Ken Warby: 1939—2023
All of the records set on the water, the one most likely to stand forever is the kilometer mark notched by Australian Ken Warby. On November 8, 1977, Warby piloted the Spirit of Australia, a Westinghouse jet-engine-powered, 27-foot vessel of his own creation to an average speed of 317.6 mph on Blowering Dam Reservoir in New South Wales. That record has held for more than 45 years and no one has come close to breaking it.
(From left) Marc Granet, Ken Warby, John Haggin and Scott Begovich became close during the AMF Offshore Racing days of the mid-to-late 2000s. Photo courtesy/copyright Gary Stray.
Warby died yesterday of natural causes. He was 84 years old.
The news was announced in a post on the Spirt of Australia 2 Facebook page, a social media portal supporting the water-speed record project of Warby’s son, David.
“Ken Warby is the only person to ever design, build and drive a boat to an Unlimited Water Speed Record, the first Australian to hold an Unlimited Water Speed Record,” the post read. “Ken received an M.B.E from Queen Elizabeth, II, for services to powerboating and two Union Internationale Motonautique gold medals for services to powerboating. He was one of the first 200 inductees into the National Sporting Hall of Fame—the only powerboat racer inducted.”
Ken and Barbara Warby lived in Ohio. Photos from 2006 by Tim Sharkey copyright Sharkey Images.
While Warby’s home-built, mostly wooden boat carried the name, the true “Spirit of Australia” was the man himself. The pursuit of the world water-speed record has killed more people than it has rewarded, and by setting it in a homemade, relatively low-budget fashion—his vessel that looked like something from Wile E. Coyote’s ACME catalog—he became a legend in the high-performance world. During John Haggin’s AMF Offshore Racing/GEICO team ownership days in the mid-to-late 2000s, Haggin brought in Warby—one of his heroes—to inspire his group. That group included members of the Miss GEICO team such as Marc Granet and Gary Stray.
“He was truly the king,” said Granet. “Ken Warby’s legacy will never be touched. He was the epitome of a boat racer—nerves of steel and braver than anyone to ever set foot in a boat. What he did with a plywood homebuilt boat defied all the odds.
“Ken loved to tell us about ‘the pass at over 400 mph’ that wasn’t recorded due to a technical failure,” he continued. “Can you imagine? I was fortunate enough to call him a friend and a mentor, and I’ll never forget his mantra, ‘Chase the monkey slowly.’ Godspeed, Key Warby.”
Added Stray, now the crew chief for the Class 1 Huski Chocolate offshore racing team, “Ken was a humble man who achieved the greatest feat on the water. He is a legend forever and always.”
Warby set the longstanding world water-speed record in a boat he built himself.
The current throttleman for Huski Chocolate and a former Miss GEICO throttleman, Steve Curtis got to know Warby during the years. His respect for the man was immeasurable.
“I was very sad to hear of the passing of Ken,” said Curtis. “He was a great character, always having a laugh with his Aussie humor
“To achieve the world water-speed record was an incredible feat where so many have lost their lives trying to do,” he added. “My mate had the biggest pair, ever. May he rest in peace.”