SPEED DEMONS | Meet the Warby's!
Dave Warby has always looked up to his father, Ken.
In 1977, as a seven-year-old, he celebrated when his Dad set a new Outright Unlimited World Water Speed Record of 288mph (464kph) in a hand-built jet-powered hydroplane.
A year later, on October 8, 1978, he waited in anticipation as his father returned to Blowering Dam in NSW to see how much faster he could go.
With the boat he had painstakingly built in his own backyard, Ken reached a new high speed of 317mph (511kph) – a record that has been challenged but never broken since.
Now, at the age of 50, Dave is hoping to step out of his father’s wake and make a few waves of his own by taking a tilt at Ken’s title. His goal is not only to break his father’s record but to see if he can reach a mind-boggling 431mph (550kph).
While the Novocastrian has spent the past five years building and refining the boat he hopes will help deliver the new record, it is an achievement he has been working towards for most of his life.
“I grew up as a kid watching (Dad) build the boat in the backyard. I mean, it was literally the backyard of a suburban house, it wasn't in a workshop or anything,” Dave said.
"I wasn't allowed to go and watch him break the record because Dad said if something happened, he didn't want his family there.
“But I watched the boat being tested, and I grew up around boat racing, every weekend was spent going to a boat racing meet.
“So, just growing up around that as a kid and seeing your father build a boat with a lot of people saying he’d never do it and then actually take on the world and beat it from a suburban backyard with limited funds… that was a huge inspiration as to why I’m doing it now.
“I always wanted to do what Dad had done - I just grew up with the world’s speed record being the ultimate goal.”
While Dave said his father was initially against the idea of him attempting the feat (others including one of Ken’s good friends had tried and failed in the past, with tragic consequences), Ken’s confidence in his son’s abilities to both build and drive the boat has seen the pair work side-by-side on the project for the past five years.
“It's something I always wanted to do. I grew up with that being the holy grail of sport in my opinion, but he initially told me not to do it,” Dave said.
“When I was a teenager I had always built models of boats to show him, you know, this is what it will do, and they were all crappy designs.
“But as I got older and I started to build my own boats and race my own boats, he knew I was serious, and he knew I was going to have a go at it.
“But he also knew that I could drive a boat and build a boat as well, and he’s probably the hardest person to convince that you can drive a boat or build a boat because he’s seen so many people go wrong at it. If I didn't have the right stuff, he wouldn't have even been involved in it, to be honest.
“We eat, sleep and breathe boats. Just having him there for the five years next to me as we’ve built this boat, being able to not just talk to your father but talk to the only person alive that’s ever held the record, and the only person that’s ever built and driven a boat to a record is priceless.”
While Ken, now 79, lives in the United States these days he regularly returns to Australia to help Dave with the project.
He was on hand in May when Dave and the rest of his Warby Motorsport team – which includes a number of guys who, as young apprentices, helped Ken during his recordbreaking campaigns in the 70's – took the boat to Blowering Dam to test its capabilities.
“It's a really good father and son project. I mean, Dad lives in the States now but he flew out every now and then from the States and we built the boat in Newcastle,” Dave said.
“My father is the only person in history to ever build, design and drive a boat to world water speed record. He's the only person alive in the world that's ever held the water speed record. So, you don't get better support or better knowledge than from what he’s got.
“He comes to see each test at the dam. We’re calling him the interested spectator now because the team just run it and he can enjoy it. He’s never seen a jet boat run before, let alone his son drive one, so he can sit back, watch it and just enjoy it.
“And you know, he gives us advice and helps as we need it. He’s really enjoying it, and that’s what I like out of this, that he gets to see something like this happen again.
“It’s been my whole life seeing him do it and I'm sure it’s been his whole life as well. To go back and do it again is a really good feeling.”
Aside from Ken’s experience, Dave is also tapping into his father’s design skills for his attempt to set a new record.
Ken’s original boat, Spirit of Australia, was designed by the mechanical engineer on the family kitchen table in 1970. He built it in his backyard as time and funds would allow using just three power tools, with the rest of the work done by hand.
Three j-34 jet engines picked up at a RAAF surplus auction for $260 were used to power the boat, with refinements made over time with the help of a professor from the University of NSW, and RAAF personnel.
While technology has come a long way in the 41 years since setting his first record, Ken still used his original design for the basis of Dave’s boat, Spirit of Australia II, while also making small improvements to the hull based on an analysis of the two world record runs.
Powered by Rolls Royce Orpheus 803 ex Italian Air Force Jet engines, which were removed from a Fiat Gina G-91 jet fighter, Spirit of Australia II has almost double the power of the original boat, making Dave’s goal of reaching more than 341mph (550kph) far more achievable.
Above: David Warby
Safety rules and regulations have also come a long way since the 70's, with the new vessel including a raft of safety features including a reinforced cockpit, six-point harness, Lifeline on-board air system, GPS tracking system, fire extinguisher and onboard flotation system.
“It’s basically the same design, I mean, we’re not reinventing the wheel, we're just refining the wheel,” Dave said.
“It’s just refined, we’ve changed a few things on the design of the boat, little things, just to improve it, which we learnt from when Dad broke the record previously in the ’70s.
“I'm registered by the Australian and World powerboat bodies to build the boat, so, I built it all myself.
“There’s a lot more safety in this boat. I mean, Dad didn't have a seat belt when he broke the record back in the ’70s, he just had a life jacket on. They didn't have safety like they do now.
“It's got on-board air; it’s got a six-point harness, it’s got everything modern, you know, that any Formula 1 race car would have.
“It’s also got more power; it's a more powerful engine than Dad had. Engines didn’t really have a great deal of power then; it’s more that the design was right (that allowed him to set the record).”
Spirit of Australia II has undergone several rounds of testing, both on the Manning River at Taree and over the longer stretch of water at Blowering Dam, where the official attempt will eventually be carried out.
Dave said the initial trials had been going well, with the aim of gradually increasing the boat’s average speed each time until they get to a point where they feel the time has come to try for the record.
“We’ve had the boat up to more than 200 miles an hour (321kph) so far, and we’ve had to change the boat as we go along, small things here and there like the balance of the boat to correct the stability of it,” he said.
“That’s how you get a world record, you gradually creep it up, and that’s how Dad got the record. It took him three years to get his record.
“And that’s also how you stay alive; you gradually solve the problems as you go along. You don’t just say well next Thursday I’m going to break the world water speed record. That’s how you get killed.”
Despite the potential for something to go tragically wrong, Dave said he has never felt nervous while piloting the jet boat – a confidence that comes down to his own abilities as a builder and driver, and the support of the team around him.
“You’re really just focused on the water, monitoring the boat, and you’re also feeling the boat because you do wear a boat and you can feel its movements… it’s knowing what feels right and what feels wrong,” he said.
“It’s not really just sitting there going wow, this is fast. I’ve never had a sensation of speed yet.
“If I hadn't built the boat or knew what I was doing with it, I’d be very scared, but I've never been worried yet in the boat because I know the boat inside out, I know what works and what doesn't work.
“I’ve got confidence in what I'm doing with it, I’ve never had a sensation, any fear or anything like that.
“The other thing with this team is it’s a very relaxed atmosphere. They’re all extremely professional people, and you know, we've just got a good environment within our team, which is nice and calm.
“That’s what will give us a record because it’s not necessarily, you know, just the boat or the driver. It's very much a team sport.
“You could have the best boat and the best driver in the world, but if you don't have the team, you've really got nothing.
“The people I’ve got on the team are just so enthusiastic and so dedicated. Even Dad said many times you’ve just got the best team.”
There’s also a far wider group of people lending their support to Dave and his team, from interested onlookers around the world following their progress online to the generous donors who contributed to a recent crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $50,000 to help fund another round of trial runs for the boat.
“It all costs a hell of a lot of money to do, and we’ve got some sponsorship, but I was really surprised at how many people got on board (with the crowdfunding) and how many people around the world are really interested in what we do,” Dave said.
“We’ve got a really good base of followers. Each time I go down to Blowering Dam, it’s booked out around there with fans and followers who remember when Dad did it.
“It’s good to go down to the dam. Dad walks around talking to all the people that watched him do it 40 years ago.
“It’s very much about the whole journey. Obviously the goal is to break the water speed record, but the journey is as much a part of it, and I love it.
“It’s been my whole life; I couldn't imagine doing anything else, I really couldn’t.”
You can follow Dave’s progress online at www.facebook.com/warbymotorsport or by checking out their website www.warbymotorsport.com