The fastest boats on water: a look back - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

The fastest boats on water: a look back

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In 2004, Dave Villwock and the Miss Budweiser averaged 220.493 mph to set the world record for a propeller-driven boat.  It happened at Thermolito Afterbay in Oroville, California, breaking the previous rercord of 198.17 set in 1962.

In order to qualify for the record, the boat must travel a kilometer course in both directions.  The average speed of the runs is what counts.  Villwock ran at approximately 213 mph in one direction and then approximately 220 mph in the other. 

But it wasn't without drama.  The rudder mount and the prop shaft flew off the boat.  The unlimited hydroplane coasted for another mile before it stopped.

2004 Miss Budweiser

VIDEO of Villwock breaking the speed record for unlimiteds

The One-Mile Speed Record

Controversial driver Russ Wicks set the one-mile speed record for an unlimited on Lake Washington in Seattle in June of 2000.  He did it in Dr. Ken Muscatel's U-25 Miss Freei.  Amazingly, it was only two weeks after Wicks drove an unlimited hydroplane for the first time.

Wicks got the U-25 up to a top speed of 221 mph, but his recorded average speed - a mile in each direction - put the record at 205.494.

Pictured at the right is Wicks and the U-25 Miss Freei during a test run in Tri-Cities, WA in 2000.

The one-mile record had stood since 1962 before Wicks established the new mark.  The most recent serious attempt was made in 1979 when Dean Chenoweth was poised to break the mark, but a propeller failure caused the Miss Budweiser to flip into the air, destroying the boat

VIDEO:  KIRO-TV profile of Russ Wicks>>
Russ Wicks' website >>

World Speed Record

If you're not limiting the record to propeller driven boats, the world record is much faster.  Ken Warby and the Spirit of Australia set the world water record nearly 30 years ago at Blowering Dam in Austalia.  In 1978, he averaged speed of an unbelievable 317.6 mph!

 VIDEO of Ken Warby, shown here traveling about 200mph in the Spirit of Australia, from Nu Era Productions.

The Spirit of Australia team claims it's gone faster, reaching a speed of 345mph during one attempt and averaging 329 mph for both legs.

Ken Warby's Website >>
The UIM racing certificate showing the record >>

A deadly record

You have to really want the record.  Nearly 50 percent of the drivers that have made a serious attempt at the world's water speed record have died trying.  In 1980, Lee Taylor, a previous record holder, was set to attempt to break the record on Lake Tahoe in Nevada aboard the Discovery II.  He never got the chance.

Weather conditions prevented his attempt, but Taylor decided to five the crowd attending his attempt an exhibition run. His first run topped 269 mph when the boat apparently hit a swell, pulled to the left, and - according to witnesses - just fell apart.  Taylor died.  His body was pulled from the lake the following day.  He was still strapped to the cockpit.

In 1989, Craig Arfons built an all-carbon fiber boat, the Rain X Challenger.  It took to the water in Jackson Lake, Florida, reaching a pseed of 263 mph.  The Challenger went into the air and did several rotations.  The boat disintegrated, killing Arfons.

Donald Campbell had set a previous record of 276.333 mph in 1964 and was trying to set a new record in 1967 when he died.

His boat and body weren't recovered until March, 2001 when divers in England pulled the remains of Donald Campbell's boat, Bluebird, from the bottom of Coniston Waters.  Several months later, they would find Campbell's remains nearby.

Campbell was trying for the record in 1967 and had topped 300mph when the boat's nose lifted, and the boat flew more than 50 feet into the air.  The boat blew apart and Campbell was killed.

 VIDEO:  Campbell's 1964 record run >>
 VIDEO:   Campbell's 1967 fatal attempt >>