Doubt over Bluebird’s return to Bute

The team behind the restoration of legendary hydroplane Bluebird plan to bring the vessel to Bute for a second time – despite concerns from the museum due to house it.

The Bluebird K7 on Bute last year. Photo kindly supplied by Loch Fad Fisheries.
The Bluebird K7 on Bute last year. Photo kindly supplied by Loch Fad Fisheries.

The jet-engined craft made a stunning ‘debut’ on Bute last year after a painstaking and detailed 15-year rebuild by engineer Bill Smith and volunteers working in North Shields. Once piloted by racing pioneer Donald Campbell, Bluebird was rescued from the depths of Coniston Water in 2001. Campbell was killed in 1967, when the hydroplane flipped during a water speed record attempt on the five-mile long Cumbrian lake.

Bill, who found the wreckage and spent years reconstructing it, believes the Bluebird Project co-owns the vessel with the museum and would like to keep it in action for the public to see.

On April 15, the Bluebird project took to social media confirming its return to the island in July, saying: “Nothing new under the covers but by overwhelming public request we’re going to start prepping K7’s systems for a return to Bute in July.”

At the relaunch of the Bluebird K7 are (l-r) hydroplane expert Ted Walsh, ex-Red Arrows pilot Stew Campbell and Oilfast's Joe Carroll

However, the Ruskin Museum was surprised by the announcement. A spokesman for the museum said: “There has been no agreement with the Trustees of the Ruskin Museum for Bluebird to run this summer on Bute.

“Bluebird K7’s previous outing on Bute proved that the boat and crew performed exceptionally well.

“Technically speaking, Bluebird K7 –which has been so magnificently restored – has nothing to prove.

“Our focus is to ensure that Bluebird is returned to Coniston so that she can be seen by the public up close in the museum as well as on the water.

“When the wreckage of Donald Campbell’s Bluebird was handed over to Bill Smith, it was done so with the express understanding that the restored Bluebird would be returned to Coniston to be put on permanent display for the public to view. In 2006 a Deed of Gift was signed, donating Bluebird to the Ruskin museum.

“To house Bluebird, £800,000 was raised from a large number of donors – comprising businesses, charitable trusts and individuals – to build a new wing at the Ruskin Museum which was completed in 2010. We have an obligation to all those who donated to ensure that Bluebird is returned to Coniston.

“As custodians and trustees of the museum (a registered charity) our obligations are to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ one of the most iconic boats in British history for the benefit of the public.

“What Bill Smith and his team of volunteers have achieved is remarkable. Our duty as an accredited museum is to ensure that Bluebird can be shown off to all who want to see her and learn about her exceptional story.

“Donald Campbell is known to have said ‘skipper and boat stay together’. Returning Bluebird to Coniston where Campbell is buried will ensure, as best we can, that those wishes are fulfilled.”

Bill Smith, who leads the team that restored the iconic craft and brought it Bute last year, is adamant Bluebird will return here. He said: “We were supposed to run on Coniston River this year but they just haven’t got it organised.

“So we decided to go back to Scotland. Basically they then said ‘no, just give us the boat, we will put it in the museum’. We said fine but we need an agreement that we can get it back out.

“We have spent 15 years building it so we are not just going to shut it down and put it away.

“The museum own half the boat and we own the other half. Where we are now is we have told them to stop this before it gets out of hand.

“We are still planning to come back to Bute July 19-29. That’s the dates we were supposed to be on Coniston.”