2017 Coniston Powerboat Records Week
The 47th Powerboat Records Week on Coniston Water was busier and more successful than ever for 2017, with a few surprise guests and speed records broken along the way
To someone unfamiliar with Coniston, a scenic village situated in the heart of the Lake District, Speed Week would likely seem a rude interruption to the tranquil settings of a lake that at times lies still enough to look like glass; look around and you won’t find the locals complaining. This is because the village whole-heartedly welcomes the annual event that is the Coniston Powerboat Records Week, for record-breaking is very much part and parcel of its heritage.
During 1920s and 1930s Britain, the breaking of a speed record was a fairly regular occurrence thanks to famous names such as Sir Malcolm Campbell, Sir Henry Segrave, John Cobb and JG Parry Thomas. Between them they claimed numerous land and water speed records for the country, at locations both home and abroad.
Coniston’s link with speed records began in August 1939 when Sir Malcolm Campbell set a World Water Speed Record of 141.74mph on Coniston Water with his three-point hydroplane Bluebird K4. Sir Malcolm had chosen Coniston thanks to the possibility of the European lakes becoming unavailable for record attempts thanks to the imminent outbreak of World War 2. Although there were larger lakes available within the UK, Coniston was suitable for speed attempts thanks to having five miles of straight water that was clear of any obstructive islands. Nearby Lake Windermere was also a potential candidate but Campbell did not wish to make his attempts there following the death of his friend and speed rival Sir Henry Segrave in 1930.
After Sir Malcolm’s passing in 1948, his son Donald took it upon himself to continue increasing the World Water Speed Record for Britain, making attempts at first in Bluebird K4 and then in his own jet-propelled hydroplane Bluebird K7. Donald made use of Pier Cottage and its slipway as a base for K7, where the press and locals would often come down to see what was going on. Campbell achieved four World Water Speed Records on Coniston Water, his first being at a speed of 225.63mph in September 1956.
By May 1959, he had increased this to 260.35mph before securing both a water speed record of 276.33 mph and a land speed record of 403.10mph in Australia during 1964. Following on from this double success, he returned to Coniston Water with the hope of achieving his ultimate goal of over 300 mph on water. However, it was not to be: tragically, on 4 January 1967, Bluebird K7 somersaulted during her return run on an attempt at the record. Donald was killed in the crash and Bluebird sunk beneath the surface of the lake. On the outward run, K7 had recorded a speed of 297.6 mph and as she had made her return, it’s thought Donald was piloting her at a speed of 328 mph.
It was a tragic case of so near, so far – but Coniston continues on in its role as the ‘spiritual home’ of record breaking. It therefore seems entirely appropriate that this famous lake now hosts the annual Coniston Powerboat Record Week and has done so since 2005. The event itself is organised by the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club and features in the calendar of the Union International Monoautique – the World governing body of powerboat racing. It brings together all classes of boat from hydroplanes to inshore circuit racers to large offshore boats and has taken place on Coniston Water since the National Park Authority decreed a speed limit of 10 knots on Lake Windermere in-order to restore the lake’s tranquillity.
This year, the Coniston Power Boat Records Week has enjoyed a significant increase in the number of entries and number of attempts made, as well as notable interest from spectators from the sheer number of records achieved.
Windermere resident Peter Hart was thrilled to break the National Unlimited Monohull record with a speed of 78.16mph; a new World and French National record was set by Mattieu Chiarini at a speed of 69.00mph. One of the youngest competitors included 16-year old Thomas Mantripp from the Lowestoft & Oulton Broad Motor Club. Thomas clocked a very respectable speed of 63.22 mph in the OSY400 Hydroplane class – a tricky grouping given that the driver must lie down within the craft – and this stood as a record for the majority of the week until fellow LOBMC club member, Wayne Moyse, increased the record by 0.78 mph.
Joining this year’s competitors were TV stars Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May who were in Coniston to shoot footage for their next series of DriveTribe. The team took two vehicles out onto the water – a boat with caterpillar tracks as well as a converted Bond Bug. There was success for Clarkson with a record of 47.81 mph within the Experimental Amphibious Unlimited class.
Also taking part was motoring specialist and TV presenter Edd China, who competed with a Gibbs Amphibious Quadski and was delighted to obtain a record of 46.1 mph in the Amphibious Experimental 1-2 Litre class. On being at the Coniston event, Edd said 'I’m delighted to be here. It’s a fantastic event but what’s really lovely is the camaraderie – everyone wants each other to set a record. It’s quite wonderful.'
Meanwhile, the fastest record of the week was set by Records Week veteran Drew Langdon who in his Marathon A Outerlimits Hulled Boat achieved a new National record of 123.39mph.
One of the main sponsors of the event is The Coppermines & Lake District Cottages, which provide accommodation to many of the competitors and their support crews. Managing Director Phil Johnston said: 'Building on the Campbell legacy, the event has become a welcome fixture in the year for the little village of Coniston. It’s great that it takes place just after our traditional Autumn half term week, thus lengthening our busy season. We enjoy extending our hospitality to Power Boat drivers, teams and supporters from all over the World!'
Coniston is already preparing to welcome everyone back again next year. The dates for the 48th Annual Powerboats Records Week have been confirmed as 29 October – 2 November 2018.
Photography by Tim Tapping and Gillian Carmoodie