CRUSADER: JOHN COBB’S ILL-FATED QUEST FOR SPEED ON WATER

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Forewords by Ken Warby and Sally Railton Joslin

The tale of Crusader, the jet-powered boat of 1952, appears to be a simple one about the ambition of John Cobb and Reid Railton, two unassuming but deeply gifted men, to break the water speed record on Loch Ness only for their efforts to end in tragedy. In fact the story behind that fateful outcome — Cobb’s death on his first high-speed run — is a complex web of clever design and inspirational endeavour mixed with personality clashes and errors of judgement. After many years of research, including access to a wealth of original documentation, Steve Holter unravels the entire saga of the ill-fated Crusader and presents a compelling detective story. 

  • John Cobb: the modest businessman with such a thirst for speed that he wanted to become the fastest man on water as well as on wheels after setting his land speed record of 394.196mph in 1947.
  • Reid Railton: inspired designer and long-time friend behind Cobb’s greatest speed accomplishments, notably with the Napier-Railton (holder of the lap record at Brooklands) and the Railton Mobil Special (land speed record car).
  • In-depth study of Railton’s innovative ‘three-point’ hull design for Crusader, with two rear sponsons and a single ‘planing shoe’ at the front — plus a De Havilland Ghost jet engine delivering 5,000lb of thrust.
  • Evolution of the design in parallel with testing of scale models, including a miniature jet-powered version evaluated near Portsmouth Harbour.
  • Assessment and description of boat-builder Vosper’s wooden construction, under Peter Du Cane’s direction.
  • An exhaustive account of proceedings at Loch Ness, where Cobb finally attempted a high-speed run on 29 September 1952 and achieved 206.89mph, faster than anyone had previously gone on water.
  • Analysis of the structural failure that destroyed Crusader and killed Cobb.
  • Publication date: May 2021
  • ISBN: 978-1-910505-61-8
  • Format: 234x156mm hardback
  • Page extent: 352
  • Illustration: 200 photographs and documents 

    Steve Holter’s life-long association with all things automotive, both as a hobby and a profession, and as a driver and an engineer, made it inevitable that his interests would gravitate towards record-breaking. Mixing his professional experience — including television research and crash investigation — with knowledge gained while working with his friend and mentor, Bluebird designer Ken Norris, as well as numerous interviews with many others involved in record-breaking, he is in a unique position to unravel the true story of Crusader. He has written one previous book, Leap into Legend: Donald Campbell and the Complete Story of the World Speed Records, published in 2002. He lives in France.

    “Steve Holter has exceeded all standards of excellence in his exhaustively researched new book… He has pieced together a riveting tale of ambitious effort by two quiet and unassuming giants of the golden age of record breaking… Few accounts of motorsports triumph and tragedy ascend to the level of detail that Holter achieves in this benchmark of speed record breaking analysis.”
    hotrodenginetech.com

    “Steve Holter’s story of land speed record holder John Cobb’s attempt on the water speed record has been long awaited, and does not disappoint… The storytelling is much like Cobb, quiet and understated, with no hint of sensationalism, creating a gripping, but poignant, detective story that stands as a fitting testament to a brave and committed gentleman.”
    David Tremayne, GrandPrix+

    “A 352-page masterpiece, well-illustrated, painstakingly researched and carefully constructed to reveal, chapter-by-chapter, all the drama associated with Cobb’s attempt on the World Water Speed Record. It is far too cheap at just £30. Not only do I give it five stars, but unless something very special crops up between now and Christmas, I’m making it my Book of the Year.”
    retro-speed.co.uk

    “Despite some parties at the time calling for a public enquiry into the crash, none was undertaken. If there had been, it is difficult to imagine it could have been more exhaustive than the evidence gathered in this book – in effect, this is the public enquiry into the disaster on Loch Ness.”
    The Automobile

    “This book details the saga in true detective-story style, thanks to author Steve Holter’s access to key figures and reams of original documents, plus exhaustive analysis of the technical aspects of the ill-fated bid. As a long-overdue crash investigation, it takes some beating.”
    Magneto

    “The author has had access to a lot of the original documentation, some of which is reproduced here together with many detailed photographs.”
    Best of British

    “Even for those whose enthusiasm for the sport is based on circuit racing, it’s a surprisingly captivating and relatively accessible read. There’s also an incredible wealth of archive images throughout, from testing models of Crusader to its build, and the fateful day at Loch Ness. There can be no doubt that the subject of Crusader has been researched in its entirety and, whether you’re a die-hard enthusiast or casual reader wishing to know more about the tragic accident, there is perhaps no better resource.”
    Autosport

    “So, what went wrong? Well, I am not going to reveal that in this review – you really must buy the book – but suffice to say that Holter’s meticulous research provides what must be the definitive story… While the technicalities are explained in clear terms that anyone can understand, the wonderful thing about this book is that ‘the people story’ is told so well, fleshing out the characters to moving effect. It is hard to imagine a better tribute.”
    Pilot

    “This book deals with a difficult subject objectively and without pulling punches… a very factual and, in its own way inspiring, story of a man driven by a single goal.”
    historicracingnews.com