A 1952 jet-boat on Loch Ness breaks the speed record, at high cost

The British motorist John Cobb spent the 1930s and 1940s breaking land speed records. By 1947 he set the world record for land speed on the Bonneville Salt Flats, going an incredible 394.19 miles per hour. He then turned his attention to water.

Cobb turned to engineer Reid Railton, who had already designed some of Cobb’s vehicles. The two began testing concepts for a trimaran jet-boat. By having small outriggers on either side of a narrow hull they would maintain stability while keeping surface area low, allowing the boat to shoot over the surface of the water instead of plowing through it. The tests showed promise. They borrowed a jet engine from the Ministry of Supply and built Crusader in 1952. Crusader was 31 feet long, built with a birch frame and wrapped in aluminium.

The boat itself was only half of the equation. They needed a very large stretch of water that would allow the boat space to accelerate to it’s top speed, then to decelerate to a stop before running out of space. The ocean is big, but waves would slow the boat down and even destroy it once it got to speed. They needed it to be just big enough to have space, but small enough to have flat water. They settled on a 23 mile long gash in the Scottish Highlands: Loch Ness

Once there, they encountered a number of problems. Winds could race along the loch with no warning, causing white caps to form; even small waves from tiny boats could destroy Crusader once at full speed. Eventually the wind died down and the water was clear of other boats. A green flare was fired, signaling to Cobb that he could make a go.

Cobb fired up the Crusader’s engine, soon exceeding the 200 mph goal. All was going well until he ran into some small swells that seemed to have come from no where (obviously, some people have attributed them to Nessie). The swells made the front of Crusader start to oscillate up and down until the bow dipped below the surface. The deceleration was so sudden and so fierce that Crusader instantly disintegrated. Cobb died instantly and his body was soon recovered, but there was nothing left of Crusader.

Transporting Crusader to Loch Ness

Cobb’s wife on the radio with him

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