhaust tailpipes with roughly the diameter of Maxwell House coffee tins and iridescent pink seatbelt covers...
I found some Hylomar eventually - yes, they still make it.



A few more twiddly bits installed and nuts tightened onto the new studs.



.she's almost ready to go.
Spanner on the last odds and ends and here's a beautifully conserved pump that'll also move fuel in the prescribed manner.



So tell me, museologists, what's wrong with the above? No loss of original fabric except for proprietary bits and it works too!
It needs a bit of wire-locking here and there but it's going for a function test so I'll take care of that when it comes back.
Right - what's next?


25th January 2007 - 14:30

Fuel pumps aren't the only thing that's been happening; there's loads more besides.
The workshop has been improved, for example.
Look at this beastie of a compressor.



Most of it lay abandoned in our yard for a couple of years. It was petrol driven originally but the motor was knackered.
Alain dragged it indoors and took it under his wing one afternoon as running several air drills, sanders, bubbles for the paint stripping baths and a blasting cabinet was murdering the small compressor we already had.
Off came the rusted remains of the petrol engine to be replaced with a 5hp, three-phase induction motor.
He changed the oil in the compressor and gave the thing a good clean up.
Next, Tony Dargavel set about it as he's an expert with three-phase elastic-trickery and arranged things so that it switches off before it explodes then on again when the pressure drops.
Suddenly we had all the compressed air we could wish for.
Alain is currently working on an attachment that will stamp a thumb print into his forehead thus saving him the job of going home to get one.


Unfortunately, he's not properly worked that bit out yet but the fusion reactor he built from the leftover parts is now supplying power for most of Northumberland.
Meanwhile, Rob's paddling pool is finished and functioning.
He stuffed a bit of spare pond liner from the garden shed into the bottom, bashed in a fistful of nails then whipped up a bucket team to fill it.


It wasn't long before the bulkheads were stripping according to one of 'Chemmetal Trevor's' charms.


And pleased to report, they're all in first-class condition. In fact, most of them are immaculate.


All of the outriggers are now stripped and blasted too (above). There's some mild tin-bashing to perform on some of them and a touch of filler to go in here and there but many of them are already away for painting.
Indestructible Paints sent us some chromate primer so the panels are getting a very thorough job in Bettablast's paint shop.
Chromate primer is to surface coating what butter, cream and full-fat cheese are to dieting but it's absolutely the best thing for the job (as are butter, cream and full-fat cheese).
It's what Donald used so we're using it too.
We couldn't resist sticking a few panels back onto the frame either, just to see what they'd look like.


Until the boys pointed out that it all had to come apart again - I'd have built the whole thing back up otherwise. Looks nice though, doesn't it.
If you look at the right-hand edge of the vertical panel you can see that it's a little worse for wear. That's partly because of the rivets being replaced a dozen times and partly due to corrosion. We'll make a small plate to go behind it to pick up the rivets and put the strength back. More of that when we get onto it.

Good news is that we don't have the frame anymore.

True to his word - and in reassuring contrast to all the spineless hangers-on we've suffered over the years - John Getty rolled up just as he promised back in 2002 and took our frame away to PDS.
Next time you see K7's frame in our workshop she'll have her front reattached.


There she goes. We'll be visiting John's place as work progresses and reporting on the forthcoming metal cutting.
Now then, what else? Ah yes, Donald's bell-end.

 


Having completed his paddling pool, Rob seemed to suffer withdrawal symptoms for a while. Well, a day or so.
Then we found that he'd raked a chunk of irritating scrap from under the blast cabinet and was polishing it furiously.
The inlet from Orpheus number 711 had taken on the role of trip-hazard in chief whilst lying about the workshop floor since we'd pulled the engine and really deserved better.
Rob took it upon himself to shine it up and add it to the museum collection.
The plan was to get it there for the weekend of the 4th as a gathering was planned in the village.
"What's it called?" someone immediately asked of Rob's engine part.
"Not sure - what about Donald's bell-end?" came one suggestion, based entirely on its appearance.
And so it stuck as Rob persevered with his polishing. He seemed to take to it in a surprisingly natural way.


Over the ensuing days, Donald's 'bell-end' was shone 'til it gleamed and then mounted on a wooden plinth, which Rob fastened to the wall in the museum.
Vicky must be getting used to us by now as Rob's request for a hacksaw to savage off what remained of the lighting track after we'd hung the fin a year earlier resulted in little more than a shrug - and a hacksaw, which Novie conjured from somewhere so Rob could go to work installing his masterpiece.


The finished result is stunning.


Is there another museum in the UK with a display of DMC / K7 artifacts to match what's now on display in Coniston?
Rob's mission did have an unexpected and comical side effect, however.
We received a call a day or so later to let us know that the enhanced display had been well received and to thank the team for their efforts. and to innocently let us know that the 'bell-end' looked really good up there!

*

Did we mention that we did this on Saturday the 6th? It was a busy day as things turned out too because between putting the fixings into the wall and hanging the engine intake we all gathered next door in the Coniston institute where I gladly accepted one of the speaking slots to explain a bit about what we're doing with our heap of scrap.


It seemed to be well received and hopefully answered many questions for those in attendance.
Then it was beer o'clock and off to the sixties evening arranged by the speed-freaks. What a great night out!
Novie Lennon arrived with Yoko.


As well as this lot.


They're all crackers and a great evening was had by all - this is what it's all about - not the 'respect, dignity, Donald's-dead thing. He no doubt would have thoroughly enjoyed this bash and ended up as inebriated as the rest of us...
Notice Hannarack in his yellow hair and those crazy Cobb brothers. We all had a laugh and so it'll be back to the hilarity of workshop for the team next week.
Keep tuning in.


8th February 2007 - 14:30

Plenty happening here but none of it particularly thrilling to the casual observer.
Mostly we're cleaning up panels so when the time comes to put 'em back we're working with spotless-clean material.
It's possible to get them mostly clean with a simple soaking in Rob's paddling pool - well at least until someone's enthusiasm resulted in a puncture of our pond liner. Rob's busy fixing it as we speak.
Oddly, the chemical doesn't lift the paint off the floor.
Then the fun begins as eradicating the last corrosion strongholds comes down to manually picking them out with a hardened-steel spike then brushing acid into the hole to finish it off. A painstaking and thoroughly boring job so seats were improvised and the boys set-to.


Meanwhile, 'The Rivet' did what he does best and drilled all afternoon. Most of K7 is stripped now but we'd saved this bit until thoroughly up to speed with dismantling the more damaged parts of the boat.
It's the floor from directly under Bluebird's nose. The first section to strike the water and where the so-called 'dragons teeth' or flow directors were fixed.
Dave spent a whole day getting them loose. We'll decide how to treat the floor when it's completely taken apart.
It sustained surprisingly little damage but will still need some remedial tin-bashing.


One or two of the bulkheads took a tweak in the crash too.
What seems to have happened is that the cockpit floor, including the bit above, which was knocked off in one piece was of a different construction to that beneath the engine compartment in that it had an inner skin for Donald to rest his feet on. This meant that much of it was assembled using blind rivets - pop-rivet sort of things, which aren't as strong as the solid rivets used further back.
When K7 smacked into the lake surface the inner and outer skins, which sandwich an inch-thick layer of corrugations, parted company and went in opposite directions. The inner skin was driven upwards with the corrugations still attached while the outer skin went down and backwards.
This violent process continued until it reached the start of the solid rivets just aft of the main spar where the solids refused to yield whereupon the water found another way and blasted upwards, splitting the corrugations across the width of the boat, then into the bay abaft the fuel tank where all sorts of havoc ensued.
More metal-bashing was required as a result and thereby created another museological conundrum.
I can hear them now.


"You can't straighten that, you'll destroy history!"
How I'd love to see the Titanic in all her glory. to pace her luxurious corridors. But that's out of the question.
So much history exists only as images.
Therefore, and bearing this in mind whilst considering our bent pieces of alloy, it's easy to justify (another cornerstone of the museologists's credo) straightening the bends.
Destroy history. We'll take its picture so its previous form is preserved forever as an image.
Putting the bent panel back in the hole isn't an option because this is a rebuild and making a new one would result in the dreaded LOOF (Loss Of Original Fabric) so we went 'conserveering' again and took the paint off to see what we had.


Then we whacked it with a hammer.


What an improvement. Still needs that split welding up and some finishing but you can see that it's now good enough to go back into the finished boat.
This one responded equally well. It's a half-height bulkhead from immediately aft of the main spar.


We took dozens of photos from all angles to record its condition as a result of the crash then battered this one flat too.


Well, we didn't so much ding them flat as carefully set everything up with clamps and blocks of wood in a hundred different ways in order to gently warm the metal and push the bends out in a precisely controlled fashion.
Then followed many hours with rubber mallets, wooden slappers, a polished steel dolly and a panel-beater's sandbag to bring them to where they are now.
There's some final fettling to do when the frame returns but now we have two more bits of original Bluebird awaiting inclusion in the reassembly process that would otherwise have been relegated boring museum exhibits had the Tweedies taken hold.
What we've also properly confirmed, and those clueless 'experts' are really going to have their parade urinated on this time, is that there are literally dozens of structural panels from the cockpit and even some exterior skins from up there that can be similarly reworked then included in the rebuild.
We'd long suspected this was the case but until we could drill rivets to get at them and assess their suitability for recycling it was difficult to be certain.
What this means is that we're able to rescue trashed components from the very heart of the crash damaged area... Show you how that works next time.
Most of the bulkheads are now ready to go.


And I hope the Tweedie who abused their position as an 'expert' to have our project rejected on the basis that we'd lose all that original material is looking on and learning.
Most of these components need no more than a coat of paint and new rivets to put them back.
But here's the important part. Take a squint at the large rectangle of cardboard they're lying on and have a guess at what's under it.

*

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a diver whose grandparents were shipwrecked in an atrocious act of war and went to the bottom of the ocean with eight hundred of their fellows, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Struma.
This diver, knowing that our team was fairly handy at locating lost ships, asked our advice on the best way to look for the wreck.
As things turned out the ship wasn't located by the resulting expedition but the diver in question also worked for a large supplier of aluminium and was kind enough to negotiate a free of charge deal on our behalf for all the sheet alloy we would need to rebuild K7.
Five years later, and with our offer of free material having failed completely to impress the Haemorrhoid Lotion Fund, I looked up the architect of this deal only to find that he'd long since left the company and now resided at 'whereabouts unknown'.
Coincidentally, on the same day, I also received an invitation to a party. An invite I receive every year from another diver whose company we enjoyed on the 2003 Britannic expedition.
Sadly I couldn't make the bash and mailed to politely decline only to discover that someone else couldn't be there either because he'd ended up in Fiji and so had copied us all in on his decision not to attend.
Yep - you guessed it - the man with the alloy sheet connections.
After a five year absence he popped up the same day I went looking for materials to build this boat.
Spooky, or what?
Within twenty-four hours he'd put me in touch with his old boss who introduced me to a bloke called Dean Melling who immediately agreed that our project was worth supporting.
Thanks to Dean and Thyssenkrupp Materials for immediately becoming our supplier of aluminium and that's what's under the large rectangle of cardboard in the workshop - brand, spanking new marine-grade aluminium. The modern equivalent of Bluebird's original 'Birmabright' skins.
Now we can make all those fiddly little strengtheners to ensure maximum strength whilst returning all of K7's original panels to their proper place in the hull.

*

The kindness of people towards this project seems to know no bounds and pops up from the most obscure places. One day a message appeared on our guestbook suggesting that we ought to contact the sender regarding borrowing some kit.
We badly need to set up a sheet-metal shop with a guillotine, folding brake, rolls and a hundred and one other items and this threatened to dent our funds severely.
That was until an architect by the name of Will Grime called up to say that he had everything we needed gently rusting in his shed, and would we like to borrow it until such times as our blue boat is fixed?


We didn't need asking twice!
Dave and I hired a van and dashed up to the Scottish borders before Will could change his mind. No worries there, he's a delightful chap and was pleased to be of assistance.
We stuffed about six tons of machinery into the van then wheezed back to Tyneside where our long-suffering mate, Colin stayed back late on a Friday afternoon to help us unload our priceless cargo in fading light with his hydraulic crane.


We now have our eyes on the unit next door to Bluebird's workshop where we can create a dedicated sheet-metal shop alongside the existing assembly shop and we'll shine up Will's kit and keep it in good order until he needs it back.


9th February 2007 - 12:00 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

You're going to like this.
If you've followed the chaotic story of K7 over the past few years and read these pages regularly then chances are this'll put a big smile on your face.
Just to recap - back in 2000 we'd been playing with the idea of finding Bluebird for some time and so were asked to try and find Donald too; he'd been missing for a good while and though we believed it possible we were not totally confident of success.
Lifting the smashed cockpit was sure to offer up clues to his whereabouts and the discovery that it was preserved in astonishingly good condition led to the decision to lift everything else.
K7 rose into daylight on the 8th March 2001 before a global audience - crapping myself that day, I was - then was tucked away whilst her future was decided.
November 01, Gina decides we're to rebuild the old boat.
September 06 we make a start. The bit in between left nothing but frustration and anger for all involved because we knew things.
Like, for example, that people under the age of forty would be interested despite an 'expert' asserting otherwise.
I'm under forty (just) for flippety-blink's sake!! (Just one of the replacement words I've invented for use in place of those I'd usually use whilst my daughter is learning to speak.)
We knew we wouldn't lose original material either.
We could look into the nooks and crannies of K7's innards and visualise what the archaeologists couldn't - cleaned and painted panels - if only they'd let us loose.
"Show me which bits we'll have to chuck away," I challenged a specialist in Roman toilets one afternoon.
No answer, as usual.
Well here's your answer.


Remember this image from the strip-down? Here you can see all the small outrigger panels that supported the outer skin. And in close-up.


Now we could look at this and see that all it really needs is cleaning and painting.
If it wasn't cleaned and painted it would ultimately turn to white powder and be lost forever but archaeologists know that a Roman toilet buried in the ground when Julius Caesar was a boy can then be dugup again in the do-gooder-age without significant deterioration. They then simply apply this to anything else that's been buried for a while and bleat about conservation.
Metallurgy and materials science would be a different discipline if the same applied to this stuff and conservation in this case means stripping, corrosion removal and repainting. Our mate Chris taught us that, now he is an expert.
So back to the action.
Chemmetal-Trevor's paint-stripping bath is one of the most impressive things we've ever seen and continues to remove all kinds of paint with no addition of any new chemicals or maintenance of any sort whatsoever.
Our blasting cabinet works brilliantly on the end of our hybrid petrol/electric compressor and the filler and paints supplied by the guys at Indestructible Paints Ltd are equally staggering.
All in all, a great recipe.
And so, with the stripping and blasting out of the way the outriggers looked like this.


What you see here is the bare metal. The darker areas are surface corrosion but as it's only in the order of a few tenths of a millimetre deep, Indestructible's filler copes with it easily. (Below)


Now comes the clever bit.
With the filler sanded and smooth we took the finished parts along to Bill and Debbie at Bettablast.
Bill is permanently frustrated by customers who want the quickest job for the least amount of money then complain when the paint comes off a week later.
What seems to infuriate him even more is losing customers to companies who duly deliver this falsely economical option then having to pick up the pieces when the customer comes back with a peeling, rusty job and the need to throw good money after bad.
You wouldn't skimp on welding or fabrication so why skimp on protecting your investment with the most thorough surface preparation and appropriate coatings?
Bluebird K7 will be done right and that's that.
No expense spared - though Bill, like everyone else, is working for free on this job - so our big blue boat is going to be spot-on.


That's why Monday morning found one of Bettablast's ovens mostly full of Bluebird bits.
(Ignore the orange things; they're nothing to do with us)
The panels are that golden green colour because they're already painted with chromate primer and hung in the oven to bring the material up to temperature.
It says on the box that the powder-coat needs ten minutes at two-hundred degrees C or whatever to cure properly. What it doesn't say is that this is the required temperature of the substrate to which the paint must adhere so if you shove a slab of freshly-painted material into the oven and leave it for ten minutes you'll be lucky if it reaches temperature let alone spends the full time cooking as it should.
Remember - false economy.
Nothing spared here. The panels were brought right up to temperature then plucked from the oven whilst hot.


.hung up and painted.


.then returned to the oven to stove for the requisite ten minutes.
Think about this for a moment. If we keep pushing panels through this process - and we will - we'll eventually arrive at the last one.
Then if PDS put the frame back together - which they will - and we keep sticking the finished parts back onto it.


Right, this is not history destroyed or new material. It's the same old K7 we pulled from the lake in 2001 simply cleaned, painted and guaranteed to last forever.
I'm not going to say any more except to thank Bill and Debbie at Bettablast for a proper job - again - and to invite you all to feast your eyes.


2nd March 2007 - 15:00

The rope pulled tight, a straight polypropylene line descending from sunlight to blackness through one hundred and fifty feet of cold water. But what hung on the end of it?
We'd find out soon enough because with the divers safely back aboard and the ROV on station to watch over proceedings the time had come to haul whatever fragment of K7 we'd located this time back into the sunlight after more than forty years beneath the water.

*

Having taken K7 completely to bits - and that was always a necessity no matter whatever else happened to her - we're now in the gratifying position of watching our pile of cleaned and painted panels growing daily, seeing long-seized pumps spinning back to life - and glowering at our frame with a big chunk still missing from the left hand cockpit wall.
We'd finally arrived at the point where we must return to the lake in search of the remaining pieces of our big blue boat.
The order of play went something like.

* 1997, mad divers go looking for the wreck because it's there.
* October 2000, Gina asks if we can locate her dad.
* January 2001, we obtain her permission to recover cockpit wreckage to aid this process.
* February 2001, decision taken to lift the main hull.
* May 2001, Donald located - job wrapped up.


But in all the confusion we'd left part of the cockpit behind and so we promised to return in search of it when the time came.
Treatment of the cockpit would become an aspect of our project that bamboozled the HL-effers. No surprise there.
They babbled on about joining a 'replica' cockpit to the original hull without ever having a clue or getting their heads around the fact that this was never our intention.
The cockpit is part of the main frame with a double thickness floor beneath, a big spar through the middle and some light alloy skins to keep the water out.
Supporting the skins is a multitude of formers, outriggers and small strengtheners that allow the outer surfaces to maintain their shape whilst clinging securely to the frame in all but a high-speed accident.
Out of this conglomeration the only parts we need to fabricate from new are some replacement outer skins as even some of the originals are still useable.
So it's hardly going to be a replica, is it?
Another safe haven of the Hapless Lottery Fund when under attack was the old 'value for money' chestnut so I'm sure they'll be delighted to learn that we've at last found something to do that's truly disastrous in that department.
Oh yes - our latest exercise ought to be roughly equivalent to standing in windblown rain ripping up twenties but worry not, the volunteers did it all for fun and for free!
We finally went back to the lake for the bits we'd left behind in 2001. And by the way, thanks to the Rivet family for most of these pics.

For the first time since May 2001 we launched our trusty survey boat, Predator into Coniston Water and went in search of 'scrap'.
We called the smashed pieces of K7 'scrap' from the outset to the abject horror of our speed-freak observers, Novie and Paul, but they came around to our irreverent ways eventually.
After all, it does look like scrap.
We knew there wasn't much left but every shard of torn metal can either show us how it was put together or, better still, be re-incorporated into the finished boat.
But this time, with many new faces and a few older originals, we discovered an additional problem that we'd never even considered.
You see, an 'expert', hired, respected and paid for way back when to advise on the viability of our project clearly explained in writing that what we're doing was a waste of time and money because no one under the age of forty would be especially interested.
Remember this from our first failed lottery bid in 2005, it arrived on the same shovel as the loss of original fabric nonsense.
Using a food analogy here, if I may, what follows is a back-street prawn curry after fifteen pints of lager.

Almost everyone in the UK who is aged over 40 will know the story [of Bluebird] and be familiar with the footage; on the other hand most people under 40 are unfamiliar with the events and, when told of them, often evince little interest...

.followed by the inevitable bubbly rumbling in the guts.

'The question that arises, therefore, is whether the undoubted national enthusiasm for speed records, and for Campbell in particular, that characterised the 1950's and 1960's, really represents a significant aspect of national heritage.
If it is the case that interest in the story will further diminish over time, then the Bluebird Project would not be value for money in HLF terms, despite its undoubted romantic appeal.'


.and finally, a too-late crippled gallop to the pot followed by a hot torrent of male bovine excrement.

'There is no doubt that the story of Donald Campbell and Bluebird is a dramatic, romantic and tragic one that is still alive and vivid for the local population of Coniston. It will probably remain so for a longer period in the Lake District than in the rest of the UK. Despite this, the project is not one that can be strongly recommended since the history of water speed records does not represent a major aspect of the national heritage and this significance will probably decrease for future generations.'

Oh to be an 'expert'.
The bloody Romans would've decreased in significance too if not for publicly funded holes all over Northumberland from which their discarded junk is avidly collected by manic archaeologists!
I don't know anyone who remembers the Romans and yet interest persists in those leather-skirted blokes of old.
Never mind. but because 'experts' presumably have greater insight and wisdom than us mere mortals our new difficulty then lay in how to break the devastating news to the kids that they weren't supposed to be interested when surrounded by Peli-Cases bursting with kit. All this gear with more KPI (Knobs Per Inch) than any X-Box 360 and in the name of a real-life treasure hunt too.
Not a black and white photograph on the wall of the Bluebird Café as some would have K7 consigned for all eternity - this was to be the real deal.
'Mrs Rivet and her little mandrels', as Tony Dargavel so eloquently put it, arrived ready for adventure as did Rob's missus and Rachel with our little one.


What was once the exclusive province of single, depressed blokes with a collective death-wish and subconscious desires to impress their mates by drowning or freezing on a weekend had become a cheery family affair except for kids who are supposed to be going cold-turkey when separated from their Play Stations.
That said we couldn't seem to convince them that we weren't up to something exciting.


I mean. little lads and ROV's go together like ham and pickle...
Meet young Robert Aldred, or Boggart as his mum calls him getting acquainted with a small swimming robot.
And here's Rob Ford's three year-old granddaughter who knows that Bluebird crashed and now her granddad is putting it back together again. It's a lost cause trying to persuade the kids that this really isn't their sort of thing.
They're totally enthralled.


Opting to deal with this glitch later we cracked on and chucked our latest sonar towfish at Novie to spanner onto the end of the cable. He seemed glad to be back in action.


And so it wasn't long before we were side-scanning again.


Great fun!

*

But that's not the whole story.
We've not neglected the knife and fork work in the workshop just because we've been on a jolly to Coniston.
The latest challenge is to deal with some of the smaller pieces of K7's structure where there's simply too much corrosion to slap in a spoonful of filler, sand it smooth then have the paint-shop bury our sins.
How to deal with this?


This is a curved support, and there are quite a few of them, from between the outriggers and the outer skin of the boat.
It's simply unacceptable to put such a heavily damaged component back and expect the finished result to be safe.
What to do?
OK, start by chopping a length of marine-grade alloy as supplied by Dean at ThyssenKrupp on the guillotine loaned by Will Grime.
Then use Will's folding brake to turn it into a ninety-seven degree angle section (that's what the drawing says we needed on this occasion)
We then whack it with our magical hammer - as we are wont to do - and repeat as necessary.
Lo-and-behold, lots of new twiddly bits to secure K7's outer skins in perfect safety.


But you didn't really think we'd simply chuck the damaged bits in the bin, did you?
Not a chance.
'Loss of original fabric' is about as popular around here as paedophilia!
You see, it's exactly the same amount of work to replicate these items as it is to make a strengthener that fits precisely inside the corroded part thus saving the original from the skip and ensuring its reinstatement in the finished craft albeit with a shiny, new bedfellow along for the ride.


There you go - pay attention museologists - no loss, etc.
Fully reversible in case our grandchildren ever want to see a wrecked boat and we'll even paint the replacement parts an obviously different colour in accordance with the teachings of conservator-Chris so that future students of K7 don't get confused.
'Conserveering' at it's best.

*

Meanwhile, back at the lake and our unending battle between electronics and water.
The sonar system we have now is way beyond anything we were using back in 2001 and this, we hoped, would be a major advantage.
This was not to prove the case but more of that later.
Sidescan is truly a black art.
The fish must be flown in perfect straight lines at constant speed and uniform altitude.
Then you need to know precisely where the boat is, where it's been and where it's going next.
A mental 3-D model of the lakebed topography is essential too along with a damn good idea of where the fish is relative to it because in this case it's wandering about in the dark 80m behind the boat and only 4m clear of the mud.
Then you need someone on the winch who can read the signs and manage the fish height and a sonar operator who can continually play with the settings to wring the very best data from an extremely dynamic situation.
It was a knackered crew that hauled Predator out of the water that evening and retired to Graeme's house to examine the digital treasure safely stored on the sonar computer's hard drive.


Tomorrow we'd find out if more scrap had been revealed.


9th March 2007 - 14:00

Remember I mentioned how we took the latest, greatest and most fantastic sonar to the party thinking it would give us an advantage.
Well how it works is this.
Transducers on the towfish fire sound pulses into the water, which then travel outwards at about 1500 metres per second, strike objects on the lakebed then reflect back to be converted by boffin's software into an acoustic image of what's down there; but there's a compromise.
The higher the frequency, the better is the resolution because of the short wavelength of the pulse.
Maximum theoretical resolution is about one wavelength but these high frequency pulses die very quickly so range is compromised.
Low frequencies, on the other hand, will give much greater range but lower resolution.
What our new sonar is able to do is put several pulses in the water simultaneously at different frequencies to give the best of both worlds and this leads to the fantastically annoying problem of picking up every plastic bottle and waterlogged branch in the whole lake!
We stayed up late to process the first batch of sidescan data.
We use a post-processing package called Coda-Geosurvey and it's the dog's banana. It allows us to play with the data to our heart's content and produce a superbly accurate mosaic of the mud forty-one metres down. Another Rivet-family mandrel - Jenny, or 'Skinny' as I call her, sat up way past her bed time to do the maths as these young minds seem to work much faster than ours even when bed time has been and gone. Naturally, Skinny isn't remotely interested as she's not quite forty but as a special favour to her dad's mates.

And by midnight we had images like this with deadly accurate positional data to go with it.


Think of the above as a black and white aerial photo of the lakebed with the water removed.
The rectangular depression in the mud with the small red circle beside it is the resulting hole from when we lifted K7 in 2001. This is the lakebed in 2007.
The larger red circle bottom left is a pile of weed clinging to the lighting rig left in place after we recovered Donald. That's where he was in relation to his boat.
The Coroner made two rules. One was that we video everything, which we did, and the other was that we mark the site just in case who we thought was Donald actually turned out to be a drug dealer from Manchester and we had to go back for his wallet.
Then came the tricky bit; every small piece of debris lying about down there may, or may not, be Bluebird wreckage so we have to check them all.
Worse still, the sonar can see through the mud to an extent so what is readily visible on the images may not be visible at all to the cameras.
We very nearly ended up having to salvage most of the cockpit twice too because the bits we lifted in 2001 came within an ace of going back into the lake.
Remember how the Hapless Lottery lot realised a little too late that they were about to be sacked and in a fit of panic offered to fund a replica. Or an 'interpretational model' as they called it because they categorically don't fund replicas.
Remember also that when challenged about having built their interpretational model and asked what they'd then do with the original remains of K7 they began bleating about a 'sensitive' way to display the wreck?
I recall, around this time, sitting across the table from a high-ranking museologists - the same one, in fact, who came up with the cloakroom for wet coats idea in case the unexpected arrival of damp visitors bought on a change in humidity that destroyed K7 before our eyes - and I was trying to push the idea through his museological skull that Gina would not allow the cockpit wreckage to go on display, sensitively or otherwise.
Now that oughtn't to be a difficult concept to grasp but this particular museologists didn't get it at all.
"Something has to be done with it," was his argument.
"We'll chuck it back into the lake if we have to but it's not going on display," I explained but this evinced only an incredulous expression and a fluttering of stale tweed.
"Chuck it in the lake," spluttered our museologists. "You. you can't do that."
The aghast expression appeared carved there.
"Why not?" I asked shrugging. "It's not going on view for the public and it's not going to lie in a dusty cupboard for the rest of time either so it's better off back where it came from."
The tweed collar seemed to shrink around his neck, throttling tighter as his eyes bulged and purple infused an already livid complexion.
"You'll never get permission," he choked. "You'll need to speak with the park authority, the National Twist, Tony Blair.
Threatening us with a more bureaucratic approach seemed to buoy the museologists's confidence - briefly.
Oxygen began to flow again and his stunned look became one of mild smugness but his collapse into utter disbelief was sudden and complete when I interrupted to explain.
"I don't need permission; I need my Land-Rover and my boat. I'll take the scrap out one dark night and bin it over the wall. Simple."
A mortified pause followed as my preposterous concept ricocheted off the museological brain without engaging a single cell.
"You can't just."
"Yes I can and if necessary I bloody-well will. Then if you want your sensitive display you'd best hire some divers."
"But, but that's absolutely outrageous. You cannot just."
"What's stopping me?" I asked.
"Well. I agree that physically it can be done but you can't just go flinging. I mean, what about the meetings and the committees and."
"Physically will do for me," I said with a finality that resulted in huffed hands being stuffed deep amongst the tweed and not another word spoken on the matter.
That museologists simply could not comprehend that we could, and definitely would, take those bits of wreckage back to Coniston, launch the boat and put them back where they came from.
Nor, presumably, has he any idea how close we came to doing just that and having to lift that lot a second time.
And therein lay another problem - how to lift what was left as all that remained was small fragments. We knew that many of the remaining bits would be lightweight so maybe we'd get by without divers this time but how to do it?

*


Speaking of divers, here's another one.


John (Dipsy) Barron.
He's dived with us for many years and earned his nickname when buying toys for his kids a while back. He often pops into the workshop and happily cleans something or makes the tea.
This time as we had only one remaining strengthener to make for the outriggers - there are about a dozen all told - so we gave him a chunk of aluminium and talked him through making a genuine bit for K7.
First he marked off a small strip of 1.5mm thick H22 marine-grade alloy then folded it into a right angle section.


Alain, by the way, was busy trying to dismantle and clean the various machines and getting nowhere because Dipsy kept borrowing them.
Next, the two pieces, old and new, were clamped together and drilled full of holes.


Then our new tin-basher spent most of the afternoon carefully fettling his work of art with an assortment of files.


Until, there we go, another perfect doubler for one of the angles that connect the outriggers to the outer skin.
Considering that there are twenty three frames in the boat numbered from stern to bow with a minimum of two outriggers per frame and at least two of these angle pieces per outrigger, the fact that we've only had to produce about a dozen parts so far is fair testimony to the overall condition of the boat.
John was delighted with his handiwork and so were we.


Alain finally got to start dismantling and cleaning Will's metal-bending machines in peace.
As we're working with aluminium and the equipment has seen some abuse we're stripping all the components that come into contact with the alloy and putting a mirror shine on them. A scratch in the steel of the folding machine is instantly printed onto the alloy every time it's used so everything is getting a polish.


And you can see Rob in the background there beavering away at the blasting cabinet.
Rather thoughtlessly, we installed the cabinet at a height that suits most of us but unfortunately not Rob.
As he's tall in a Richard Hammond sort of way, we overlooked his requirements if he's to grit blast anything so as our resident 'person of restricted growth', though he prefers 'short arse', Rob drags a plastic crate over to stand on whenever put on blasting duty.
Great bloke is Rob.
Then another weekend came around again and we found ourselves back on the lake.

*


Predator set out for the crash site in flat calm, misty conditions. (Thanks to Mrs Rivet for this stunning image)


We'd decided to try a new ploy on the last awkward bits of K7's front end.
We've owned a small, commercially available ROV since our original mission in 2001 and despite putting many hours on it and trying to fall in love with the thing we keep concluding that it's an unreliable, maintenance-intensive, poorly conceived little beast.
It's a superbly weak design in that the down-thruster motor is mounted within the main hull with a seal to the outside so if you lose the seal you flood the entire vehicle at outrageous cost and inconvenience.
I know of only one person to own one of these and not have it fill with water at one time or another.
Ours has filled twice!
We've messed with our vehicle over the years, redesigned the thrusters to give them sufficient power to actually get out of its own way and considered various solutions to the thruster though the hull problem yet it remains a twitchy and contrary piece of machinery that can just about carry a camera underwater if you nurture and cajole it.
One day we'll get a few spare moments and design something to get the job done properly.
However, our negative conclusions, we were assured by the manufacturer, were due to us having an early example of the machine and that all we need do was invest several thousands of pounds in upgrades and all our problems would go away.
Not true as it transpired. A good pal of ours also owns one of these and his is the very latest and beyond.
It's smart enough to include uprated thrusters, on-board sonar as well as fore and aft looking cameras but to our disappointment we found it even twitchier than ours, top-heavy with all the extra kit it has to carry and it still has the down-thruster connected through the hull. When will they learn?
One thing it did boast, however, was a small grabber; a manipulator that could be opened and closed with the flick of a switch.
This, we hoped, would obviate the need for divers this time around and speed things up immensely.
Er. no.
To our painful dismay the thing proved incapable of pulling the skin off a rice pudding and would, I suspect, produce little more than mild pleasure were someone to place its jaws either side of their wedding vegetables and hit the 'close' button.
It did, however, successfully lift some very light pieces in the hands of our mystery ROV pilot and one larger section by dint of becoming entangled with it rather than any worthwhile lifting ability.


This wasn't just about recovering bits of scrap either we were also providing a platform to test a brand new acoustic navigation system masterminded by our camera-shy, guest ROV Pilot. This piece of equipment is so brilliantly clever it could overlay the real-time position of the vehicle onto a sidescan mosaic that we'd prepared earlier and proved most impressive.
The gubbins to make this possible is still in prototype stage but does it work.
Then the scrap began to arrive.


Quite what a lad of eight can find interesting about a buckled sponson former from a jet-powered hydroplane lost in an horrific accident forty years ago then recovered by underwater robots one can't hope to comprehend.
Doesn't he have any TV to watch?
Yet despite recovering several pieces of this kind of size and weight our missing spaceframe section remained elusive at the end of another weekend.
Next time we'd bring some divers and do the job properly.


12th March 2007 - 15:00

(Thanks to Mr Rivet and John Getty of PDS for the pics this week)

We’re having to explore what appeared to be some of the less likely options in the lake.

We said from the off that one day we’d return for the missing piece of frame but despite back-breaking efforts by the team, new members and old, it’s proving very elusive.

We’ve conducted three digital-sidescan surveys with our state-of-the-art Tritech sonar and processed deadly-accurate mosaics using Coda Geosurvey.

We’ve taken the resulting data and deployed a scanning sonar, also from Tritech’s armoury, that’s so new that I’m not sure you can even buy one yet, on each and every suspect position to confirm the targets.

We’ve chucked two ROV’s over the side (one carrying yet another sonar) as well as several divers and we’ve lifted a small mountain of scrap.

We could, were there sufficient interest, take visitors on an underwater tour of three plastic bottles (there were four to begin with but we lifted one today just to be rid of it) two tree branches, innumerable decaying piles of tumbleweed and a hiking boot but a five foot lump of steel is playing games with us.

Where the hell is it hiding?

Mind you, it helps not a jot that visibility is still in the order of a metre or so and after the explosion at the surface everything fell a hundred and fifty feet into brown gloop the likes of which I imagined unique to the planet until baby Lucy was born.

Not being able to find something is frustrating like you’d not believe so to get away from it for a day or two and clear our clogged brains we took a glimpse at some of the more outlying parts of our project.

*

One is our little museum, which now owns Bluebird and where we’ll one day home-port her for good or die in the attempt.

Our aim this year is to push some extra trade through the door and to this end we’ve been supplied with promotional leaflets (FOC as ever) by NB-Group.

John Rolt over at NB has been putting some smart little flyers together for us as well as producing that beautiful calendar full of Steve Rothery’s pic’s.

The team has also been chasing people towards the museum every weekend and Mr and Mrs Rivet designed an A4 poster that’s popped up here and there about the place. The result is a noticeable increase in the number of visitors and it’s only March.

We’ve not expanded this promotion beyond the village either so results thus far are most encouraging.

I think it’s beginning to dawn that the virile Donald, though not so much the philosopher or art critic, certainly had more charisma than poor, incurably impotent Ruskin (his ex chucked him out because he couldn’t get it up) and so may entice more punters through the door – but don’t forget to hang up your wet coats, which, while we’re thinking of that particular Tweedy, proves that every day is a school day on the Bluebird Project.

I mean, did you know that tweed is made using human urine?

I didn’t ’til Mrs Rivet told me.

I’d simply assumed that being deathly boring people, generally speaking, the majority of Tweedies live alone and that their standards of personal hygiene inevitably slip a little.

How was I to know their clothing is prepared for this eventuality by design?

It’s little wonder they wanted a separate cloakroom for damp coats – I naively imagined it was for the good of our big blue boat!

*

What was I on about? Ah yes, another outstanding item is our frame; K7’s spine, in the capable hands of PDS where every week for the past month and a half we’ve hoped to roll up triumphantly with our missing piece of steelwork.

The time came to go visit them as they’re ready to start the tricky stuff.

Putting in place the personnel, materials, tooling and processes has taken time but the crew at PDS are one hundred percent professional and right behind the project so it’s to be done properly or not at all.

John is very much a man after my own heart –

‘Yes Mr Customer, we’ll gladly move into a glass and stainless steel office with pretty girls in reception, designer furniture and original works of art on the walls if you’re happy to pay for it…’

It seems that Rolls-Royce would rather buy top-quality components from a modest workshop in a quiet corner of Lancashire staffed by people who care about the standard of the work they turn out than pay for ornamental fountains and such.

The job cards read like a Who’s-Who of jet engines; Trent, RB 211 and Olympus to name only a handful, which is particularly reassuring as one of the difficulties with our frame repairs lies in Ken Norris’ obsessive over-engineering of everything to do with K7.

It was almost as though he settled on a good, solid aluminium hull then decided it would be even better with what amounts to a crane jib up the middle to make it stronger. Add some extra rivets, a bit more aluminium here and there and by the way let’s have that crane jib made from 60 tons-tensile steel.

K7’s frame comprises a material you can’t even buy anymore (something I pointed out to the Hapless Lottery Fund when the idea of building an accurate ‘interpretational model’ came up) so it’s a damn good job we sourced a sufficient quantity of the right stuff before Tyco Tubes, who bought up Accles and Pollock, sold off their existing stock and stopped making it.

Job-one at PDS was to jig up the frame then puzzle out how to work with this exotic material.

Bluebird’s frame was assembled to the jig used to fabricate the frame for Quicksilver and pulled down so she could creak herself straight. She proved remarkably true considering what she’s been through.

The team at PDS then went in search of repair strategies prior to laying a cutting torch on the real deal.

Now here’s how it ought to be done.

What you see above is a test section of T60 box, identical to that comprising our frame with an area in the centre machined to half its original thickness then a row of holes drilled through the thinner area.

Why?

Because it accurately simulates the type of localized corrosion to be found here and there on the frame.

And above is the same test piece with the simulated damage TIG welded and ready for dressing.

Given some titivating it comes up like this – damage repaired with no loss of material or heat distortion.

But in some places more substantial repairs may be needed. Not to worry, PDS is ahead of the game.

If you want a small repair patch making for something just pop over to John’s place and they’ll make one up for you.

 

Now that’s just showing off – but at the same time, the frame is part of the project we just don’t have to think about. It’ll be spot on.

*

On the other hand, something we puzzle over most days, is how to get the last bits of this boat out of the grip of thick brown mud in a black-dark lake a hundred and fifty feet beneath the surface.

We’ve tried baby ROV’s and on this score I must make a public apology because in the last diary update I moaned about the thruster through the hull problem and how a seal failure would cost the life of the entire vehicle.

Well, they’ve fixed it, or so they tell me. At least on later machines, ours will still turn into an ornamental fish tank if that seal fails.

And the grabber with a grip like Julian Clarey on a sledge hammer… Well they’ve not improved on that just yet but it did redeem itself slightly last weekend when I grabbed the edge of a piece of scrap and had a little go at getting it loose from the mud.

As usual, we tugged on the ROV tether – or rather the ever-dedicated Novie did – though as he has a touch like a supertanker running aground the usual and expected thing happened. The grabber, which seems to be made of marsh-mallow, fainted and slipped off the scrap.

Not to be cheated of our prize I quickly swam the ROV back in and grabbed it again. This time I worked the thrusters side to side as Novie exerted a few tons of delicate teasing on the tether.

This time the scrap moved but again the glutinous mud, which is thicker than most confectionary, won the day.

I stuffed the ROV into the gloop a third time and grabbed again; then with someone leaning on the ‘close’ button of the grabber, which is about as much use as thumping the buttons on the phone in the hope that the person you’re trying to call has got off the line at last, we had another go.

This time the mud yielded and we raised the bar where the lifting capacity of our marsh-mallow grabber is concerned.

Up came the biggest piece of scrap lifted remotely in the history of our project.

 

They’re all grinning because that was hard-won piece.

It’s a section of sponson top and if you look carefully to the left of Rob’s hand you’ll see that two of the paint flakes have flecks of white in them. It’s part of the lettering that used to read ‘do not stand here’ across the curved sponson fairing. We recovered the other half of it in 2001.

It can’t go back as a sponson top but it’ll bash into a nice fairing for the inboard end of the front spar. The other bit will make the other fairing and the piece with the writing on will go into our ‘artifact-rich’ display at the museum. Reclamation of original material…

The fact remains that if you want to lift heavy bits you need some of these…

But what you do first is apply one of these…

Tritech’s latest fully-digital, broadband scanning sonar, to finding some of this…

No, not a telly, there’s a bit of scrap on the screen and it intrigued us for three reasons.

Firstly it seemed to be a shaft and a bearing of some sort though we couldn’t imagine what it was and this made it fascinating.

Secondly, it was obviously connected to a section of frame and that’s what we’re after this time around.

And finally, and for reasons we can’t begin to explain, this piece of heavy structure from deep within the boat had somehow managed to come to rest a full thirty-six metres south of the next nearest piece of wreckage. How on earth?

 

It fought us for most of the weekend but yielded to our divers eventually. It’s Donald’s throttle pedal and a most poignant piece. It’s the bit that did all the damage. If only he’d been a little gentler with it we’d all have nothing to do on a weekend; at least nothing this interesting.

Divers Sal Cartwright and Tim York after a successful dip.

Tim is a great lad, a pal of Sally’s who hails from Yorkshire somewhere. He fitted in immediately and gave us all a good laugh by failing to heed advice from the old hands on his diving technique and crashed unceremoniously into the lakebed in a blinding plume of mud.

He didn’t fall for it a second time.

Novie guards another piece of battered aluminium, Bluebird’s foredeck this time, complete with that little track that the canopy roller used to fit into. That bit was small enough to shift with the grabber but for the exceptionally high quality mud it was stuck into so the divers got it instead.

The piece below, on the other hand, is the biggest section recovered this year, it was lifted with the grabber and pulled from the thickest ooze that Coniston Water has to offer but not due to any improved grabbing prowess. It got snagged on the front of the ROV so we pulled on the tether.

“It’s come up a foot,” someone announced as they stared at the depth reading.

“Well keep pulling,” I said, “It might come up the other hundred and forty six.”

And it did.

It’s the bulkhead from the back of the cockpit and another piece that lay hauntingly close to Donald himself during the crash.

The stripe of green chromate primer up the right hand side is where the pilot’s seat-pan was riveted to the bulkhead and on the left, that ragged piece of chromated alloy is part of the seat itself. If you look carefully there are two holes near the top edge. These are where a spanner would be inserted to tighten the bolts that held the safety harness – spooky indeed but it’ll all go back into the finished boat.

*

And finally, for now at least, this we absolutely had to show you.

“Where’s your obligatory silly hat?” we teased Rob one afternoon.

Now Rob is a serious player but he’s very much a ‘make it’ rather than a ‘buy it’ sort of bloke so one day on his way past the charity shop he spotted a plastic sunflower...

And he needed it that day too. We got blown off the water but Rob’s incongruous sunflower didn’t budge.


25th March 2007

Another week of munching through the outstanding tasks. The weather blew a hooligan last weekend and kept us firmly off the lake so we hid out in the workshop and discussed just how far away our piece of spaceframe can be whilst plodding through the indoor jobs.
We’re mainly cleaning panels at the moment. They’ve all been stripped of paint, the corrosion blasted out, then treated chemically and now they’re being fettled and filled before consignment to the paint shop.
Rob has an amazing capacity for this work. He’ll stand all day polishing – as he did with Donald’s ‘bell-end’ – until the job is perfect.


Just as are the two panels on the bench and the small outrigger being worked on. We’re about halfway through the outriggers and some of the bulkheads are ready for painting too.
Some pieces need a ding with our magic hammer before they can go back.
This is the inner floor from the cockpit. Dave eventually shifted the last rivet and presented us with this sheet of 2mm Birmabright that feels more like stainless steel than any aluminium alloy I’ve ever worked with.

It’s a different grade to the stuff they made the outriggers from because it didn’t have to be worked into any fancy shapes. All it had to do was be a flat sheet.
Unfortunate events did work it into a fancy shape, however, and left us with the task of getting it flat again.
Most of this material will gradually anneal if you’re careful with it and don’t let it get too hot. It then works nicely; heat shrinks readily back from whence it came and remains as tough as ever when it cools… but this particular piece!
It took a whole day to get it to here and it still wasn’t perfect.

Then we gave it to John-Dipsy who went to work on it in the paddling pool getting the paint off. These panels always look so much happier when they’re clean.

What you might also notice here is that there seems to be a chunk missing all of a sudden and you’d be right.
That portion of the panel was all stretched and buckled and was taking everything else with it yet the damage was very localised.
The executive decision was taken to cut it out and deal with it as a separate piece and as soon as we did that the rest of the panel sprung flat as a board – good call, we thought.
We’ll treat the small piece individually then weld it back into position when it’s learned to behave.

*


Speaking of small pieces learning to behave…

We had a boatful on Sunday – the next generation of Bluebird nuts. Their collective age didn’t add up to forty but one day it will…
We finished up early and took the little-uns for a cruise out on the lake because the sonar had chucked it.
Well, not quite. The sonar performed flawlessly only to have our off-the-shelf computer hard-drive go mammaries-up and leave us without a system. The job stopped for a forty quid drive.
What’s so bitterly disappointing is that the sonar this time is definitely so new you can’t buy one yet. It’s actually the only one of its type in the known universe and we’re lucky enough to be testing it for the manufacturer.
It spent Friday in the test tank being calibrated, which is why I was unable to make the book launch but back to that in a mo’.

Can’t divulge too much about its capabilities as it’s a commercially sensitive development except to say that rather than running line after parallel line through the wreck site then mosaicking them together all we had to do this time was drive down the middle of the lake watching the whole place unfold with the same pin-sharp resolution we’re used to.
Then the HDD failed!
Not to bother, we’ll fix it.
On a happier note, see who joined us this weekend, our guest of honour – Mr Hannarack himself on his first trip out with us since May 2001.

He was in town, along with many others, for the launch of the new book by David de Lara and Kevin Desmond at the Ruskin.
And what a book – not the tacky paperbacks we’re used to.
A literary slab of the richest chocolate gateau with lashings of fresh cream… Hundreds of colour pictures that dish up an insight into the life of Donald and his team during the fifties and sixties as they traveled the world breaking records.
A beautiful tome to be cherished.

*


Other things to report… John Getty called today to say that the last items of important kit and supporting specialists are in place (unlike the missing piece of spaceframe) and we now have ‘belt, braces and a parachute’ as far as the frame repairs are concerned.
What this amounts to is that NASA could inspect our frame when it’s finished and we’d have enough test results, inspection reports, processes and properly certificated personnel on the books as having carried out the work to satisfy them that all was above board and our frame could go into space.
We’re still designing the repair strategies to utilize original material though.
‘Conserveering’, remember?
And while we’re on the subject we had a disastrous time last weekend with bits we simply couldn’t conserveer.
You see, we’ve kept everything that can’t be put back and placed it carefully in a box marked as containing ‘lost original fabric’.
Then last week whilst repairing frame F22-1-S, a small outrigger from right up in the bow, our box burst its banks and had to be substituted for a bigger one.
The guilty piece that fell off and couldn’t be put back.

In fairness the outrigger was severely mangled, in fact it was torn in half so we expected some lost metal, but now it’s repaired and ready to go but the above fragment could take no more and had to be consigned to the box. This box is six inches cubed so it ought to see the job through but we’re not promising and may have to move up to a shoe box in the fullness of time. Maybe the ‘expert’ was right all along?

The bulkhead it’s standing on is OK though – off to the paint shop for that one.

 


4th April 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)


(and thanks once again to Mr Rivet for the pic’s)

Right, that’s it… no more clutching our silly hats as a knife-like gale tears down Coniston Water past a seven metre survey vessel crewed by nutters bent on retrieving a worthless piece of scrap when not a hundred miles away exists the facility to make an identical replacement.
The water on the Bluebird site is exactly as deep as Nelson’s column is tall and beyond six metres the suffocating dark hides a lakebed of the finest silt. It’s cold down there too.
Remember also that forty years have elapsed since K7 shattered into hundreds of pieces and sank and to this day we have no accurate account of how much was retrieved back in 1967 or what is now lost forever.
The list of excuses for failing to recover the missing piece of frame is long and valid but ultimately unsatisfactory and as poor an apology for giving up as you’ll ever come across but there you have it.

*


The tweedies and bureaucrats always had it in their heads that what we wanted to do was affix a replica front end onto the original aft section then declare the boat whole again.
Donald’s rebuilt Bluebird.
But, as history has recorded, the debt of thoroughness owed to their employer by the HLF ‘experts’ was left unpaid and not one of them at any time bothered to consult with us on what we really intended for the cockpit.
Had they done so they’d have taken a step backwards at the sheer commitment and determination of everyone involved to recover all of the missing parts and return them to the finished boat.
But could it actually be done?
We know that some substantial pieces came out of the water in 67 but unfortunately their re-emergence was not properly documented.
For example, the police inventory of recovered material clearly lists the steering wheel and column while making no mention of the F-20-1 bulkhead to which those items were attached along with Bluebird’s bespoke, Burman steering box and yet all of these components are clearly shown being marched up the beach in photographs taken at the time.
Was our piece of frame recovered back in 67?
Has our relentless searching of the crash site in 2007 been doomed from the outset?

*


It took a whole week to get the sonar computer back on line; most of that time being spent in a re-design to eliminate the chance of a repeat failure.
Problem was, by the time it was ready, we were steaming towards the Easter weekend – start of the Lake District silly season – and a time when you definitely don’t want ropes, umbilicals and clump weights all over the lake.
It’s also the beginning of the visitor season for our museum and as we’ve covered the lake shore with promotional material, which (encouragingly) disappears as fast as we can replenish it, we’re hopeful of a few extra bodies through the door this year.
Come the summertime, if we’re to get anything done, we’d have to switch from hoping for good weather out of season to wishing for poor weather when it ought to be glorious so we made the executive decision that as the place was about to go daft we’d cram a couple of last-ditch-effort days in before announcing our failure.
And so we found ourselves on the lake Tuesday and Wednesday.
Job-one was to test the sonar.
We knew it worked but were unable to demonstrate this with hard data last time. Then the wind picked up and made turning the boat with a towfish out back decidedly dangerous.
Thus defeated on that front we decided instead to shoot all the clump weights we had, lash ourselves immovably to the silt, then chase down a theory we’ve been working on for several weeks.


Take a look at this pic’ and tell us what you see…
It’s obvious enough that a chunk of something has flown off in the crash and splashed down not a million miles from the camera as K7 sinks in the background (left) but where is that on the lake?
We have no idea where the camera was, how big the object might be or any of the distances or angles involved…
In fact, about the only thing we could say with some certainty, is that the splash is east of the sinking position and probably not more than 200m from the impact site as that’s how far the spar went, which we know because we lifted it in 2001.
Call it 250m for safety’s sake and you have a piece of lakebed the size of two thousand table-tennis tables – work that back to football pitches if you prefer.
Factor in that were this really the frame it’s an extremely heavy piece and from experience we knew that very little was likely to be showing above the mud.
Not put off in the least we ploughed on; systematically cleaning out an area east of the crash zone then continuing towards the north – but without result.
Could it have gone west, north or maybe further northeast than we’d already looked? Theories abounded and frustration took its toll on us all but the only thing to do was to keep thoroughly eliminating small areas of lakebed at a time.
What if the flying object was the frame and we were in the right area but it had landed flat with nothing showing above the mud? We knew the steelwork would be buried – the other pieces of cockpit frame were – but ragged markers of aluminium had always flagged their whereabouts. What if though… what if?

*


Then amidst our awful frustration a blast from the past arrived to cheer us up.
Carl Spencer took an afternoon off and came over to visit with us.
Those who’ve followed the project from our early, fumbling exploits on the lake will remember that Carl was one of our key players back in those formative days.
We were short of a skilled diver when the recovery op’ started and I was just too busy with a project that seemed to be expanding faster than the universe to go out and recruit one. I asked Sally Cartwright and ‘Beanie’ Woodfine for ideas and as one they suggested Carl.
I’d never heard of him but their glowing reports sealed the deal.

“Phone him up, if you could, tell him what’s going on and invite him to join us in the morning,” I said then went on with whatever it was I was busy with.

Next morning we had a new diver whom I was surprised to discover was a Brummie.
We’d never had one of those before but we couldn’t really hold it against him.

To this day he tells me he’s a ‘plumber from Cannock’ and I insist I’m a ‘welder from North Shields.’

“Go with those lads, they’re about to dive,” I suggested whereupon Carl, after the briefest of introductions, got to dive the Bluebird wreck with video camera in hand.

He seemed a little stunned when the boat came back but rapidly went on to become one of the main boys and one of the three divers responsible for recovering Donald.
We were therefore delighted to see him last week. Just like old times.

 


Carl has since gone onto greater things than splashing about in a humble Cumbrian lake.
His project to dive and survey Titanic’s sister, Britannic, took us all out to Greece in 2003 where we got one over ‘Hollywood’ Bob Ballard of Titanic fame by locating the minefield that sank the great ship where his efforts with the American, nuclear-powered N1 submarine failed.
He sent us a ‘well done’.
Carl and I worked again together on the X5 project in Norway last year. It was all my mad idea whilst Carl was the motive force behind our borrowing two Royal Navy minesweepers for the duration.
Now these boys had a sonar system to be proud of and what a privilege to be able to put our hands on it for a day or three.


This is the op’s room aboard HMS Quorn, the warmest place we could find in that frozen Norwegian fjord but that’s another story.
Back to Coniston… Carl had just returned from Australia this week after traveling all that way to give a presentation to some midget-submarine veterans then stopping off in Hollywood on the way back to discuss his part in a movie.
He’s journeyed to the Titanic aboard the Mir subs, is a fellow helicopter pilot, runs a highly successful business and is a superb diver. It was great to get back together so we all downed a hot chocolate at the Bluebird café then hopped aboard Predator and went for a nostalgic play about with the sonar.

*


At this point I must thank Tritech in Aberdeen for their unwavering faith where all things sonar are concerned.
They’ve supplied equipment, software development, technical advice and support beyond the call of duty when it came to keeping our underwater search operation going.
Their high-resolution sidescan and scanning sonar systems are simple to operate, robust and easily adaptable to the demanding things we ask of them.
I mean, their sonar heads were never designed to be stuffed into the top of a truncated road-cone and lowered to the lakebed on a cable …


How many wires?
And check out the world’s most expensive road-cone. The blue thing in the top is the latest Tritech sonar head.
We showed off all our new-fangled kit to Carl, as he’s not been part of the evolution we’ve undergone as a search team since he stepped ashore in May 2001, and boasted of our new capabilities.
Into the water went our array of sensors and the crew threw the usual banter back and forth while sod-all showed itself on the screens – it seems that Carl has applied for astronaut training! No I’m not kidding.
Us relative under-achievers, in the meantime, continued plugging away at the myriad targets that litter the lakebed.
Plastic bottles and tumbleweed far outnumber all others but we’ve also seen pieces of lost diving equipment from the 2001 expedition, huge eels and a hiking boot to name but a few. Each must be checked, recorded and eliminated.
A typical scanning sonar shot looks like this.


Think of it as looking down from above on a circular section of lakebed – as though we could shine an extremely powerful spotlight on the bottom and see what lay within its beam.
This circle is sixty metres in diameter and in the ten o’clock position the ROV is approaching an unknown target.
By this time we’d gone so far to the north-east we were in danger of having to climb the steep slope up to the shore and then, to the astonishment of all aboard, this drifted into our camera’s view.


Now this was serious… undoubtedly a piece of Bluebird but almost a hundred metres from the sinking position and two hundred metres from the impact site – it had been thrown one hell of a long way!
We recognized it immediately as part of an internal bulkhead from the cockpit and the atmosphere was charged in an instant.
The distinctive curved edge gave it away; we were suddenly very excited bunnies as we knew that a simple bulkhead hadn’t flown so far on its own without fluttering back into the water.
Something big and heavy had carried it and whatever it was lay beneath the mud.
Now did we mention that Carl had thrown his dive gear aboard just in case something exciting happened?


And so with as little effort as one might expect of someone donning a raincoat and popping an umbrella, Carl slipped into his kit…


…and dropped over the wall gripping the end of a rope with which to secure the booty.


It’s always fascinating to watch the divers working on the bottom. We can see them but they can’t see us.
We first used this technique with the police divers on a body recovery and heard through the underwater comm’s that they couldn’t locate the target. We were later able to demonstrate that most of them never left the down-line – embarrassing to say the least.


Carl is heading out from the centre towards the ROV, which is sitting on the target providing a light source and a route to follow with its tether.


Notice the trail of silt kicked up by his progress all the way to the target as for the first time since 1967 human hands grasped this part of K7 and worked on it once more.
We watched, fascinated, as Carl bashed around on the target for five minutes or so. I knew from personal experience that he’d long since lost any kind of underwater visibility and must be working in pitch darkness by feel alone.
We get no more than a glimpse of what’s happening on the video and then the mud smothers everything.
Vid Diver arrives.


He also had to be up to his waist in liquid mud and exerting himself severely on a closed loop of computer-managed breathing gas yet the sonar image continued to show him working hard for several minutes more until…


… returning at last.
Notice that the ROV is now separated from th

e target and the diver is on his way back, drifting slowly now that the job is done and making no wake this time.
Carl later explained that he’d moved the ROV before starting work in case he damaged it
I stood on it once and as a result it arrived on the surface full of water and about two grand away from working again. Told you Carl was a veteran…
Five minutes later he drifted to the surface relaxed as if he’d nipped down there for a coffee and a pastry, climbed aboard, then stretched out comfortably atop a basket of ropes.
“Let me know when you need me back in,” he teased in his Brummie accent as the rest of us took the weight on the rope.
“It’s a big piece,” he informed us nonchalantly. “Tried to lift it and disappeared into the mud myself instead.”
We were all grinning madly…


Three months of skirting the divorce courts and now we could almost see a way clear to putting two fingers up to the lawyers once and for all – it was unbearable.
Three of us dragged Carl’s gear aboard as Graeme crept the ROV through the mud to make an inspection. We made ready to pull like hell.
“Is it likely to come off the rope?” I asked.
Carl assured us otherwise.
Graeme called from the wheelhouse that I was going to like this.
“What is it?”
“Bloody great bit of frame tube with a rope around it,” he replied excitedly.


Our fingers froze and dripped cold lake water as we heaved on the rope but as the strain built we realised what we had was one heavy piece of wreckage incoming so we pulled for all we were worth until…


Three month’s work – triumph at last.
Our long-missing piece of frame emerged lashed at both ends and in the middle; no mean feat in a hundred and fifty feet of black water a couple of metres of mud and no visibility whatsoever. Notice the brown stained part in the centre. That’s the only bit that was visible above the mud and because of that the frame is in as good condition now as it was when it sank.
Thanks Carl.
And while I’m thanking folk there’s a whole host of deserving others.
The Bluebird-widows… our wives and girlfriends (mostly wives these days demonstrating how much can change in six years) who’ve given of themselves unstintingly as we’ve torn loose our remaining hair and spoken a foreign language of latitudes and longitudes since Christmas.
They’ve been great as have the die-hard members of the team. It has to be said that picking out corrosion and sanding down filler is totally soul destroying work but week-in, week-out, Rob and Tony Dargavel have kept their appointment with history and donated Wednesday and Thursday evenings to such mundane tasks as well as making the odd trip out on the boat.
Most of us have been out on the lake most weekends for as long as we can remember and it’s become a family affair especially for the rivets – Dave, Gill and the Mandrels, Skinny and Bogart.
Rarely, if ever, has the project witnessed such support and solidarity. It was easy when we were all single blokes and now it’s easier still as we arrive on site with packed lunches and the promise of a meal on the table when we arrive home frozen and exhausted.
Novie remains a load-bearing, structural member of the team as does the Hannarack and I was reminded by Alain, who’s been involved longer than anyone else but me, that it would be good policy to give the original dive-team first refusal on the recovery work. It never occurred to me that any of them would still be interested – how wrong can you be? Thanks to Sal and Tim for all that sponson structure and the throttle pedal.
And of course, Capt. Graeme Connacher came along for the ride. He’s a great bloke and we’d be lost without the chance to fill his house with sleeping bags and his fridge with beer so a huge thanks to all involved. We got there in the end.
Right – back to the workshop.

 


15th April 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

 

With our waterborne adventures behind us – for the moment at least – we’re busy creating new ones in the workshop.
The Hapless Lottery Fund, because they never came close to grasping what we were about, dreamt up some weird ideas (contradictory as a rule) that we tried desperately to dispel over the years
Poor deluded souls convinced themselves that we’d have to chuck half of K7 away and start again.
We patiently explained that even the most badly battered panel, as long as it wasn’t rotten in which case you really do have to admit defeat, can be straightened and re-used but we may as well have explained it to the dog.
Mending such damage, however, would require the expenditure of more man-hours than it took to construct the Millennium Dome not to mention huge sums of money and this is where the male-bovine-excrement would begin to spatter all over again.
What would be the ‘heritage benefit’? (Whatever that means) Would we be offering the public value for money?
In order to provide value for money we’d have to chuck bits away and fabricate new parts as fixing the originals would consume too much time and lottery cash. The whole exercise would offer little in the way of ‘heritage benefit’ and not represent the all-important value for money, which would then make our front end a replica and the hapless-lot don’t fund replicas, only interpretive models.
They’d therefore not pay for the new bits yet having someone else stump up for them instead seems not to redress the value for money balance as we tried that when they refused to pay to connect up the steering.
“Why connect up the steering if you’re not going to use it?” They argued, their lack of vision preventing them from seeing that one day we might and that the public, whom the HL-effers ultimately serve, may actually appreciate it.
They suffered a spot of poetic justice the other week when the Olympics budget took a two billion quid transfusion out of them without so much as a thank you.
Big bureaucrats eating smaller ones – like weird nature with incompetence for an energy source.
We’d also have the museologists bleating by now, if we’d not sacked them too, about how you can’t straighten anything anyway because it’s historical vandalism if you do. It has to be left as it was because it’s a snapshot in time – nowhere is it written down how many snapshots of battered aluminium are enough?
If you listen to all this rubbish you’d get nothing done – as was the case for over four wasted years during which we lost our chief designer – so here’s what we did last week.
Our museological mentor, and one of their tiny minority vested with any common sense, Chris Knapp, left us with two phrases that we chant like a mantra when making important decisions. With these two small instructions he condensed industrial conservation into something anyone with half a brain can follow and as the Hemorrhaging Olympics Fund have just been told by The National Audit Office to ‘simplify their procedures’ because all their jobs come in late and over budget the HL-effers would do well to take note.
“Justify it,” Mr Knapp orders when we suggest straightening anything.
“The water will p*ss in if we leave it like that,” is our usual answer.
“Reality dictates,” he tells us when we point out that Donald bent it in the first place and the only way forward is with crowbar and hammer.
That’s it; you don’t need any more.
Armed with the above you can fix anything.
So here is the bulkhead from frame 22 labeled by dear old Ken as F-22-1.
Here it is as-recovered by ROV in January 07.
Even Novie isn’t sure what to make of it.

And this is how it looked when washed and dried and placed on the workbench for further consideration…


What we’d like to do is put this piece back.
No I’m not joking.
Justify it… Were Chris to ask me the question directly I’d state simply that it’s bent and we’ll never make the rivet holes line up in that condition therefore we have to fix it. We could make a new one but why when we have the original? Then we’d go for a pint and work out how it’s to be done.
Another thing – just to give you an idea – the boat is numbered from the stern towards the bow with F-1 being about eighteen inches forward of the transom (that’s the flat bit at the back where the water brake was bolted for any non-boaty types).
The upward-sloping underside of the nose begins at F-19 the rear face of the front spar is at F-20, the front face at F-21 then comes F-22 leaving F-23 at the tip of the bow so this particular piece of wreckage was right at the heart of the crash.
And so, much persuading began, to convince it that it really does want to be a piece of Bluebird again one day. Reality dictates that we hit it with a hammer or it’ll be bent ’til the end of time but first a short lesson in metallurgy.
Next time you stop to put fuel in your car pick up a bar of toffee or similar, take it from its wrapper and firmly grasp each end. Next, pull in opposite directions until it stretches about half an inch.
Now consider how you might return it to the same size and shape it once was and ask yourself what kind of a job this must be with a piece of stretched aluminium…
Here’s another – find a piece of stiff wire, a section of coat hanger will do nicely, and grip it at either end. Bend it into a U-shape then without moving your hands try to bend it straight again.
It won’t straighten where you just bent it. Instead it’ll bend either side of the original bend leaving you with a W-shape.
Why is this? Because you work-hardened the wire where you bent it the first time so the act of trying to straighten it again just exploited the softer areas either side. But now they’ve work hardened too.
Spend a while getting it straight as you consider what’s involved with a twisted sheet of alloy.
So spend a while we did until…


Not bad, but don’t imagine for a second that it’s good to go. Take a look at the bottom edge for starters. Not exactly straight, is it? It’s s’posed to be though.
Any tin-basher will tell you that a flat panel is the hardest to achieve.
I mean, why would you ever want to make one when you buy (or beg in our case) material off the shelf that’s already flat as flat can be?
It can be done but we don’t want to work this old material any more than necessary so compromise is inevitable.
Having brought back F-22-1 to some semblance of its former self we then turned our attention to the two outriggers that fit either side of it to make a complete bulkhead.
Part of the right hand outrigger (F-22-1-S (for starboard)) came up with the bulkhead in January 2007. The rest of it we already had. That came up attached to the right hand cockpit wall in February 2001. The two torn pieces looked like this when we began.


And like this after a few hours of tapping about. (Note the split down the right hand side)


Still a million miles away but less than the ten million where they started but there’s still the small matter of it being torn in two.
Its opposite number (F-22-1-P) came up in April 2007 with the long-missing section of mainframe. It looked like this with its paint off…


…but turned out to be altogether better behaved than its opposite number and responded fairly well to a spot of flagellation.


Next step, get it all precisely back to shape so it can go back into the rebuilt hull.
Aligning the bottom edges was straightforward – we made a simple tool from the salvaged floor to reproduce precisely the rivet holes that originally fastened it down.


That’s the strip of alloy along the bottom edge and now Donald’s cockpit is slowly coming back together. Having thus contained the dimensions at one end and sorted the angles, as this part of the floor slopes steeply upwards, we then had to re-jig the top edge.
However, remember I mentioned stretching this stuff and how to send it back from whence it came? We found ourselves desperately in need of a small shrinking machine.
A what?
It’s a little beastie that grasps the metal with the pull of a lever, then, with a further application of pressure, squeezes a small amount of it together as you might with that piece of toffee to force it back to where it originated.
There are manual techniques involving hammers but you can only work this metal for so long before it turns to icing sugar so the relatively gentle approach of a small shrinker was deemed far preferable. I set about obtaining one.
Steve at Airframes pointed us at a company called Frost (www.Frost.co.uk) who retail panel beater’s kit and car restoration equipment so I called and spoke to an extremely helpful bloke in the techie-help dept.
He confirmed that we needed a shrinker and gave me details of which model but my request that we beg a deal on it was met with the suggestion that I call Mike the MD on Monday and see what he had to say.
Mike didn’t say too much when I called up and explained what we were about but he did promise to check out our website and call me back.
Now then, my patience is limitless with some things but better resembles Novie playing the violin when I’m left waiting for important calls… so I rang first to find Mike firmly on the team.
A big thanks to Mike at Frost tools and look at this, the top and bottom edges of the F-22-1 bulkhead shrunk back perfectly in seconds.


We went on a rampage and finished off about ten panels in an hour with this amazing machine.
If you mend cars or make stuff with sheet metal and don’t have one of these – trust me – you need one!
You can do clever things like put a straight bit of material in its jaws…


…munch away for a minute or so – and turn out one of these.


Clever, eh?
As it happens, the top profile of our bulkhead is not strictly relevant anymore because after Bluebird’s front spar was raised and the new foredeck installed extra panels were riveted to the tops of the bulkheads in the bow to raise them too and this left us with dozens of rivet holes that we could use to pick up a strengthener for our recovered bulkheads.
We’d already made some MDF formers and from there doublers for the F-12 port and starboard outriggers and they turned out OK.


Above are the original outriggers (top and bottom) with their new doublers so we followed our wining formula and knocked up a strengthener to pick up our F-22 bulkhead and its outriggers.


There then followed much late-night welding while some of the team took an hour off to relax – and some didn’t.


Thankfully, Bluebird’s aluminium welds easily and with the appropriate rods, as donated by Leengate Welding Supplies a few weeks back, we know the materials are all matched.
Having repaired all the damage, done a bit more fettling, then made a final check against the drawings, F-22 was then placed in the tender charge of our shot-blaster in residence, Tony Dargavel, for a lick of glass bead.
The glass actually polishes the surface and peens it smooth. We’ll not paint these bits until the last minute before final assembly in case they require some final tweaks.
Not bad for a crumpled piece of scrap.


Three things.
Notice that the square cutouts that allow the frame tubes to pass through aren’t symmetrical and the gap between the left hand outrigger and the bulkhead… It appears the frame wasn’t square at the front from day-one.
It says on Ken’s drawings that these cutouts should be dressed to clear the welds by 1/8th of an inch but these are more like 3/8th different from side to side so it seems the frame was cocked to port, which has opened a huge can of worms for us repairing the panels and PDS repairing the frame – more of that when we get our heads around it.
Secondly, the panels are still a little battle-scarred. We could have gone on nit-picking forever but to what end? Hasn’t this metal been tortured enough? What would be the ultimate use of perfectly flat material buried deep in the bow where no one can see it when we can quit while we’re ahead without risk of further weakening the alloy?
And finally - didn’t the Hopeless Lottery Flop cry on about a ‘conservation-led approach’?
Best we can do when it comes to conservation, I’m afraid.


1st May 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

We’re still cracking on at the same breakneck pace over here – without compromising quality of course.
If you own a dog and have ever left it locked up for a while or take it to the beach or the countryside in the car you’ll have some idea of what we were like when finally let off the leash and into the workshop.
We finally got the green light last September and haven’t stopped since. You’d expect enthusiasm to wane and wives to drag us indoors but thankfully it’s not happened and we’re over the worst now.
The team has stuck together as winter threw itself either under the roller shutter door of our workshop or straight down the lake; not to mention the gnawing uncertainties of an extremely ambitious project.
We had no idea, remember, whether we’d be able to find that piece of frame. We’d never refurbished twisted, ‘Birmabright’ panels or welded them before. We’d not worked with the fancy T60 steel that comprises the frame either but now we’ve done it all and feel halfway confident that not much can catch us out now.
We’ve grown into a tight team, each with their own specialty, and polished our skills with each passing week.
The massive and ever-expanding picture archive of the project and conservation logs has previously only contained folders regarding dismantling this or cleaning that but now there’s a new folder, the wonderfully titled,
‘Rebuilding Bluebird’.
Within are many sub-folders containing pic’s of cleaned and refurbished components.
It’s a great feeling and a just reward for the unflagging team effort considering that we only began for real in September 2006.
We couldn’t wish for a better crew.
For example, John-Dipsy has been tin bashing again, this time making a repair piece for a missing section of the F-19-1 bulkhead. This is the frame at the step in the bow.


Until a few months ago, John had never hit a piece of alloy with a hammer.


But it fits rather nicely.
And Dave set about pulling some wrecked T60 tubing back to within a millimetre of where Ken drew it so it can be repaired and reincorporated into the finished boat.


Tony Dargavel must have either shot-blasted or stripped the paint from hundreds of panels and other components yet he never seems to tire of it and can always be found either at the blasting cabinet or up to his elbows in paint stripper – in this case cleaning one of K7’s forward spar boxes.


As they supported Bluebird’s outer skins they were left in place when the spar was raised and simply boxed in. We have both of them and they’ll fix.
And yes, Chemetall-Trevor’s stripping bath is still going strong. I enjoy startling visitors by plunging my hands into it after showing them how easily it removes paint. (Then I rinse them under the tap).
Rob keeps plugging away at whatever is to hand. Here, a piece of forward body skin with a strange fitting attached to it, which he set about salvaging.
Notice the small radio on the edge of his paddling pool. He sneaked it in to listen to football of all things and the wrong team too and so was immediately banished to the far end of the workshop with his tools.


Alain can usually be found spannering away under the old engine…


…or mending something around the workshop and I’m forever tweaking about with bits of aluminium.


Then we recruited another volunteer.


Meet Alan Dodds, merrily raising a curved panel and making it look easy.
It’s much like the ones he raised in 1956 to cover the ends of K7’s raised front spar.
Yep, Alan worked for the Carlisle company, James Bendall & Sons as a panel beater and was part of the original team to carry out the mod’s on Bluebird’s front end when the spar was lifted. He met Donald and Leo and had some great tales for us as he demonstrated that he’s lost none of his skills.
A spot of wheeling came next…


And there you have it – a demo of what can be done when you’re a real panel beater.


But here’s the best bit. We asked Alan whether he’d come over and make some parts for real when we start rebuilding the cockpit, which is happening sooner than you’d imagine, and he accepted.
How cool is that? One of the guys involved from K7’s very earliest days coming back to help knock her into her final form over half a century later.
On a slightly different note – remember we observed that the frame was slightly out of true from the outset and that this was going to cause problems?

Well what it actually did was create an impossible situation for the techies at PDS.
How do you tell a precision engineering company to ignore the drawings you’ve provided because, although they’re technically correct, you don’t actually want your finished product to be represented exactly? Instead what we really need is the whole affair building about quarter of an inch cocked to the left – or is that three-sixteenths?
It was a hopeless position for PDS so we took the executive decision to retrieve the cockpit frame to this end and try to work out precisely what’s needed before continuing.

 

So now we have this forlorn pile of junk on the workshop floor imbued with yet more of Donald’s infernal bad luck. If it could laugh at us it surely would but we’ll fix it somehow…


5th May 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

Got into trouble over the last diary entry, I did.

“Never mind all this soft stuff about who’s doing what and how great they all are,” I was told firmly. “Where are the nuts and bolts… the tin-bashing?”

The fact is that having showed you all one bulkhead – and a particularly knackered one at that – coming gradually back together, I imagined that we’d made the point about our actually rebuilding this thing rather than creating an interpretive model…
Thought you’d all be bored stupid with more of the same.
But no, it seems, more tin-bashing is required by popular demand. So here’s one right from the start.
Frame 19.
Here’s a pic’ stolen from the Speedrecordgroup collection. (http://autos.groups.yahoo.com/group/Speedrecordgroup/)


Look carefully under K7’s bow and you can make out the step beneath her hull as a thin, black line.
This where the steeply-sloping front of the boat meets her flat bottom but there’s actually a step of about two inches where the sloping bow dips lower than the flat underside behind it; the idea being that air is trapped behind this step to help K7’s flat bottom un-stick from the water surface as the boat transitions from her displacement to planing condition.
This step is at F-19 and can be seen more clearly here in this shot of the right-hand cockpit wall as-recovered.


The tip of the bow is to the right. See how it slopes downwards to the step and then continues aft as a flat bottom.
The bulkhead at the step, at F-19, is particularly significant because it’s the only one to extend outside of the boat and therefore serve the dual role of providing structural rigidity whilst keeping the water out.
F-19 consists of four panels though only the bottom one had the job of keeping Donald’s feet dry.
The bulkhead emerged in two separate sittings, the first sections to surface being the torn away centre portion of the lower panel, the right hand outrigger and the top panel, normally situated behind the instruments and spanning the top frame tubes.
In Kens original design it also served as a former for the foredeck
The bottom crossmember from the step came up at the same time though this major find was entirely overshadowed at the time by the fact that the throttle pedal came with it.


The tubular crossmember is clearly visible and we can be seen gripping the bottom of the F-19 panel that once kept the water out.
The right hand outrigger and top panel are the crumpled mess to the right.
The left hand section of the bottom panel and left outrigger eventually came up with the long-elusive piece of cockpit frame – in fact that fragment of the lower panel was the only piece we observed above the mud.
Here’s the right-hand outrigger still clinging to the frame. It’s the vertical piece nearest appearing yellow under its coat of chromate primer. You can just see the end of the skin that once comprised the step at the top of the picture.


Is everyone keeping up?
The bottom panel was torn into three parts. The left we recovered as well as the centre but the right-hand end is somewhere in the mud at the bottom of Coniston Water and is likely to remain there until advancing technology and the next team of powerfully motivated individuals make it their mission to prove a point...
In the meantime, this is the left-hand end of the lower panel after cleaning and blasting. It’s in poor shape but recoverable – just.


The rectangular cutout is where it fitted around the lower, left frame tube. The straight (sort of) bottom edge was outside the boat and the curved section (top right) was inside the cockpit roughly under Donald’s left knee.
Go back in the diary, to the little video clip of when we first found the missing cockpit wall, and this is the piece you’ll see poking from the mud.
But for this fragment we’d never have found that main frame section. Sometimes you just get lucky.
And here it is reunited with the centre section. We used the original crossmember tube to jig it all together as the rivet holes haven’t moved.


We’ve stuffed the left hand outrigger in there too. It doesn’t look to be in good condition and has been only roughly tapped into shape but what’s important is that the rivet holes are beginning to line up. Notice the skin pins holding everything together.
You can’t get those pins in there if the holes are less than perfectly aligned.
Notice also that the right hand end of the bottom panel is missing – time to make a new bit.
Below; John-Dipsy blanks out a piece of 2mm H22 marine grade alloy and whacks it around a wooden former made to Ken’s drawings.


Then follows a spot of fettling and filing until it fits to the millimetre.


We’re making real progress now and the right hand outrigger has also been popped in there to check the dimensions. Looks promising.
Next came the top panel – hmmmm.
Not a good one, this.
It took a big smack, nor is it an easy one to put right with channels formed either side to slot into the outriggers and a turned edge to make it comfortable against Donald’s shins when entering and exiting the cockpit – a real bitch of a thing to straighten.


Still… we’ve tackled worse so after a bit of tinkering we bashed it to where light is visible at the end of the tunnel for F-19 and cautiously acknowledged that it’s something approaching a bulkhead again but the work has only just begun.
The truth remains that we could have made a new one in the time it’s taken to get this far then taken a week off.
It’s easy to illustrate the process in a dozen pictures and a few hundred words but it takes an age of careful fettling to get even to here.
Still, it wouldn’t be Conserveering if we simply made new bits… It would be bureaucratic archaeology, or something similar.


To be continued…


9th May 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

You wanted tin-bashing… we’ve been back amongst F-19 slowly resuscitating it from the dead.
We’re cultivating a sort of symbiotic relationship between K7’s cockpit frame members and her panels at the moment.
When the boat hit the water most of the aluminium skins were instantly stripped from the frame and sank onto a fairly well circumscribed area of lakebed.
Collecting them was simple by comparison to retrieving the scattered pieces of frame where the cold, brittle steel, weakened at its welds since the day it was built, fragmented on impact and followed no defined laws in its violent redistribution.
But what is fundamental to this project is that we’ve painstakingly collected it all back together and in the workshop we appreciate for what it is…lumps of metal.
There are many considerations when working with these old materials especially when you think of what they’ve been through but it’s only steel and aluminium at the end of the day and metal is a known quantity in the Bluebird-Project workshop.
Take a look at this conglomeration.


Here’s the left hand section of F-19 from a new angle with two important differences. Look at what were previously splits either side of the frame tube and you’ll see that they’ve been partially welded, but more importantly, the whole thing is fastened to the cockpit frame.
Just about everything at the pointy end took a tweak in the crash so it’s impossible to realign the shattered pieces of frame or the panels if you treat each in isolation.
We measured that a piece of 16swg BB3 stretches, on average, 6mm before it splits so wherever you have a tear in the metal you have 6mm of material to lose and where the split ends you have somewhere between 0 and 6mm to deal with from there to where the stretching began.
The steel behaves similarly but stretches a little further and that’s without any twisting or bending along the length of a tube.
But reattach a piece of alloy to a section of frame whilst maintaining the specified clearances around the welds and, like kids caught in an act of naughtiness, each will reveal the other’s misdeeds if tackled correctly.
We have the drawings for the panels and we know how far they stretch before failing so we can bring them back and pin them to the frame, which then has no option but to show us how far it too has been blasted out of alignment.
This is what PDS could never have done without the panels and it proved easier to tackle it at our end as the panels need so much fettling – something we’ve geared ourselves to do as the build-proper approaches.
So, having sorted the alignment problems with F-19, the time came to start making serious repairs.
Were this supposed to be pure conservation we’d already have a few tweedies in rehab through overexposure to museological vandalism but pure conservation is a pathetic approach to an object as charismatic as Bluebird K7.
The museologists are learning though – the clever ones at least – as we receive quiet encouragement and queries from their ranks about the possible application of engineering solutions to conservation issues.
Our main conserveering exercise this week remained F-19, which just about resembled a bulkhead last we saw of it and so could have been justifiably hung in our ‘artifact-rich’ display with a patronising label under a tweed-friendly light bulb while we built all new parts for K7.
We could also have put F-19 back as it is but it wouldn’t be very watertight and that’s no use. Need to fix such problems.
“Justify it,” I hear Chris say.
Simple, K7 is a boat and water p*ssing in is a big no-no. The time came to give F-19 a proper sorting.

John-Dipsy’s new section proved to be a proper item of indeterminate parentage. We knew it was absolutely precise to Ken’s drawings but unfortunately it’s about the only piece that is at the moment!
It fought us for days and as is usual in these cases all it takes is a millimetre error at one end the panel and suddenly nothing fits even closely.
It gave in eventually though.

This shot is bound to confuse because what you’re seeing is the back of the panel after new has been welded to old – new bit to the left.
Because this is old material, and often we’re welding up corroded fractures, our process is to put a forty-five degree weld-prep on the faces to be repaired then fire plenty of good, clean filler-rod into the first weld.
Next we turn the job over, use an aluminium cutter in a die-grinder to clean right back to pure material from the opposite side and then weld it again. That way we have good welds on both sides with no inclusions or impurities. The rods are 5000 series alloy so the material isn’t compromised.
Give it a polish with a mop-type disc and you’re a step closer to a useable panel.

Notice that we’ve now put the joggle halfway up the new section to let the left-hand outrigger fit cleanly inside it.
Nine and a quarter million miles covered – three-quarters of a million to go and on the way we have to deal with more corrosion than is healthy for this particular panel.
Unfortunately, the executive decision was taken to patch the worst bits. Small corrosion pits can be cleaned out with the aluminium cutter then filled with weld but the big bits were beyond this fix.

So they were carefully removed and consigned to the ‘lost original fabric box’ whilst carefully shaped patches took their place and were welded into position.

More fettling followed…

And now it’s watertight again. It looks much better too but all that welding pulls it out of shape and holes that lined up perfectly beforehand are suddenly half a hole out. The best cure is to carefully stretch and shrink with the tin-bashing hammers until everything begins to play the game – that and having the now completed cockpit frame as the best jig in the world.

The shiny, silver bar across the bottom, by the way, is part of the assembly jig we built for the cockpit frame and not part of the boat in case you were wondering.

Have to make the outriggers fit next.


12th May 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

 

The cockpit frame is ready to go. Remember we brought it home and heaped it on the workshop floor.

You’re looking at the nose of the boat and can see that the right hand (as you’d sit in the driving seat) cockpit wall is intact, though badly bent, whereas the left hand side has split in two. The curved crossmember (visible spanning the cockpit walls) was originally at the forward end of Donald’s seat and was found completely separated from the other sections.
The right hand side was located close to the impact site, the crossmember mid-distance between the impact site and main wreck and half of the left hand frame turned up beside the wreck itself.
The missing piece of left-hand frame has already had its story told.
There’s not a straight piece amongst them.
Job-one was to give ourselves a datum from which we could begin to put the thing to rights so Dave and I set about constructing a jig.

Don’t be fooled by its apparently simple construction – Dave the Rivet is a professional surveyor and I’ve done a bit of welding here and there so it’s absolutely level both across its width and lengthwise; and the legs are perfectly vertical according to Dave’s digital levels and lasers. Next job was to slap some scrap up there and see how it looked.

It looked awful – everything proved bent or stretched out of shape – this was going to be an epic.
We crawled around it for half a day then retired to the pub for a strategy meeting. The blue clamps are holding a piece of scrap box-section because the vertical frame tube was all over the place and we wanted to hold it straight while we thought about it.
It seems the reason why the right-hand cockpit wall came up in one piece and the other side broke in two was because of the differing nature of the failure from one side to the other at that vertical frame member.
There was once a crossmember at this point – frame 17.

Take a look at the curved frame between the steering wheel and the ‘Bloctube’ fuel-cock lever
(That’s the black thing lurking down the right-hand side of Donald’s seat. Pic nicked from the SRG collection)
You can see the F-17 crossmember comprising a U-shaped tube looping under the forward edge of the seat ( a portion of the right-hand side of it is visible in the pic) and a horizontal one across the floor (hidden beneath the seat).
But here’s another rather shocking image of it – never previously released – from when the cockpit was reconstructed for Steve Moss at AAIB to aid in locating Donald. You can see the fuel-cock on the left.

This is looking aft, Donald would be facing us were he sitting in the pilot’s seat (The severely disrupted structure aft of the crossmember) and you can see that the left-hand cockpit wall is still there as far as F-17 where it broke.
What happened in the impact was is this.
On the left-hand cockpit wall, both top and bottom longitudinal frame tubes failed completely, first at F-17 where the heat-affected zones around the welds were exploited and then at F-15 at the back of the cockpit where the frame met the much stronger structure supporting the main spar.
The reason the frame sections separated completely at this point is because both fractures occurred at the forward face of F-17. The front frame section then glanced off the water like a skimming stone and flew 200m whilst the aft portion, which came adrift milliseconds later, went pretty much straight down.
If you study the above picture you can see how the outer skin has wrapped around the vertical at F-17, proving that this failure occurred before the one at F-15.
The other cockpit wall behaved a little differently.

Examine the hi-res version of this pic and you’ll see

why. The vertical tube in the middle is where F-17 used to be welded and again the structure has failed at this point on the heat affected zones, but look closely at the fractures and you may spot the crucial difference.
…The bottom tube has failed forward of the vertical whilst the top tube failed aft of it and this allowed the vertical to behave like a torsion tube and keep both halves together. Notice how the aluminium skins have been blasted outwards in the pic above and folded inwards in the earlier one.
K7 struck the water facing right of track and the cockpit was wiped off from left to right.
This piece of detective work is all duly recorded for future students along with detailed photographs and x-rays of each and every fracture. Some of our findings, each with proper scientific data to support them, have caused controversy but they’ll not be swept under the carpet. It’ll all be there for historians to sift through in the fullness of time and why not? We have nothing to gain or lose through accurate reporting.
In the meantime, our mission is to make K7 good to go again.
The F-17 vertical certainly prevented the frame from separating but at a heavy price.

The ragged area (above) is where the crossmember pulled out of the top longitudinal on the right-hand side and the black line is our equivalent of where the surgeon draws on you with a marker to remind you in the hours before the op’ where he’s about to stick the knife.
Using a 1mm thick cutting disc the section was surgically excised.

Notice the amazing condition of the inside walls – barely even rusty. We kept trying to tell the HL-effers, and the Tweedies, but would they listen?
There’s a new bit to go in but first we need to be sure that the frame is straight again. No point making a repair with everything out of alignment and by doing the hot-work with everything strapped up helps to minimize any unexpected movement.
You see, everything is trying to pull itself apart with residual stresses.
Take a brand new piece of box-section tubing and cut the side out to make a repair patch only to then watch in dismay as it twists itself into a new shape – something it’s wanted to do since it was a newly made piece of box but couldn’t do because of the shape it had been forced into during manufacture.

Another quick lesson in metallurgy – take a wire coat hanger and cut one of its straight lengths with a pair of wire cutters. The cut ends will instantly spring away from one another because the wire never quite got used to being coat hanger shaped…
Likewise, Bluebird’s frame still carries stresses from both its original fabrication and that awful crash, which wrought it further still.
We have to be extremely careful when cutting or welding anything as it’s not uncommon to find that something has moved significantly simply because it’s been waiting to do s for half a century.
John-Dipsy sorted the basics with Alain’s super-duper Land-Rover jack. It’s great for pushing things and can easily equal then exceed the forces involved in the crash.

Next, ‘The Rivet’ built a tool, that we spot-welded to the frame, to pull fractured frame members back by degrees with the twist of a spanner…

…so that yours-truly could perform open-tube-surgery.
In some cases there were internal fractures that simply couldn’t be reached from the outside – where diagonals and verticals met at a longitudinal, for example.
In theses instances it proved simpler to remove a tube wall, make the repair from the inside, then weld the wall back in.
We use TIG welding throughout.

Tungsten-Inert-Gas.
If anyone has tried gas welding with oxy-acetylene the process isn’t too much different except that the flame is an electrical plasma shielded with argon gas to keep the oxygen away.
Basically, you create a weld-pool with the torch – a small area of liquid metal shared between the bits you want to stick back together –then feed in a filler rod. The filler rods, comprising the appropriate material for the job, melt into the weld pool increasing its volume and bridging the join so when everything cools and sets you have two pieces of metal firmly glued together.
Now this process ought to have been enough to ensure that the frame never fell apart again and it’s a good job we sacked the Hapless Lottery Flop because by now their ‘experts’ would be convening endless meetings, the protagonists of which would need to commit ten weeks in advance as they have other meetings, to the effect that any further intervention in the frame structure would surely represent poor value for money.
The museologists would be ordering new tweed trousers too, as generally speaking, euthanasia is their preferred policy where machines are concerned and what the Bluebird-Project proposed would next breathe life back into the frame for another hundred years.

With potentially wounded material immediately either side of the fractures despite our testing and careful welding we elected to internally sleeve the damaged regions for a distance of 200mm either side.
We could have simply cut out the damaged zone and welded in a new piece but with a little extra effort we didn’t need to. The original material went with Donald on all of his record attempts so it stays!
In went the sleeves – made of the same T60 steel as the frame.

Then back went the original top wall of the tube.

…a bit of titivating to be sure of a clean job.

And yet enough is still not enough…
You see, wherever the longitudinal tubes are joined in Ken’s drawings they’re not only welded and sleeved, as we’ve done, they’re pinned as well so Mr. Rivet set about giving our repairs the belt-and-braces, Ken Norris approach.

These aren’t any old bits of scrap we’ve bashed in there either, notice the pin already punched flush in the left foreground and the other about to be driven home, they’re ground and hardened dowel pins – nothing but the best. We pinned the tubes vertically too and once all was set up we welded them solidly.
Definitely not value for HLF money, unless you plan on using the thing as a jet-powered boat again, which we do, so now K7 can take to the water once more with no concerns over the longitudinal frame tubes.
Now back to the F-17 crossmember.
We cropped the ragged ends back a few millimeters then welded in short filler sections expertly ground to size by John-Dipsy. You’ll notice also in this shot that we’ve replaced a section of longitudinal tube wall. We’ve actually taken out two of the four faces and inserted a repair. This is because the tube was bent like a banana over a metre and a half so rather than replace the whole thing – the stuff is impossibly strong and springy and wouldn’t bend back without risking damage – we made a repair over approximately 300mm, which is enough to take out much of the bend whilst conserveering most of the original tube… a reluctant but necessary compromise.

The top ends of the crossmember (below) took much careful piecing back together but they’re about there now – only some small gussets to weld into the V-shape at the top of the pic that we can’t get into easily. (Frame is upside down in this shot)
When the upper welds of the F-17 crossmember were devastated in the crash the failure jumped from one side of the weld to the other whilst never leaving the heat affected zone so fragments of the crossmember were left stuck to the F-17 vertical and vice-vrsa. The result was that having cut and curetted away all the metallically-necrotic tissue we had a wound of almost 20mm to close.
Our graft seems to have taken nicely though.

One day – perhaps – when we’ve proven that all was needed was a dash of daring and a cupful of courage the tweed-types will admit that they were wrong and that we were capable, despite their ingrained conviction that being mere members of the public we needed guidance in such matters, of rebuilding this iconic boat without losing their precious ‘original fabric.
I love to dream… but not to that extent.

Museological vandalism or bringing a legendary object back to life?


27th May 2007 (click on an image to see it in a hi-res pop-up window)

 

The day before my fortieth birthday and almost six years to the day since we dragged our mate Donald out of that God-forsaken lake…

Now we’re crawling all over the cockpit of his boat as it’s painstakingly returned to full working condition but, worryingly, we’ve heard a bit of moaning and groaning about the cockpit and the suggestion that we oughtn’t to go in there because it’s somehow disrespectful to Donald or something.

This I could understand if we were being disrespectful but we’re actually trying to do a highly professional job of reassembling his boat (something of which, we’re reliably assured, he would have wholeheartedly approved) and can’t do it without crawling everywhere. Most people understand this; however, there will always be the purely sentimental contingent who say, ‘you shouldn’t be doing that,’ but can’t really tell you why not.

In order to settle the matter once and for all I called Gina and took advice so here’s the bottom line.

The cockpit is not sacrosanct and never was.

All sorts of people sat in there whether to work on the boat or simply so they could say that they had.

We have Gina’s absolute OK to do what we have to do and that’s enough for me.

So, with that taken care of, Alain and John turned K7 into a two-seater.

John spent the day working on F-19 (again), and it’s looking good, while Alain pieced the F-17 bulkhead back together. It came up in two bits, the larger of the two clinging to the crossmember and the other piece still riveted to the right-hand cockpit wall.

Meanwhile, Dave tackled the important and tricky task of putting the lower F-22 crossmember back in.

This piece of scrap has had a longer journey than most.

It’s the short piece in the centre that’s clearly just been welded in.

Back in the early days of 2001 when we were retrieving these pieces I heard from Ken, regular as clockwork, every Friday afternoon and we’d chat for ages about rivets and such. He became most excited when the frame began to come up and wanted a piece of the recovered steel to have it tested for hardness, strength, fatigue, that sort of thing. But all we had were great, heavy lumps – that was until this small crossmember came out of the lake. I packaged it up and shipped it off to Ken who called soon afterwards even more excited as the steel proved to be in superb overall condition. This was one of our first clues that the boat could be successfully rebuilt.

Then followed four wasted years during which time we lost Ken.

We work on K7 every Friday afternoon and once or twice the phone has rung and I’ve thought, ‘ah, there’s Ken,’ only to feel a painful stab when I realize that it’s not and that he’ll never be calling again. It’s tragic that he didn’t make it to see what we’re doing and is one of the many reasons why the tweedies and bureaucrats boil my blood. They knew we badly wanted Ken’s guidance in this and could have done a hundred and one things to facilitate having the chief engineer at the front line of resurrecting his creation.

Anyway, the crossmember vanished for a while but then came the unexpected problem with trying to jig the frame straight again and we realized that this short piece of material was the key to cracking the problem. If we had two of the lower crossmembers we could get the whole front end spot-on, but we only had one of them.

I called John Norris, Ken’s son, and begged the return of the crossmember. Understandably, he’d have liked to hang onto it for sentimental reasons but was gracious enough to send it over – we’re grateful that he did and with it carefully dressed and welded back in the whole front step and forward floor is now accurate to a rivet hole.

We’ve been making some new bits and inserting repairs too.

The tweedies whined on about not losing original material, and we’ve proven ourselves more ingenious in that department than they are, but they said nothing about how much new stuff we could add if the original isn’t available.

Alain saved the F-19-S outrigger by cleaning back a corroded area and crafting a nifty little repair section.

The finished result restored the original strength to a structural part of the panel. If your granny gets a new hip is she still your granny?

John made a similar repair to the top of his favourite bulkhead, F-19. This is the panel from behind the instruments. The two holes in the centre were where the tubes came through for the ASI.

No one said we couldn’t put these bits back. In John’s case the corner was torn away altogether whereas Alain’s repair was to a severely corroded section.

Here’s another bit that went missing, the bottom end of the F-20-P outrigger. So we stuck a new bit in there too.

Another component back in business after minor surgery.

 

A couple of outriggers are missing altogether but let’s have this in perspective. The boat snapped at F-15, at the front face of the main spar.

The section we’re currently working on comprises F-16 to F-23, which is the very tip of the bow. Each frame has two outriggers that extend out from the mainframe to support and shape the outer skins. That’s eight pairs of outriggers – sixteen in total – of which we have every single one in useable condition except for F-18-P (port) and F-20-S (starboard) which we don’t have at all. They never came up, at least not for us. They may have been lifted in 67 or we might have missed them. Either way, Rob made some wooden formers and we knocked new parts together.

Notice the joggle half way down the curved line. This is where the spar box overlaps the outrigger and was a real bitch of a joinery job for our wood-butchering specialist. He swore at it for most of the afternoon but when all was said and done the joggle turned up perfectly in the new panel. Needless to say, our little shrinking machine from Frost Tools was used on this job too and has proven itself absolutely invaluable.

Which, with a half hour of fettling fitted equally well onto the frame.

Look! She’s becoming vaguely boat-shaped at the pointy end. The outrigger nearest is the one we made, the one behind it is original after John has fettled it.

We used the same former to make a doubler for the F-20-P outrigger too as it was a little threadbare in the bottom corner – yet another one mended.

And seeing as we were on a roll we dinged together the other missing outrigger from Ken’s drawings.

Right – that gives us the full set. What’s next?

Well, John has the F-19 bulkhead ninety-five percent mended now but it’s still causing concern.

You see, were that aggravating, two-inch section of it that has to keep out the water ever to crack – and considering what it’s been through, it might – the ensuing schedule would go something like…

  1. Remove both sponsons and front spar.
  2. Strip away outer skins back to F-14
  3. Disassemble ‘dragon’s teeth’ and de-rivet outer skin of floor back as far as F19.
  4. De-rivet corrugations followed by inner floor.
  5. Strip out F-19 and make repairs.
  6. Reassemble in reverse order.

As you can probably guess, having F-19 let the water in is not an option. No way, no how!

Anyone with any sense would argue that it’s simply not worth the risk – make a new part and be done with it. Even the tweedies would do that. On second thoughts, they don’t have the balls to put K7 back on the lake so it could leak like a sieve and they’d not spot the difference.

Whatever, we have a plan that’ll solve the engineering issues to our complete satisfaction and allow the original F-19 lower panel to stay with its mates.

Keep tuning in.

 


23rd May 2007

 

 

You know how sometimes things just fall together…

 

Since 2001 when we lifted the boat until September 2006 when the decision was taken to commence the rebuild we have received literally hundreds of offers of help from more sources than you could imagine.

Many we struggle to think of a use for whilst others you just know are going to come good sooner or later.

Then once in a while things just slot nicely into place.

One offer we’d received was from a guy called Chris Jackson and his company, Metroimage in London.

If ever we needed any printing, pictures, display boards for the museum, that sort of thing… Very handy, we thought, but we’re still a way off needing such things so Chris and I bumped into each other from time to time and swapped the occasional e-mail but nothing came of his offer. That was until Keith Hick contacted us. The next part of the story is best told in Keith’s words. You see, Keith is an artist and a pretty, damn good one too.

As a young child growing up in the early 1950’s, two heroic exploits made an impression on me in 1952. At the beginning of the year the front pages of our newspaper told of the dramatic efforts to tow the Flying Enterprise into Falmouth. With her cargo torn loose by an Atlantic storm the Flying Enterprise was abandoned by her crew, leaving her Captain, Kurt Carlsen, alone on the heavily listing and drifting Liberty ship.

Spectacular pictures brought the fight to save the ship by the ocean-going tug, Turmoil, to the nation’s breakfast tables and the thrilling ship-to-ship leap by her Mate, Kenneth Dancy, to join Carlsen. ‘Dancy’s leap’ became the stuff of legend. Although Carlsen was to lose his ship, he was saved along with Dancy and one day I hope to capture that brave leap on canvas.

Later that same year, John Cobb took his brand new jet boat, Crusader, up to Loch Ness and seemed within relatively easy reach of a new world water speed record, then held by the American, Stanley Sayres in Slo-Mo-Shun IV. I remember being utterly spellbound watching the television news film that evening in September, as Crusader hurtled across the Loch only to disappear in a welter of spray. John Cobb, holder of the land speed record in his Railton Special was no more and Donald Campbell was to assume the record-breaking mantle within three years.

Donald’s bravery in raising the world land and water speed records over the next decade continued to catch my eye as I finished school, went to college and began work. That fateful day on the 4th January 1967 left another indelible impression, one that must have burrowed deep into my subconscious, for a few years later I began my own ‘Bluebird Project’.

Having decided to capture Donald’s achievements in piloting K7 and the Proteous Bluebird to record speeds and secure both records for Great Britain, I began work on the first canvas. Researching the subject through books, publications, photographs and recollections pointed me to portray K7 at speed on Coniston Water. My dilemma was how to achieve the impression of speed on canvas. The ‘roostertail’ tail spray produced just the right effect and this was assisted by light catching ripples in the foreground. So, “Campbell across Coniston” was finished…

 

 

…and now for two more portrayals of K7, “Bluebird at speed

 

and “She’s tramping!”

 

 

*

See what I mean? Keith painted these then tucked them away never to be seen. But there’s more.

 

*

Two further canvases of the Proteous Bluebird car followed in rapid succession: “Ready to go”

 

and “403.9 mph”,

both set at Lake Eyre, Australia, in 1964. Once again, the importance to depict speed brought a solution to the second of these two works with a dust trail thrown up behind the car is just discernable as she hurtles towards the viewer.

The last canvas in the series was the most difficult to finish. Having portrayed Donald’s life in the first five works, the sixth painting, entitled, “A sunburst in the storm of death” was started, then laid aside for six months. I thought about over painting with a composition from within the cockpit as K7 sped down Coniston Water. Discarding the over painting idea, I took a deep breath and completed the canvas. Perhaps the next in the series may well be that exhilarating view from the cockpit which Donald saw countless times.

Because the paintings were such personal works of art and not completed as a commission they have remained in the family home, almost exclusively, for over thirty years. On one of their rare outings, my wife, Sandie and I visited the film set at Coniston of the TV film made in 1987 starring Anthony Hopkins as Donald and meeting the cast at the invitation of the film’s director.

 

 

The last time the complete set of six paintings was placed on limited display was a visit to the K7 Club meeting at Coniston in January 2001.

 

*

Good, eh? That ‘Sunburst’ one is my personal favourite.
Keith called up to say that he’d be happy to let us use his paintings to further the project. How bloody marvellous is that? He came over to see us and what we’re doing and had a good look around the project workshop. A true gentleman.

 

 

 

Needless to say, Chris’ offer of help suddenly seemed the perfect next step so I gave him a call.

What happened was this – when Keith first got in touch and so kindly offered his work to help us out I thought, ‘hmmmm, I wonder if he’s any good,’ only to be completely blown away by the drama and technical excellence of his paintings. Then I thought, ‘hmmmm, wonder if Chris can make a proper job of reproducing them…’

I needn’t have worried.

In due course, and after much to-ing and fro-ing with negatives and such, the most beautiful set of prints turned up wrapped in tissue paper and delivered in a sturdy cardboard folder with Metroimage on the side. They really are stunning and guess what – Chris and Metroimage are also donating their work to help the project. Chris sent us a few words…

*

I joined Metro Imaging in the early eighties when the company had three employees and went on to build one of the largest professional imaging companies in the UK.

I started out as a jobbing photographer and quickly realised I was more technical than creative so swapped sides of the camera.

 

Metro started life as a film lab, producing arty prints but we went headlong into digital fifteen years ago and added photo retouching, image asset management over the web and pre-press services. We also bought a lighting company and opened studios giving the business a long list of services.

 

These days with film in its swansong we are firmly in the digital arena but we still produce arty prints…but on a digital system not in a dish!

*

Needless to say – you can now find Metroimage on our sponsors page and a limited edition run, only fifty of each print, available on the new page at the top of the main menu.

 

Keith will sign them and I’ve had a word with Gina and she’s happy to sign them too. I’ll even sign them if anyone is interested…

 

They are produced on top quality paper and honestly look like originals. They come in a tube so you can choose your own frame and each will be numbered so there’s no cheating!

The deal is this – both Keith and Chris have agreed that we can use fifty sets of these prints to help get our big blue boat back together (after which the paintings will likely retire to Keith’s attic for another thirty years) – a fantastic gesture from both gentlemen and I speak for the entire team when I say that we’re enormously grateful.

One other thing. As Chris has to fit the production around his other work and we have to pin down both Keith and Gina to ensure the proper signatures, etc, are in place, please be a little patient with us but you can be assured of an extremely high quality and exclusive item. The wait will be worth it – I promise.


May 29th 2007

 

Right, down to business... Those who requested endless tin-bashing can mail us and call a halt at any time but until this happens we’re going to bore you to death with F-19.

Remember how we were able to make it look like it once did? Well that’s not too difficult. We’ve made many of the structural parts of K7’s front end look as they did but the crucial difference is that within most of the hull we have endless scope for replacing their lost strength in the form of doublers or additional structure. This we simply could not do with the submerged portion of F-19 – or so we thought – because one face of it is outside the boat while the other is hard against a frame tube and the concern was that should it fail later when buried so deep in the structure, K7 would end up ‘home-ported’ for good; a truly horrifying prospect.

This problem consumed us for weeks. What to do… make a new part?

That would be difficult to justify within the (strictly adhered to) ethics of conserveering where you take an old component you’d like to conserve and engineer a means by which it meets its originals design criteria without losing any original fabric - hopefully. (Remember the mantra – justify it, reality dictates… then add, make it work again.)

In this case the original part would probably do the job but as our aim is to run K7 again then safety must top the list and ‘probably’ just isn’t enough.

Chucking the original would fill our ‘Loss Of Original Fabric’ (LOOF) box in one fell swoop as well as being like watching an old friend sail into the sunset never to return so far as the team is concerned.

Solving this one promised to stretch our ingenuity but conserveering is a forward-thinking discipline so the answer crystallised eventually.

The aluminium bulkhead attaches at either end to the raised steps on the longitudinal frame tubes and in the centre to the transverse crossmember but the crossmember is not at the same height as the steps so if we kept any additional structure level with the rearward face of the crossmember and between the steps we had considerable scope to insert a steel, watertight bulkhead directly ahead of the F-19 lower panel.

This is a laser cutting machine in action.

Despite having watched this process for fifteen years I still marvel at it much as I continue to watch the planes turning over my house on their approach to Newcastle (UK) Airport every day and never tire of seeing them.

This is a piece of 2mm thick steel being effortlessly sliced using only light. Incredible, isn’t it.

I took the F-19 drawing over to Matrix Lasers to see my old mate Ronnie Coxon. His company has cut hundreds of thousands of components for me over the years but we still enjoy these minor challenges so up went the drawing on the digitizing tablet followed by some skilled laser operating by Ron’s colleague, Ray.

The end result looked like this. Now that’s a professional piece of work.

Ah, almost forgot – the folded edge was taken care of by more mates and business associates.

My great friends, ‘Gemini’ Paul and his wife, Christine, introduced me to one of the blokes they share a factory with.

Tosh, I think he’s called, set up his hydraulic bending brake and pushed the edge of our bulkhead over. Thanks mate.

We then took the roughed-out bulkhead back to the workshop and offered it to the frame.

 

In a situation where a millimetre can make the difference between fitting and being nowhere near it was pretty close.

Consider this. The boat was constructed to Ken’s drawings in fifty-something then smashed to smithereens in sixty-seven.

Then we dragged the twisted bits out of the water and put it back together again in 2007 – to the same dimensions.

Today we directly digitised a portion of one of those drawings then had a computer direct a laser to cut it from a sheet of brand new steel for us – and it fits! We’re doing something right.

John fettled it for an hour.

Then someone got to fire up the TIG-set and weld it in.

Here’s the deal. One fully recorded, ethically correct, museologically-reversible conserveering strategy that not only satisfies the structural-strength, watertight-integrity and safety issues for the lower edge of F-19 but also allows the original alloy panel to stay as it matters not a jot anymore whether it splits, cracks or falls off completely. It’s mechanically redundant now; though warmly welcomed along for the ride.

Then just as one challenge fell to our persistence along came an unexpected nuisance of a problem to test us further.

Remember how the front corner of the cockpit inner floor had a big bite missing? Well actually, it was being pulled into strange shapes by a damaged area that we subsequently cut away to let the greater part of the panel spring flat. (The front end of K7 is upside down in the above pic).

The flat piece then allowed us to jig the front frame back together with help from the two lower crossmembers but we couldn’t leave it like that.

We’d assembled a full set of outriggers for the opposite side and made up one of the longitudinal stringers that tie the bottom of the outriggers to the floor and outer skins.

But the other side had a chunk of floor missing so the time came to stitch it back in. We made an identical stringer for the other side then set the floor up and welded it.

Looks OK, doesn’t it. Well it wasn’t. It took bloody ages to clamp each inch of weld and glue everything back together only to have the welds pull what was once a flat panel into all sorts of horrendous shapes, then with everything complete, it dramatically tore itself apart with cracks as it cooled.

We tried everything – pre-heating the metal, keeping a blowtorch on it and allowing it to cool slowly after welding, various grades of rod and settings on the welding kit but to no avail. Each time we allowed it to cool it cracked everywhere.

Alan from Leengate Welding Supplies was consulted as he has years of experience with every metal imaginable and Birmabright 5 was proving a real headache.

Most of the boat is BB3, which we’re mending with H22 (you may have seen this scrawled on the new pieces here and there) and 5000-alloy rods. (BB3 and H22 are virtually identical 5000 series alloys)

H22 is the marine-grade aluminium that ThyssenKrupp have been kind enough to donate and possesses very similar properties to BB3.

It bends and forms easily and welds beautifully but K7’s inner floor is made of BB5, which doesn’t bend at all – unless you crash your boat.

It’s a duralumin (copper / aluminium alloy) containing a quarter percent of chromium and this makes it hard as hell and virtually unweldable.

The nub of the problem is that the BB5 floor panel is not only thicker than most of the rest of the material used in K7’s construction (2mm against 1.6mm), and therefore has less give, it also has an elongation value thirty-percent less than the BB3, which means is that it simply won’t stretch.

Remember the materials science lesson with the bar of toffee? Well in this case substitute a sheet of glass. It won’t elongate – it’ll crack. So run a weld through this stuff then let it cool and contract and watch what happens next. Get the idea?

This left us with three options.

We could write-off the entire panel… Not a chance!

Or we could cut out the damaged bit for good and weld in a patch made of the far more ductile H22 with big radii in the corners. This would undoubtedly work but the LOOF box is only six-inches cubed and already an inch deep in scrap so we have to be careful.

The third, and most interesting of Alan’s suggestions, was to try welding with a 4000-series rod. These are almost pure aluminium and therefore very soft.

By running a weld down either side of the crack then another up the centre we could (in theory at least) create an area of metal with sufficient ductility to prevent it from cracking when it cooled.

The appropriate rods were duly acquired (FOC) and we tried again.

Success! It’s still awful stuff to weld and some of the worst cracks needed chasing around a bit but it’s just about done. Another original panel saved.

That, however, is the good news. The bad news is that where the repairs have been made the mechanical properties of the metal have been irreversibly altered. The normally rock-hard BB5 is now so diluted with pure aluminium in the welded areas that it’s much softer than the rest of the panel.

Not to worry. It’ll keep the water out to our perfect satisfaction and there’s plenty of scope down in that corner of the boat to TIG some small, steel outriggers into the frame (reversible, conserveering process, of course…) to pick up the floor and put the strength back.

More of that when we work out how to do it.

Other news – PDS are still cracking (no pun) on with the big bit of the frame and we have a series of meetings coming up to discuss how on earth we can accurately stick the two sections together again. We don’t have too many bits that span the break but the main, outer floor skin – all eighteen feet of it – is going to be a real treat. Not only is it also made of BB5 but it’s heavily damaged at the forward end and picks up every bulkhead from F-1 to F-19. No room for error with that one but we’ll work it out.

Did anyone notice that Cumbria Vision agreed to fund the museum side of things to the tune of quarter of a million this week? Greater faith and commitment than the Hopeless Lottery Failure ever managed. (The Westmorland Gazette called and asked for a quote and that’s what I gave them – very much doubt they’ll print it).

There are strings attached and much still to do, as you’d expect, but a quarter of a million quid proves that we’re being taken seriously and that the museum folks are battling as hard as the rest of us.

Meanwhile, work continues relentlessly.

We’ve mended everything in sight now to the point where we can use it; there’s still much detailed work to do on many components but what can be saved has been separated from that which cannot. The truly wrecked material is threatening to raise the tide in our LOOF box to a dangerous two inches!

But having stuck every last piece of reclaimed, original material back onto the frame and designed appropriate repair-strategies for what’s there the time has come to knock up the bits we don’t have from the material that Thyssenkrupp sent over and compared to recovering trashed panels it’s a walk in the park.

Rob is our chief wood-butcher and has become most adept at cutting out formers from some clever plywood that proved tough enough to blunt his circular saw!

We asked the wood-yard over the road – Percy Hudson’s – to donate a few scraps of hard plywood and were promptly given a material that destroys Rob’s tools. Perhaps they’re trying to tell us not to come scrounging…

Here, Rob’s making a former for the F-23 bulkhead, from right up in the pointy end, and he’s elected to trash our air tools rather than wreck any more of his own gear.

We’ve completed the stringer that passes around the bow too, the one that picks up the inner floor, outriggers and outer skin.

John gave it some final tin-bashing…

…then I fastened it down, drilling a hole in my finger in the process. Notice the bleeding knuckle. It hurts, pushing a 3.2mm drill through your finger bone!

The finished job looks OK though.

 

We’ve been making the occasional outrigger too. We’re only missing a couple and, compared to repairing the ones that Donald wrecked, making new ones is ridiculously easy.

Truth be told, it would have been so much simpler to declare the whole front end a write-off, so far as aluminium parts are concerned, (everyone would have believed us) and fabricated new bits. But this conserveering lark is a real buzz.

 

Here, John sets up the new F-18-S outrigger. Take a flat piece of material, one of Rob’s formers and a hammer…

And finally, I’m not joking here, Keith’s paintings are proving astonishingly popular so you’d best hurry if you want one from the original signed and numbered batch.


6th June 2007

 

An interesting announcement last week… Cumbria Vision offered us quarter of a million quid towards the museum side of things – I may have mentioned this already.

Sad thing is that we could have had that money months ago because it was rolled in with the Hapless Lottery Failure’s bid and the forward-looking people in charge of what was then the ‘rural-regeneration’ pot were prepared to give it to us way back then only to be let down along with the rest of us by the HL-effers.

Cumbria Vision have proven themselves remarkably proactive, visionary (as the name suggests) and loyal to the Bluebird Project though their contribution is dependent on others chipping in and unfortunately the wheels of bureaucracy turn in such a crippled fashion that there’s a real chance of us missing the boat – so to speak.

Bureaucracy seems to be the inverse of one of those property-clubs, offering a safe haven for individuals with zero dynamism, people skills or business acumen.

Instead of chucking in their few quid with all the others to buy a derelict house and do it up, would-be bureaucrats invest their meagre ability to push paper and attend meetings in a herd mentality and the security of knowing that anyone with an ounce of common sense would never knowingly stray into their arena.

Then they make life-changing decisions for folks like us – not!

It’s kind of fun to be the tail wagging the dog from time to time and I receive more than a few private messages of quiet encouragement from members of their ranks after they’ve struggled through a tortuous day’s meetings, dissected The Guardian then bathed the kids. Good on you – you know who you are.

But getting back to the quarter of a million caper; the sad fact is that we may miss the chance to collect from Cumbria Vision because the forms won’t be processed quickly enough with other, less dynamic funding agencies. Time will tell.

But ultimately it’s not a problem. You see, just as the engineering contingent are striving for their gold-medal position – a fully operational, rebuilt K7 – so the museum team are going for a world class attraction for Cumbria as a whole and Coniston in particular.

The total spend is gauged to be 750K but that’s not only for the extended hall to house Bluebird, it includes things like an enlarged reception area, improved toilets and such, plus a larger shop area and a stunning display.

Clearly, there’s a long way we can come back from that position, in fact one story sprang to mind as we discussed recent events.

It was way back in 2001 and not long after we’d recovered the boat but before Gina decided we’d best rebuild her.

The team went to the Ruskin armed with a plan of K7 and a tape measure to see what would fit where.

We busied ourselves with seeing just how much we could squeeze into the space available until we happened upon what looked like an old park bench, painted a muddy brown, forming part of the display.

“We can chuck this out,” someone suggested, whereupon an indignant and well informed park-bench-anorak popped through the floorboards and proceeded to declaim its entire history as well as reciting the owner’s name of every distinguished backside ever to be parked upon it.

It had, we were told authoritatively, resided on the platform of Coniston railway station since George Stephenson was a boy… had weathered two world-wars, innumerable ups and downs of the railway industry and only succumbed when the station was finally closed for good sometime shortly before Sir Richard bought his first plane.

“So…” said Capt. Connacher, in a thoughtful manner and with impeccable comic timing, “It’s used to being outside then.”

We all roared with laughter, mostly at the park bench historian who had no counter for Graeme’s logic, and yet a serious point underlined Capt. Connacher’s wit.

And that is that we have nothing to worry about because even if the museum receives not one penny towards an extension, the existing hall is big enough to house K7 anyway.

Only just, it has to be admitted and the park bench would have to go, but she’d fit in there and if we swap the big window in the northwest corner for a door we can get her in and out too.

We could build a conservatory big enough to house her (or the park bench) and I’ll donate just such a thing if necessary so there’s simply no way we’ll be beaten.

None of it is any good, however, without the star of the show and she’s coming back together as you’d expect with no compromise to her conservation, safety or functionality.

Here’s another example of conserveering.

This is the tip of the bow but as you can see the frame tubes are severely damaged. They broke at both sides of that semicircular section (on the welds as usual) with the virtually severed piece clinging to the long-missing bit of frame.

We realigned it to the rivet holes at the front of the floor panel (proving once and for all that the frame was built more than 10mm out of true at the front during original construction) and welded it back together.

But the metal here is seriously tortured and sleeving the curved section would have been a nightmare so we did the obvious thing and simply added an extra crossmember.

Dave ground it to size and I welded it in. This is one of his pic’s actually.

The new crossmember is firmly in position and if you study the arrangement of clamps and that piece of stainless box section you’ll see that a replacement flange plate to attach F23 is also set up and ready for welding – another of Dave’s masterpieces.

Now the entire front frame is original, nothing lost though, admittedly, several new pieces have been added and the extra crossmember is doing all the hard work as well as allowing us to tie the wounded floor panel directly into it with a row of existing rivet holes that originally only attached the floor to the corrugated panel beneath. Now they’ll pick up the corrugations and the new steelwork with the floor panel sandwiched in between.

Our missing F-23 bulkhead was next on the list. We thought we did well to recover and mend F-22 so F-23 was always going to be wishful thinking…

Rob’s former was spot-on so we set about bashing some metal around it.

This isn’t the former you’re looking at, by the way. It’s another piece of shaped plywood used to make a sandwich of the alloy sheet. The former is on the other side.

Those are fairly extreme curves in the outer corners so we had to take it off the former once or twice for some shrinking and trimming.

Then some fettling with the knocking sticks…

…John marks off where we have to cut to clear the frame tubes… then voila!

It fits; one more part that’ll still be riveted into this beautiful machine long after we’re all long gone.

Here’s another outrigger, this time F-21-S and it has special significance but back to that in a mo’.

We only retrieved half of it and it looked like this.

And then like this…

Yes, it would have been easier to make a new one but what to do with the original? So we did the usual and made a new top half for it and glued it on.

OK, you’re wondering, what’s so special about yet another squashed outrigger and the answer is easy. It’s the last one. We’ve fixed them all now – all the ones we’ve been able to find, that is.

Some pieces surfaced in 67 and others remain in the lake but here in 2007 we have the greater part of the boat ready for the next stage.

Next we need to reunite the front and rear frame sections and to that end we had a visit from John Getty today – he seemed to like what he saw, which is high praise indeed from a man of his engineering ability.

After that we’re to complete a full trial-build from F-13 forwards to sort all the rivet holes and front skins and then it’s into the rebuild for real.

The target to begin reassembly is September 07 as we’ve allowed two years to construct the hull and the disassembly / preparation stage is almost complete.

Next week we’ll fit all the cockpit panels and let you have a look at the whole thing.

We can take great satisfaction in knowing that not one structural panel has been written off and the blue-painted, outer skins from the cockpit are going into the museum to remind visitors of Bluebird’s tragic accident and long hibernation.


14th June 2007

 

Almost there with phase-one of K7’s bow conservation programme. The frame is back together and all the bulkhead and outriggers are all aboard again.

Yes, we promised to show you the whole job at this stage but sadly it was a lie and there are two reasons for this.

One, our ‘pet-paparazzi’, the loveable, Michaela Robinson-Tate of the Westmorland Gazette is leaving us for a better life with BBC Radio Cumbria.

Michaela was aboard Predator through that chilly March of 2001 as we recovered K7 from the bottom of the lake and has been with us ever since. She was a quiet, young reporter back in those days contented to scrawl hieroglyphics into her reporter’s notepad then translate it into tales of ‘flippers’ and ‘oxygen tanks’ to the unending chagrin of the UK’s finest divers.

Now she’s a cheeky and demanding ‘Deputy Head of Content’ and next week will write her final Bluebird story for the Gazette so as she came in on a high we thought it only fair that she left on an equally triumphant note.

And so, as thanks for six years of not telling hideous lies about us despite working in journalism, and for being our friend, we thought we’d let Michaela show you that we weren’t kidding when we said we’d rebuild Donald’s boat.

The first pic’s of the reconstructed cockpit section will appear in next Friday’s Gazette with a comprehensive update later in the day on the BBP diary.

On behalf of the whole team, Michaela – and I think I can safely speak for the Ruskin crew and Gina too when I say this – we wish you all the very best in your new job.

And never forget… pinball tables and dolphins have flippers – divers have fins!

See if you can spot the nervous young paparazzi amongst the nutters on the jetty… (Pics by Steve Rothery of Marillion (www.marillion.com))

The second reason why everyone is having to wait for wide shots of the bow is that we’ve not quite completed the spar-boxes yet.

What’s a spar-box?

Fair question and the answer is that where the spars emerged through the frame – and don’t forget that both spars went through the frame until the forward one was lifted – Ken designed watertight boxes to keep the lake away from Donald’s feet.

The front spar-boxes were rendered redundant from 55 or so but they lurked within the structure for the rest of Donald’s tenure and somehow remained clinging to her wracked structure until we bagged them to the surface as tangled bits of tin.

Here’s a mental exercise for you. This picture is of the piece of frame we raised in April and it’s upside down too just to further confuse. Now follow the piece of frame tube from bottom-left across to the right and you’ll see something poking downwards into the jetty. It’s one of the angle pieces used to secure the raised spar to the frame and ought to be poking upwards.

See the square of aluminium above it? That’s the inner blanking plate for where the spar used to pass through the frame and around it is the remains of the portside spar box.

Here it is on the bench as recovered.

Scrap – surely! I mean, you can’t even see it when it’s installed and it’s not used for anything anyway. We could leave it out and no one would even notice, or care for that matter, but you know how it is in our workshop.

To make matters worse, because it’s only a water-baffle and not structural, it’s made of 1mm sheet. If you thought the 1.6mm BB3 stretched a long way this stuff is like bubblegum!

This is where it fits.

Between the F-20 and F-21 portside outriggers but as you can see, it has two G-clamps holding it square and it’s all stretched and split to buggery…

It would have taken an hour to build a new one so we decided to stuff this one into a cabinet in the museum with a label saying ‘Donald’s knackered spar-box’ and cut some new metal – that was until John started tapping at it with a hammer. Unable to resist, I then welded up a couple of splits to make it a little more rigid.

That was the beginning of the end.

John produced the top face from amongst a pile of unidentified wreckage fragments…

…and I found the last remaining piece hanging about in the paint stripping bath (yes it still works as well as ever).

Now that we had all of it we decided it would mend after all.

Tony Dargavel knocked up some repair pieces for the ragged corners.

So we glued them in then performed some mild titivating.

The structure goes all complicated in this corner. It’s not the simple overlap of the outrigger as it appears. Notice the joggle in the repair patch… This is because the material below the joggle is set into the outrigger to allow the end of another panel that wraps around the bow to sit flush with the front face of the spar box. Then yet another skin is joggled behind that one before stretching aft to F-12. There are four thicknesses of material riveted into this corner.

Wish Ken was still with us, I’d love to ring the old bugger up and ask him why he had to so over-engineer such a quiet corner of his boat!

And then, as the welding and tin-bashing reached a crescendo, the little spar box at last began to calm down and some of the spring went out of it. Suddenly we could get most of the rivet holes lined up but there’s still a way to go so we’ll show it to you when it’s decided it wants to be a spar-box again.

Work continues on all aspects of the rebuild and just as the outriggers and spar-boxes are being steadily brought back to life so is the frame continuing to receive attention.

Having created the new crossmember for the front end, Dave went on to sculpt some beautiful gussets for where we’ve put original steelwork back but the metal has not been in great shape around the fractures.

Here we potentially faced more moaning museologists because the proper, engineering-fix would be to cut the ragged end off the tube and graft a new piece in but that would be both historical destruction and LOOF so what we do to shut them up is weld a gusset over the affected area.

No loss of original material, completely reversible, no shortage of mechanical strength, fully justified and dictated-to by reality, and properly conserveered so moan if you dare, Tweedies.

 

On a completely different note; remember the cruddy, old LP boost pump we spannered out of the auxiliary fuel tank?

It didn’t look so good when we found it but by the time we’d finished twiddling with its innards it at least looked happier and went round and round.

But looking good and performing properly are two wildly disparate requirements so off it went to Martin and the team at Kearsley Airways for a technical once-over.

They’d already supplied a boxful of bits to get it back in action then generously offered to give it a function test too.

In the meantime, two things happened.

Kearsley’s went daft with work maintaining the RAF’s presence in the skies over Afghanistan and Martin got promoted to big-cheese so some time went by before this happened.

I wasn’t going to take these components out of their sealed plastic bags for the sake of a photo so here is our fuel pump plus the engine-driven hydraulic pump for the water brake both rebuilt and fully functional and with the test reports to prove it.

Not only that, but those who’ve read the diary over the past nine months or so will know that we rebuilt these ourselves and so when the shaft seals developed slight leaks on both pumps while under test, Kearsley were under no obligation whatsoever to fix the failings of us amateur pump builders – but they did.

Suppose we run Bluebird for perhaps five hours a year – and that’s a thorough engine test followed by enough five-minute trips up and down the lake to satisfy everyone – these pumps have a good thirty years service life in them before we’ll even have to take them down for a look-see…

Sincere thanks to Martin and the other unsung heroes at Kearsley Airways for doing these things in support of our project. We couldn’t have done this without you.

Back in the workshop, we had a couple of visitors this weekend too. This one doesn’t really count as she’s well under forty but she served admirably to lower the team’s average as Tony pointed out; you’ll understand in a minute.

Piccy courtesy of John-Dipsy using my camera – I think.

Due to domestic necessity my niece, Sophie, spent half the afternoon in the workshop with a pack of bum-scratching, sweaty blokes all trying to remember not to swear where she learned (amongst other things) to guillotine and bend alloy sheet then clamp it in place, drill a few holes and pop the skin pins in.

“You can tell your pals at school on Monday that you made a real bit for Bluebird,” I told her, because she actually made a small strengthener for F-19.

She shook her head dismally and replied,

“They all think a bluebird is something that says tweet...”

I just know they’re in for extra lessons next week.

Our other visitor is someone you’ve met already – Alan Dodds.

He’s the tin-basher who worked on K7 back in 1955 at Ullswater. He called up on Thursday and said he was chucking his kit in the car and coming over to spend a day with the lads – and what a day!

Just as he did the last time, when I was his only audience, Alan formed a curved panel with his hammer but this time for the benefit of the other guys who’d missed it first time around.

‘The Rivet’ had a go at grabbing a video clip…

Then Alan went on to work some real magic.

We showed him the recovered remains of the skin from the very tip of the bow. It wraps around from the forward end of one spar box to the other and forms the link between the floor and the foredeck. We only ever found half of it but it proved sufficient.

Alan wasn’t scared of it in the least as we would have been – we’d have found it daunting and would’ve pondered for days in case we took the wrong approach but all he did was hammer and roll it flat then pin it onto the hull.

OK, so the museologists would argue that he destroyed history with every hammer blow but the scrap piece is still there with flakes of blue paint attached so it can go into the museum and furthermore I’d argue that this wonderful craftsman, who worked on K7 back in 1955 and returned in 2007 to work on her again, actually made more history than he destroyed this day.

And so, having learned what was needed from the scrap piece; Alan then stuck a great slab of material to the side of the hull and started chalking and chopping.

With the quiet and unhurried confidence of someone long-used to his craft, Alan spent the afternoon skilfully trimming and rolling new skins for K7’s nose until, with them fitting perfectly, we were next treated to a lesson in how to roll joggles along the edges of the panels.

This is where the edge of the material is formed into a shallow step so that when one skin overlaps another they end up flush-fitting on the outside.

We utilised one of our redundant rollover jig stanchions to mount the swaging rollers then we were off. Alan guided the material while I turned the handle. He proclaimed himself ‘cross-eyed’ but seemed to have no bother. We tried it again after he’d gone home and went off course on more than one occasion.

See how it works?

 

Now then, we’ll not bore you with all the fettling and fixing that followed so just feast your eyes on what it looked like by the end of the day.

Scary, eh? It looks like a boat! The skins are still oversize and need finishing but pretty impressive stuff.

We learned more from Alan in one afternoon by feeding off his relaxed confidence and picking up his tricks than we could otherwise have taught ourselves in six months. What a great bloke – we agreed unanimously, he can come back next week.