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Record-setting boats aren’t powered by your typical outboard motors and you won’t find them looking like average sailing vessels. The fastest boat in history was aerodynamically designed to boost top speeds, which made the current world record holder look more like a spaceship zooming across the water. What is the fastest boat, how fast could it go, and can the record be beaten?

The world’s fastest boat in history

The infamous record-setting vessel was named the ‘Spirit of Australia’, the fastest boat in history, began in 1970 when Ken Warby, its owner, set out to design a vessel to set speed records with. Despite being on a strict budget, Warby would buy wood and other parts as needed when he could afford it. In 1972 he began constructing it in his backyard, working on it when weather permitted. 

Eventually, he began seeking a way to power his boat and found a surplus auction at the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) base.  He left there as the new owner of three J-34 jet engines, which he spent a total of $260 for, according to Warby Motorsport’s website.  

To fund his project, Warby got sponsorships from Shell and Fossey’s, a local retail store. He also sold his oil paintings and put the money he earned toward his project. He ultimately quit his day job to devote more time to getting his boat ready to set some speed records. The result of his efforts was a jet-powered, 27-foot mostly wood boat that looked more like a spaceship than a vessel, due to its aerodynamic design. 

Its outward appearance aside, this speedy jet boat went on to set some pretty speedy records for a jet-powered boat. Two of the most notable were in 1977 and 1978.

Its record-setting run

Warby set his first speed record with his boat in 1977 going as fast as 288.60 mph, which was a fantastic feat for the time period. However, it wasn’t until 1978 that the most famous speed record occurred. The owner set out to beat the record, which was, of course, his own. He wanted to not just break it, he wanted to break the 300 mph barrier. 

That year he settled on Blowering Dam Reservoir in New South Wales because it was long enough to achieve this feat. He became the first to reach achieve 317.60 mph as well as the first Australian to hold a world record like this.

Other achievements Warby received over the years, according to Speed On Water,  included 

  • M.B.E. (Member of the order of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II for services concerning power boating
  • Two gold medals from the Union Internationale Motonautique for power boating
  • Became one of the first of 200 inductees into the National Sporting Hall of Fame
  • The only power boater to enter the National Sporting Hall of Fame
  • Longest record holder as no one has been able to beat it in 45+ years 

The only one able to beat it was Warby himself when he broke the 400 mph barrier. However, it wasn’t recorded because of a technical failure occurring on the run. 

Speed record contenders

While no one has beaten the record, plenty of boats have come close. Currently, there are a few contenders that have promising speedboats that could ultimately take on the challenge with ease. 

The first is the ‘Longbow’, a British challenger owned by David Aldred. This boat is powered by two Rolls Royce Viper Turbo-Jet engines and is piloted by David-John Gibbs, a Formula 4 powerboat racer, according to Motorboat & Yachting

Another contender is a boat called ‘Quicksilver’ driven and owned by Nigel McKnight. This vessel project has been in the works for over 30 years. Helping to make the record-breaking attempt a success is the former chief designer of the Bluebird K7, another speed racer that broke a world record in 1964. 

Lastly, the most likely contender to succeed is the ‘Spirit of Australia II’, driven by Warby’s son David. This boat is merely an updated version of Ken Warby’s 1960s version. It also looks and acts like a spaceship or rather a rocket. 

The current world record for the fastest boat in history remains with Ken Warby, who unfortunately passed away earlier this year. How much longer will his record hold? It’s hard to tell, but with today’s contenders, it might come sooner than we think. 


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