FAST TIMES

SETTING RECORDS WITH AMF & KEN WARBY - The World's Water Speed Record Holder - for 27 Years!

Race producers are hard to come by, so when someone new steps up to the plate, they need to be supported. AMF Offshore Racing's owner John Haggin has an interest in expanding the awareness of turbine-powered boats that led him to promote a Kilo run event in mid April.

To do this, he lobbied APBA to make a new classification for Turbine Powered Yachts, both Vees and Cats. John's interest and reason for sponsoring this event was to set a new APBA Speed Record with his own turbine powered Outerlimits. He originally intended to shoot for speed of 160 with a pair of Lycoming 703 turbines but opted at the last minute to stay with the proven T53's to set the record at a mark that future challengers might view as obtainable. he plans to do it again next year and push the bar up the scale a few notches.

Crescent City Florida was chosen as the sight for this inaugural event. Crescent City is a tiny little on e traffic light town located in Florida. it's about 100 miles north of Orlando and resides between two beautiful lakes. Lake Stella, a crystal clear fresh water lake about a mile long to the West and a larger Crescent lake to the East. Crescent lake is twelve miles long and connects to the St Johns River, which allows for ocean access.

AMF Racing could not have pulled off this APBA Special Event Kilo Run without the full support of Fast Boats Inc. of Central Florida, the local APBA club. This APBA Special Event was open to all smaller APBA classes and the new Performance Yacht Class. The only boats not invited were boats that would be legal to run in any of the SBI/APBA Offshore classes, as they'll have their own kilo run later this summer.

It was interesting to learn how APBA sets up their timing equipment. once the course is professionally surveyed and markers are placed on shore, they set up what appears to be telescopes at both ends of the 5/8-mile course. These powerful telescopes can see the survey markers and are able to sense the race boats breaking the beam. No human intervention, with accuracy worthy of record book status.

This must have been just about the biggest thing to come to this quaint little municipality in a hundred years. this is a small town USA, where the town bar is adjacent to the Police Station and the most notable event in the town's history happened when an Amtrack train derailed several years ago. The train was probably longer than the town! Crescent City is waiting fro Orlando's suburban sprawl to extend and bring the town into the twentieth century. During this three day event, everyone commented at the beauty of this undeveloped area of central Florida.

DOWN UNDER: When I arrived Wednesday afternoon, everyone was sitting around and swapping racing stories over a beer. The guy next to me had a heavy Australian accent that sounded somewhat familiar. Under the dark glasses and black hat was none other than the most Extreme Boater of all time, ken Warby the Water Speed Record Holder. God I love having a tape recorder on me when I need it.

Setting the World Water Speed Record has been Ken's life passion. his mind was made up from the time he was eight years old and glued a CO2 cartridge to a model boat and blew id across a neighbor's pool. Thirty years later he claimed ownership of the record and lived to tell the story.

"Ken's current World's Record of 317.6 mph was set back in 1978 and stands today, even though people have lost their lives trying to surpass it."

Since the time Ken set the record back in October 1978 two other challengers have tried to better his mark, both ending in tragic failure.

In 1980, the previous water speed record holder, Lee Taylor, tried to reclaim his title in a 2.5 million dollar 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. The power plant was said to generate 8,000 pounds of thrust.

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. Taylor's body was found a day later still strapped into the cockpit.

Craig Arfons, a former automotive drag racing champion and a close friend of Ken Warby was the next to take up the challenge. On July 9, 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 delivered 5,500 pounds of thrust 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 Arfon's crew say his boat reached a speed of 253 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. He was 39.

TIME FOR SPEED: After sending a night camped out on one of the three houseboats that served as a waterborne motel, the dawn brought a new day that held the promise of new World Speed Records. The first run of the day saw John haggin and his crew bringing one of the three houseboats down the course at a blistering 8.2 mph. (Apparently there was a class that never had an entry, well there is one now.) After the run, the crew was elated at their record setting speed. Driver John haggin revealed his apprehension about the run. "We didn't know if she could do it. It's true that there was no prior record set in this class so no matter what we ran, we'd have a record but the APBA kilo timing gear can't anything that takes longer than 10 minutes to go through the 5/8 mile traps so we had our backs against the wall, and relied on brute force and advanced propeller technology to come home with the record".

APBA then ran a few of the smaller classes like insane little rubber inflatable's with outboard engines, a 112 mile per hour bass boat, and a sixty mile per hour pontoon boat. After lunch break it was time for the big dog to eat. John Haggin, his navigator Robert Savering and John Arruda, owner of Turbine marine wound up the 51 foot, AMF Outerlimits and laid down a own-way pass of 124 miles per hour. On the return run, the boat was screaming and just as it entered the 5/8 mile run, something let go. They coasted through the trap and set a new World Speed Record of 83.12 mph for a two way average. A bit disappointed but never fazed, team AMF simply went back to the support truck packed full of extra parts and hunted for a spare transmission. it was left back in South Florida so the repairs will have to wait until later tonight.

A BIT OF HISTORY: That night all of the racers, officials and fans gathered for a catered feast held on the three houseboats that served as our residence for the weekend. After a wonderful evening of listening to stories of bravado beyond my comprehension, ken Warby produced a videocassette from his jacket and asked if we'd like to watch some "Telly". Within minutes we all found ourselves gathered around a small TV watching a 27-year-old documentary film of ken Warby's record setting glory. With Ken seated in the middle of the room we watched in absolute amazement as the hour long video captured his four-year odyssey from building the boat to setting the World Water Speed Record of 317.60 miles per hour.

The film showed Ken and his motley crew of backyard mechanics screwing and gluing the hull together. The dialing-in process took two years to complete, as the team slowly tested new speed boundaries with each pass. Watching the film I began to understand ken's mind set. It's both scary and awe inspiring. To be so committed to something that life means nothing without either chasing it or having it.

As I watched the TV, I kept one eye on ken watching the TV. He must have seen the tape a million times but his eyes never left the screen. He watched and relived every moment of his quest, laughing at some of his own humorous 27-year-old jokes and shedding a tear when his dearly loved and departed mother was shown on the screen. It was a moving moment, I had just spent the last hour having dinner and talking with Ken and now I was experiencing the historic record setting event with THE MAN himself. it was like watching the Apollo 11 Moon landing with Neil Armstrong in the room. It was as if everyone in that houseboat was transported back in time and was actually experiencing history as it happened. It was a truly and intoxicating experience that flooded everyone with emotion. All I can say is that I was truly honored to have been able to share that moment in time with the man that cheated death by using superior design.

During the video, on a 250 mph pass, the boat started a rather violent sponson walk that almost shook the tail right off the machine and Ken powered right through it, never even considered backing out of it. It was at that moment that I realized that ken Warby had made up his mind many years ago that he was going to set the World Speed Record or die trying. There's no middle ground, no second place. In the final record setting run, the boat ripped through the traps with perfect trim, it looked to be right on the verge of blowing over bit it didn't. It just rode across a six-inch chop at 317.6 miles per hour with ken hanging onto the wheel with his foot mashed to the floor. No enclosed cockpit, no five point harness, just a helmet and a set of brass balls the size of Australia was all that Ken required.

After the tape was over and the applause faded away Ken asked, "...and do you know what I got from the UIM after setting the record? I received a nice official looking plaque and a bill for $40 to go along with it".

You have to question the sanity of people that chase World Speed Records. No doubt it's a dangerous venture, from the statistics, probably the most dangerous passion of all. Since Ken set the record, he's watched two of his friends, Craig Arfons and Lee Taylor, die trying to take the record away from him.

Nowdays there are three efforts to break ken's record. One group in Seattle Washington known as the American Challengers www.americanchallengewsr.com Britain's bid at the World Water Speed Record known as Quicksilver www.quicksilver-wsr.com and the other is ken Warby www.kenwarby.com himself. Ken's new boat has been tested to 200 mph on a river in Australia and is ready to move into the next phase of testing. Whereas the American Challenger is still residing on a hard drive in a Seattle based computer and the Brit's won't get wet for years. Ken is truly a man on a mission.

 

Are records meant to be broken? Are they meant to stand forever? Ken IS the water World Speed Record. It's been his entire life. not just 15 minutes of fame, but an entire lifetime. He's set the bar so high that stealing it away from him may prove to be an impossible task. Besides, how many people have the balls or lack of sanity to hold the throttle down as the boat begins to violently sponson walk at 250 miles per hour? I know I don't.

After it was all over, I thanked Ken for sharing such an amazing evening with all of us, and he left me with this thought, "It was absolutely my pleasure, it's no fun watching this tape alone and I can't share this with my old friends, they died trying to best my record. The loneliness of a high-speed boater... On the bright side, the World Water Speed Record breakers reunions are easy to organize, i can have one at the bar that I'm leaning on."

BACK TO WORK: At around midnight I went down to where the mosquitoes were having a feast on the AMF team working on the boat under halogen lights. once I saw Arruda was in the right frame of mind to answer some stupid questions, I asked: So John, what broke? "A gear inside the transmission went, probably too much load. The tranny and drives are the only part of the entire installation that is not fabricated in my shop. we had Weisman make these tranny's for us and it looks like we'll need to beef up the specs a bit." Will you have it fixed by morning I asked? "We found the broken parts, we have a spare being driven up from my shop in pompano and we have the tools needed for the job. As long as it gets here before the mosquito's suck me dry, we should be in good shape for tomorrow."

Friday, the final day of the event, was another perfect, cloudless day with temps reaching the high 80's. The day started with the super fast bass boat increasing it's record of 112 mph set on Wednesday to 118. next came a 496-powered pontoon boat that set a record on Wednesday of 63.99 but failed to break 60 under today's heavier and warmer air. The pontoon boats put on a great show and one almost blew over during their run for the record books. i don't know how they didn't flip.

At noon the AMF crew was still filling the boat with fluids and had yet to be checked out. everything had been replaced during the crew's all night work session and everyone was anxious to see the monster set a record worthy of calling a World Speed Record. After finishing the repair and breaking out the Swipes for a quick clean up, it was time to put the beast back in the water and wring it out.

The time had come to see what kind of numbers the big dog could produce. With John Haggin at the helm, Robert Savering on the throttles, ken Warby in the navigators seat and Ira, the self proclaimed "World's Fastest Dog" in the cabin, team AMF left the dock with confidence and both propellers turning. They took a long sweeping turn to allow time for the turbines to spin up to speed. They entered the chute with a long and low rooster tail in tow. A few seconds later the APBA timing system recorded a one-way speed of 120.42. On the return leg the super sticky water got the best of them and the boat wasn't able to break over the 120 barrier again. Regardless, team AMF bettered their twenty four hour old record and set a new two way average of 118.46 mph.

The entire event was a blast. The boat count was low but the fun factor was high so everyone in attendance had a great time. For me, spending three days with ken Warby while basking in his glory and watching him participate in setting and other World Water Speed Record was the highlight of the event. There was even some talk about ken bringing and running his new boat in Crescent City next year. look for this to turn into an annual event, growing in size with each year. maybe next year, we'll see ken break his own record, unless he comes to his senses before then.

 

See ya at the races, Ron

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