Some Time very soon now Donald Campbell, the jaunty Scotsman shown at right who is the world's only jet boat pilot, will settle into the soft blue seat of Bluebird and send her two lobster-claw pontoons probing into New York State's Canandaigua Lake. If he does what he plans to do he will race along the western shore at better than 250 miles per hour, breaking the world water speed record for the fourth consecutive time.
His plans, of necessity, are to a certain degree speculative. Bluebird at full throttle skating down the lake on small bits of her three planing shoes is a skittish proposition indeed. A sudden cross wind can send her sliding and whipping about like a misfired ballistic missile.
"In which case," Campbell explained one day last week from Bluebird's dock, "you have to watch it and not over-correct her, you know. If you do, you slew around and it's over you go."
He paused, then added drily: "And then Bluebird has a naughty period. Somewhere between 160 and 225 she tries to shake your teeth out."
He squinted calmly down the waters of the lake.
"If that doesn't stop fairly soon after it starts," Campbell said, "you are in trouble. The vibrations may start reinforcing each other and get bigger and bigger and—well, a boat just disintegrates under that sort of thing. In three-fifths of a second perhaps. That fast. That's what the journalists have called 'the water barrier.' It's the sort of thing that can make you sweat."
Campbell has been sweating out various Bluebirds for some time, now. He is the only son of Sir Malcolm Campbell, whose famous Bluebird cars held the land speed record seven times and whose Bluebird boat set the water speed record three times.
Sir Malcolm died in December 1948, and less than three months later his son heard that Henry Kaiser was set to go after the Campbell water speed record.
"That made me feel just bloody-minded," Donald says now. "At the time there was also a lot of talk about Britain being washed up as a first-class power."
For Sir Malcolm and for Britain, Donald enlisted Leo Villa, his father's old racing mechanic, and plunged elbow deep into grease, lab calculations and model building with Ken and Lewis Norris, two consultant design engineers. Two years and $70,000 later, Donald Campbell and the new jet-powered Bluebird brought the record back to England with a run of 203.32 mph on Lake Ullswater on July 23, 1955.