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9/5/1939 - 21/2/2023

Ken Warby MBE was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 as an Athlete Member for his contribution to the sport of power boating.

Warby was a gifted mechanical engineer from Newcastle with a passion for boat racing. He started building boats in his parent’s backyard and raced them at Toronto RMYC, on Lake Macquarie. He won three state championship in Monte Cristo, and raced limited hydroplanes & outboards with success. With an urge to go faster, and inspired by Donald Campbell’s World Water Speed Records in Bluebird K7, Warby set out to become the fastest man on water and with a young family supporting him, designed & built Spirit of Australia in the family backyard over a period of 4 years.

Warby made sporting history in November 1977 after he had designed and built his boat – Spirit of Australia – before driving her to the water speed record. In doing so he had not only become the fastest man on water, but the first person to complete all three tasks and take a somewhat complete ownership of the record. On his record-breaking run at Blowering Dam, near Tumut, Warby averaged 464 km/h (288.6mph) to eclipse the standing record of American Lee Taylor’s record. Then, less than 12 months later, in October 1978, Warby lowered his own record even further when he averaged a whopping 511.11km/h (317.5mph) and reached a max speed of 529 km/h (328.9mph) on the return run, again at Blowering Dam – a record than still stands today.

In the 1980’s, he turned to land records and in 1984 in Epping, New Hampshire broke the land speed record for the standing quarter mile. He also became the first man to break the 500km/h (300mph) barrier and was the first Australian to hold an unlimited speed record on land, water or air.

By 2003, Warby had designed and built another boat, the Aussie Spirit, with which he planned to increase his own record. Of similar dimensions to Spirit of Australia, it was also powered by a Westinghouse J34 jet engine. The rudder alone on this new boat cost more than the $10,000 all-up cost of the original Spirit. Again, Warby designed, built, self-financed and piloted his own boat, however, rule changes meant that a record attempt was never made with it.

Warby retired from record-breaking in 2007 and worked with his son David on a new boat with the intention of breaking his own record, however, this attempt never eventuated as he passed away on February 21, 2022 after a decline in his health.

Honours & Achievements

1978: Made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for his services to speed boat racing


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