Fastest man on water: The Ken Warby story

Think back to that day where you really opened up the throttle on your boat - how fast did you manage to go? Whatever the answer, you can be sure it was nothing compared to legendary Australian Ken Warby, who piloted his boat "Spirit of Australia" to a record-breaking 511 kph. To this day, his record still stands as the fastest speed ever achieved on water.

History is made

The day was October 8, 1978, the place, Blowering Dam, NSW. Excitement pulsed through the air - spectators looked on in anticipation to see if Warby could better the previous record-breaking mark of 464 kph he had set a year earlier. It wasn't long before they got their answer. The average of the two runs Warby did came to 511 kph, 47 kph faster than his past effort.

The boat that Warby drove to this feat was called "Spirit of Australia". Pictured below, it was a beast of a boat. The engine was a J34 Westinghouse jet taken from a Neptune anti-submarine aircraft built 1959-1962, capable of generating 1587.6 kg of static thrust (without the afterburner).

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Power like that needs to be connected to a boat that can handle it. Much of the performance Warby was able to achieve was due to the hull design he chose. Warby told ABC that "the trick is to build a boat that won't bump and won't get the wind underneath it and sticks on the water" - something he clearly achieved.

Courageous? Crazy? Or both?

Breaking the water speed record isn't for the faint of heart. It's not one of those records you see that have no consequences for failed attempts; if you try unsuccessfully to break the record for balancing spoons on your face (it's 31 for those who want to give it a nudge) nothing bad will come of it. The same can't be said for the water speed record - attempts to break it have an 85 per cent fatality rate, 1233 ABC reports.

Warby himself was aware of the risks involved - he didn't want his son, David, to witness the attempt, just in case the worst came to pass. Thankfully, Warby survived the run unscathed. And David, as it happens, wants to be the one to break his father's record. Together they're building a new boat, "Spirit 2", one with 50 per cent more power than its forebear. David and Ken have been trialling the boat on Blowering Dam, and are looking to work their way up to the world record mark over the coming year.

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Headline image: sv1ambo/flickr under CC BY 2.0

April 27, 2018 by Castleford Media