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 kilometres per hour), set on Blowering Dam on 8 October 1978.[1]

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

The Spirit of Australia[edit]

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 aircraftmen at RAAF Base Richmond in the early 1970s. Warby bought a military surplus Westinghouse jet engine at auction for only $69. It was not in working order, but Crandall and Cox refurbished it. The Spirit was covered with a canvas tarpaulin when it rained and was made of wood and fibreglass.

On 20 November 1977, he set a new 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 on 8 October 1978 he set the record which still stands.[1]

In doing so, he became the first and only person to exceed 300 mph (480 km/h) on water and live to tell the tale;[1] Donald Campbell died on his attempt after his hydroplane crashed at over 320 mph on his return run in his 1967 record attempt.

Later boats[edit]

By 2003 Warby had designed and built another boat, the Aussie Spirit, with which he planned to increase his own record. Of similar dimensions to Spirit of Australia it was also 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. Rule changes meant that a record attempt was never made with it.[2]


In later 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.

"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].

Spirit of Australia II with his son[edit]

He is now working with his son David on a new boat to break the record.[3][4]


  1. ^ a b c "Water speed record (fastest boat)". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
  2. ^ "Aussie Spirit". Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  3. ^ "David Warby hopes to claim his dad's world water speed record on Blowering Dam in 2017" (The Leader). 30 December 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2017.
  4. ^ Virtue, Robert (4 October 2016). "Father-son team Ken and David Warby prepare for attempt at world water speed record". ABC. Retrieved 3 August 2017.

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