Fastest Man on the Water
Warby is the only person to design, build and drive a boat to an unlimited world water speed record. A mechanical engineer from Newcastle, New South Wales, he spent four years building Spirit of Australia in his backyard.
Warby’s interest in the sport began as a teenager when he became fascinated with Englishman Donald Campbell, who set both land and water speed records in 1964.
On November 20, 1977, Warby set the world water speed record of 288.60 miles per hour on Blowering Dam, south of Tumut. Then with a sponsor on board and more money to spend on his boat, he broke his own record, again on Blowering Dam, on October 8, 1978.
Ken Warby breaks the world water speed record in his boat Spirit of Australia at Blowering Dam, NSW, on October 8, 1978. The record set was 317.60 mph (511.11 km/h) and it still stands today. Picture: National Archives of Australia A6180
Even 45 years later, that mark of 317 mph has never been beaten.
Close friend John Reid said it was not surprising Warby, who never had seatbelts in his original boat, still held the record. “He just had nerves of steel and he was just focused.”
In 1980, Warby was invited by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to take Spirit of Australia on a tour of the United States, to help promote Australia, and remained there until his death.
Over the past decade, Warby has collaborated with son David who is attempting to break Warby’s world record with improvements to hull design and safety.