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Ken Warby MBE
The Worlds Fastest Man on Water  

Ken (1978)

Ken with Aussie Spirit, powered by a fresh Westinghouse J-34 jet engine.

Ken with the Unlimited World Water Speed Record trophy.

Ken with his very first boat he buit in his parents backyard in Newcastle NSW

Ken driving his skiff Monte Cristo in the mid 60's

Ken racing Falcon, in 1961 at Toronto NSW

Ken cornering Monte Cristo during a race in the 60's

Ken in Spirit of Australia at Blowering Dam in 1976

Slim Dusty's Spirit of Australia. The album and song dedicated to Ken Warby

Professor Tom Fink, Ken Warby and Bob Apathy with the record certificate and trophy

Ken on the cover of American Powerboat Magazine

Ken on the cover of Australian Sea Spray Magazine

Jet drag racers and good friends, Roscoe McGlashan, Tom Brown and Ken Warby

Ken building Spirit of Australia in the backyard 1972

Ken with Spirit of Australia in 1978

Ken with the RAAF apprentices in 1978

Ken with his mother who attended every run he did

Ken during his first world water speed record run in 1977

Ken and Spirit of Australia during his 1978 record run

Ken with his Advance Australia jet dragster

Ken prepares to break his second world record in 1978

Ken having a break during the 1978 record run

Ken preparing to break his second world record in 1978

Ken in the early 60's with his hydroplane Raider

Sportsman of the year, from the Sportsman Association of Australia. Ken won this award two years in a row 1977 and 1978

Ken at speed in Monte Cristo in the 60's

Ken with John Haggin setting a new kilo world record

Ken racing John Haggin's AMF Turbine offshore racer

Ken on the cover of American Boating and Recreation magazine

Ken Warby Thunda From Downunda Jet Engine Truck and Funny Cars Heathcote 1987

He is the only man to average more than 300MPH on water and live.

Attempts at beating Warby's record have come at a high price. In 1980, the previous water speed record holder, Lee Taylor, tried to reclaim his title in a 2.5 million dollar rocket-boat called "Discovery II." The missile-shaped craft was constructed of aluminum, titanium and stainless steel and was powered by a rocket engine that burned hydrogen peroxide fuel. On paper, the power plant generated 8,000 pounds of thrust—or 16,000 horsepower. Taylor believed his boat would surpass 600 mph.The trial took place November 13, 1980 on Nevada's Lake Tahoe. Discovery II roared through its first pass at 269.85 mph and was decelerating when it appeared to hit a swell. Witnesses reported that the boat veered to the left and suddenly disintegrated, vanishing under the surface of the lake in a matter of a few seconds.

Craig Arfons, a former automotive drag racing champion, was the next to take up the challenge. In 1989, he put the finishing touches on a jet hydroplane called "Rain-X Record Challenger," which boasted a lightweight composite hull and a jet engine that could deliver 5,500 horsepower with the afterburner lit. Arfons calculated that the boat's favorable thrust-to-weight ratio would give it a 200 percent power advantage over Warby's record-setting boat. The record attempt took place on Jackson Lake near Sebring, Florida. Members of Arfons' crew say his boat reached a speed of 263 mph before it became airborne and began to cartwheel across the mirror-smooth lake. Arfons tried to deploy a safety parachute, but the angle at which his boat was traveling prevented the parachute from opening. Arfons was killed as his boat shattered around him.

The Record
317.60 mph / 511.11km/h
8th October 1978
"Spirit of Australia"
Blowering Dam NSW Australia

Ken Warby celebrating on top of his boat Spirit of Australia after breaking the world water speed record, Blowering Dam, New South Wales, October, 1978 - Michael Jensen (NLA 

Ken Warby and team preparing to break the world water speed record in his boat Spirit of Australia, Blowering Dam, New South Wales, October, 1978 - Michael Jensen (NLA) 

Ken Warby celebrating with his fans after breaking world water speed record in his boat Spirit of Australia, Blowering Dam, New South Wales, October, 1978 - Michael Jensen (NLA) 

Ken Warby after breaking the world water speed record in his speedboat Spirit of Australia on Blowering Dam, Snowy Mountains Region, New South Wales, October 1978 - Michael Jensen (NLA) 

Portrait of Ken Warby after breaking the world water speed record in his boat Spirit of Australia, Blowering Dam, New South Wales, October, 1978 - Michael Jensen (NLA) 


Ken Warby had a dream as a young child to become the fastest man on water. he built model boat's as a young man, then at the age of 14 he built his first race boat in his backyard then continued to build and race boats around Australia in the 1960's & 70's winning Championships along the way, and moving up to faster boats, at the same time Ken was doing a degree in Mechanical Engineering which helped him have a better understanding of what it takes to make a boat go faster and with practical powerboating behind him, in the very early 1970's Ken started construction on "Spirit of Australia".

The World Water Speed record, like the air speed record, is decades old. Australian Ken Warby set the record in 1978 when he averaged 317.60 mph in a 27-foot jet-powered hydroplane called "Spirit of Australia." The official
speed test, which consists of two back-to-back runs over a one-kilometer straight-away, took place on Blowering Dam in New South Wales, Australia. And where did Warby design and build this hydraulic masterpiece? Underneath a tree in the back yard of a house he was renting in suburban Sydney. "There was a canvas sheet I used to throw over it when it rained," he told the press.

Ken also campaigned several jet powered vehicles on the drag strip, these included a pair of jet dragsters called "Thunda Down Under" and a jet truck called "Puff the Magic Draga".

A lifelong boat racer, Warby lives in Cincinnati these days and competes in vintage races around the country in his 600-cubic-inch vee-hull, which tops out at about 115 m.p.h. (His wife, Barbara, races a similar boat.) Unlike most of the other record challengers, who were backed by deep-pocket sponsors and teams of naval architects and engineers, Warby designed his Spirit of Australia himself and built it in his backyard with help from a couple of technical experts from a local air force base.

Ken was -
First person to design, build and drive a boat to an unlimited water speed record
First person to break the 300 MPH & 500KMH speed barriers
First Australian to hold an unlimited speed record
First Australian to break the unlimited water speed record

Some of Ken's awards include,

  • Ken Warby was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1978 for his services to speed boat racing, from Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Inducted into the National Sporting Hall of Fame
  • Recipient of 2 U.I.M. Gold medals.
  • Advance Australia committee member.
  • "This is your Life" Guest of honor.
  • Australian Sports Medal , in 2000
  • 2012 ,Inducted into the Clayton Vintage Raceboat Museums Hall of Legends
  • Ken was also  a NSW, APBA Referee, delegate for RMYC Toronto and the first Australian Vice President for Offshore Racing

On the 30th anniversary of the 1977 record, Warby announced his retirement from further record attempts.

Spirit of Australia Speeds
 7-9-74           166.38 mph …..267.54 kmh  at Lake Munmorah, NSW.
 14-3-76         193.17 mph …… 310.88 kmh at Blowering Dam, NSW.
 17-9-77         214.78 mph……..345.66 kmh at Blowering Dam, NSW.
 30-10-77        246.77 mph………397.15 kmh at Blowering Dam, NSW
 20-11-77        288.60 mph……..464.45 kmh at Blowering Dam, NSW ( World Record)
 8-10-78         317.60 mph……..511.11 kmh at Blowering Dam, NSW ( Current World Record)
 Before Ken Warby came along, the official Australian speed record on water was 162 mph.
 Ken did not just break that record……………….he DOUBLED IT !!!!

Another attempt

After 25 years waiting for someone to beat his record, Ken is keen to have a go at breaking his own record, for fear it will not otherwise move on.  Of course the British team Quicksilver, is developing their record contender for precisely this!

Ken's new boat has 50% more power. His first record breaking boat, "Spirit of Australia", was powered by a 6000 horse power Westinghouse jet engine.  The new boat, "Aussie S pirit will be powered by a 9000 horse power unit.   Ken, 64, and still firing on all cylinders, is about breaking his record.  He thinks that 24 years is too long for a record to stand, and is plenty of time for all the "Gunnas" of the world to do something about breaking the record. Ken has built the new boat based on his experience of what works. The new boat is not that much different to the "Spirit" in design - rather a refinement and who can argue with that.

The the new boat was built in his garage in Cincinnati USA.  It was pronounced complete on 23rd December 1999.  Now that construction is final, Ken will begin his campaign for sponsorship. Ken has stated that there is only one way this record attempt will be run, and that is professionally.   Trials of the new boat will commence once a professional team and sponsorship are organised.  It is most likely that the boat will be run at Blowering Dam - NSW Australia.  The record attempt will be run by Dr. Bob Apathy, the same man who project managed the Spirit runs in 1978.


Title World's fastest coffin on water : the first-ever biography of Ken Warby /​ Bill Tuckey.
Author Tuckey, Bill.
Published Seaford, Vic. : Bas Publishing, c2009
ISBN 9781921496066 (pbk.)
Dewey Number 797.14092
Libraries Australia ID 44683042


Title Ken Warby and Spirit of Australia, the world water speed record holders /​ prepared by Peter J. Muszkat.
Author Muszkat, Peter
Other Authors Ken Warby Racing
Published [Sydney?] : Peter J. Muszkat, [197-?]
Dewey Number 623.823
Libraries Australia ID 4981758

Source: Warby Motorsport


Ken's son Dave Warby is building a new boat, Spirit of Australia II, powered by a Rolls Royce Orpheus 803 Jet engine in an attempt to set a new Unlimited World Water Speed Record.

Ken Warby talks about 34 years of racing dangerously on water

Eric Sharp - Detroit Free Press Outdoors - July 15, 2012

If you want to make a spectacular exit from this Earth, you'd be hard-pressed to find a surer way than trying to break the world speed record on water. Only one person has exceeded 300 miles per hour in a boat and lived to tell about it.

That man is Australian Ken Warby, who set the mark of 317.6 m.p.h. in his home country in 1978 and said he's amazed that no one has been able to better it for 34 years.

"I never dreamed it would last this long. I was hoping someone would come along and break it very quickly," said Warby, 73, who will race a vintage Australian displacement boat this weekend during the Detroit Gold Cup races on the Detroit River and next weekend at Pontiac's Quake on the Lake.

A lifelong boat racer, Warby lives in Cincinnati these days and competes in vintage races around the country in his 600-cubic-inch vee-hull, which tops out at about 115 m.p.h. (His wife, Barbara, races a similar boat.)

Unlike most of the other record challengers, who were backed by deep-pocket sponsors and teams of naval architects and engineers, Warby designed his Spirit of Australia himself and built it in his backyard with help from a couple of technical experts from a local air force base.

He bought the jet engine at a military surplus sale for $69 Australian (about $50 U.S.) and said the total cost of the boat was $10,000 Aussie, or about $7,000 U.S.

"Fosseys, a store that sells bed sheets and pillows and things like that, had just opened a new store near Blowering Dam (in Australia's Snowy Mountains) where we were going to try for the record. They gave us $7,000, and we were set," Warby said. "The local surveyor measured out the course for free, and we had all kinds of volunteer help from boat clubs."

I've long been attracted by fast boats of any kind, be they sail or power craft. I can remember watching television in fascinated horror in 1967 when Donald Campbell's Bluebird went airborne, did a back flip and disintegrated at 320 m.p.h., during his attempt to set a record average speed of 300 m.p.h. on Coniston water in England. The boat and remains of the famed English speed record setter weren't recovered until 2001.

Warby said that despite the incredible toll claimed by the water speed record, he never felt any trepidation about driving the Spirit of Australia.

"I'd drive that boat at 300 m.p.h. all day long. I had no doubts about it at all," he said. "I could take it out right now, and it would still run that speed. It never lifted its nose one inch, and it was so easy to drive."

Donald Campbell was Warby's teenage hero, and the Australian's first national record of 166 m.p.h. in 1966 was done in the first version of Spirit of Australia with "the jet engine sticking out in the breeze and my head three feet in front of it. We added the cowling and better cockpit and kept modifying and improving the boat and going a bit faster each time."

Campbell made regular record runs in Bluebird, establishing seven boat speed marks between 1955 and 1964, the year he became the only man to set speed records in both a jet-powered boat on water at 273.33 m.p.h. and jet-powered car on land at 403.1. (The land record now is a supersonic 763.035, set by Britain's Andy Green.)

Campbell's father, Malcolm, had also set world water speed records in an earlier, propeller-powered Bluebird, the last at 141.7 m.p.h. in 1939.

Meanwhile, an American unlimited hydroplane driver, Stanley Sayres, had driven his piston-powered Slo-Mo-Shun IV to a world record of 178.497 in 1952, (and later set a piston-powered record of 202).

That spurred Donald Campbell, who thrived on his international celebrity, to begin his quest. But he never achieved his goal of giving Great Britain the honor of being the first nation to build a boat that bettered an average speed of 300 m.p.h.

Some British critics said that Warby's speed records weren't as impressive because Warby set a new mark only twice, not seven times like Campbell.

Warby shrugs that off, saying, "We broke every one of (Campbell's) records in practice runs. To me, the goal was to be the first to better 300 m.p.h."

Since Warby's record run, there have been two serious attempts to break it, by Americans Lee Taylor in 1980 and Craig Arfons in 1989. Both died when their boats came apart at 300 miles an hour.

Three teams, two British and one American, have been touting plans to break Warby's record for several years, and though they're long on slick press releases and websites, they've been short on execution.

Speaking of one British team that has been designing a boat for a decade, Warby said wryly that its leader is "the only man I know who has got more attention from talking about setting a world record than I have from doing it."

And though Warby said he'll no longer try to set a new mark, he's confident his son, Dave, will do it in a modification of the design for Spirit of Australia. The Warbys once again are building their own boat and figure they'll be ready to go soon after they find a sponsor to pick up some of the costs.

"It will be an improvement on the previous boat but not radically different," Warby said. "We're not interested in re-inventing the wheel."



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