Ken Warby

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Model of Spirit of Australia in which Ken Warby set the world water speed record in 1978 on Blowering Dam

Ken Warby (born 9 May 1939) is an Australian motorboat racer, who currently holds the Water speed record of 317.58 miles per hour (511.10 km/h). This was set on Blowering Dam, part of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, near Tumut, New South Wales, roughly 250 miles (400 km) south-south west of Sydney, on 8 October 1978.[1]


As a child, Warby's hero was Donald Campbell, who died attempting to break the record in 1967.

Warby designed the hull of his record-breaking boat, Spirit of Australia, himself and built it in his backyard. He started the project as a Makita salesman who happened to team up with two Leading Aircraft Men at RAAF Base Richmond in the early 1970s. Crandall and Cox were instrumental in installing and engineering the Westinghouse engine that was not in working order when first obtained. The Spirit was covered with a canvas tarpaulin when it rained and was made of wood and fibreglass. Warby was able to obtain the jet engine himself as military surplus; obtained from an auction for only $69.

On 20 November 1977, he set the world water speed record of 288.60 mph (464.46 km/h), breaking the record of Lee Taylor by a little over 3 mph. With a subsequent 317.60 mph run, he became the first and only person to exceed 300 mph (482 km/h) on water[1] and live to tell the tale; Donald Campbell died on his attempt after his hydroplane crashed at over 320 mph on his return run in his 1967 record attempt. As of 14 February 2015 Warby's record still stands,[2] and the 300 mph barrier has never again been exceeded.

By 2003 Warby had designed and built another vessel, which he has called Aussie Spirit, and with which he planned to increase his own record. It is of similar dimensions to Spirit of Australia and also is powered by a Westinghouse J34 jet engine. The rudder alone on this new boat cost more than the $10,000 all-up cost of the original Spirit. Again, Warby designed, built, self-financed and piloted his own boat.

In recent years, Warby has been associated with offshore power boat racing in the US with the AMF team. It was at such an event with AMF at Chattanooga, Tennessee on 16 October 2007 that he officially ran his jetboat for the last time. On the 30th anniversary of the 1977 record, Warby announced his retirement from further record attempts.

Warby has commented "This date is the one that is most important to me as it was the realisation of a lifetime dream of holding the record for Australia. The 317.60 mph, though important, was only the icing on a wonderful cake. I intend to do some celebrating on that November 20th evening and have a toast to my departed team members, Prof Fink and Major Bob Apathy, who are sadly missed"[citation needed].


  1. ^ a b "Water speed record (fastest boat)". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 7 August 2015. 
  2. ^ Huxley, John (13 February 2015). "Water speed record to be put to the test 40 years on as Spirit of Australia II takes shape". The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media). Retrieved 7 August 2015. 

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