John Cobb and Lady visiting his workshops



John Rhodes Cobb (December 2, 1899 - September 29, 1952) was a British racing motorist. He made money as a director of fur brokers Anning, Chadwick and Kiver and could afford to specialise in large capacity motor racing. He was born and lived in Esher, Surrey, near the Brooklands race track where he held the ultimate lap record at the track driving the 24 litre Napier Railton at an average speed of 143.44 mph (230.84 km/h) achieved on 7 October 1935.

Driving the piston engined, wheel driven Railton Mobil Special he broke the Land Speed Record at Bonneville on August 23, 1939 at a speed of 367.91 mph (592.09 km/h). Without this being beaten he raised the record to 394.19 mph (634.39 km/h) in 1947.




The Railton Mobil Special without wheel fairings. Note the exceptionally clean body shape, the principles of which Reid Railton had been developing since the Napier Lion engined Blue Bird that he designed for Malcolm Campbell.





Using the latest Kongsberg Maritime technology, the exact location of the historic wreck Crusader has been discovered: a feat which would not have been possible before now. In collaboration with Kongsberg Maritime, new underwater surveys of Loch Ness have been undertaken for the ongoing National Geographic series, Drain The Oceans. 

Mallinson Sadler Productions, in collaboration with Kongsberg Maritime and the Loch Ness Project, have undertaken new underwater surveys of Loch Ness for their ongoing National Geographic series, Drain the Oceans. Using the very latest robotic technology the team scanned the Loch depths to map areas with higher resolution and accuracy than ever before. During an underwater scan the team uncovered the location of the historic wreck of, 'The Crusader', used to attempt the World Water Speed Record in 1952.

What Happened to Crusader?

In 1952, John Cobb, holder of the land speed record at over 390 mph, brought his jet-powered boat, Crusader, to Loch Ness in an attempt on the water speed record, which then stood at 178.4 mph. 

The length of the Loch seemed ideal for a record attempt but the narrow breadth can exaggerate any bad weather. Cobb needed very light winds and calm water. After six weeks of trials, on 29th September 1952, he accelerated across the Loch to complete a measured mile, when, to the horror of onlookers and the world's press, Crusader appeared to hit a wake and crashed at a speed in excess of 200 miles per hour. 

The boat disintegrated, killing John Cobb, whose body was recovered at the surface. Small fragments of Crusader were recovered but the rest of the vessel, including the jet engine, sank to the bed of Loch Ness. 

It took another fifty years for further enquiries to be made. In 2002, a potential debris field was detected by sonar and inspected visually by a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). Fragments of aluminium were found but the jet engine and the wreck site itself eluded the search.








In Drain the Oceans, Craig Wallace, Subsea Engineer from Kongsberg Maritime with Adrian Shine of the Loch Ness Project and their respective teams set out to discover the wreck. They used one of the world's most sophisticated Autonomous Underwater Vehicles. Its multibeam sonar offers a high resolution 3D image, allowing them to discover 'Crusader's' location, which was previously not possible. Using the AUV's positioning system, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was then deployed from the Loch Ness Centre's research vessel, 'Deepscan' and video footage obtained. The survey showed that the aft section of the wreck is remarkably intact and includes the jet engine and one of the sponsons extending out from the boat that provided stability. 

There is still controversy over the source of the long-lasting wake. As Adrian Shine says, 'wakes can travel for miles in calm water when they are not broken up.' A long held belief is that the wake possibly came from one of John Cobb's own support vessels.

Drain the Oceans investigates the unexpectedly strange behaviour of water and currents in Loch Ness. 

This may have been a contributory factor in the Crusader crash but could also explain sightings of the strangest of all phenomena in the Loch - the Monster

The wreck of 'Crusader' is of national importance in the UK. Historic Scotland has been notified and will take the necessary measures to ensure the site is protected for the future. 

Drain the Oceans: Secrets of Loch Ness was premiered on National Geographic in the UK. The coverage was seen globally in 171 countries and 43 languages.







On the 29th of September 1952, John Cobb made an attempt at the world water-speed record on Loch Ness. The boat he was to use in his world record attempt was built by Vospers Ltd., was based at Temple Pier, Drumnadrochit and was called 'Crusader'. He was attempting the double, he already held the world land speed record at over 390 mph. Loch Ness was chosen because of it's length and straightness. Because Loch Ness has a prevailing southwesterly wind this would be one of the deciding factors on which day to make the attempt. The water would need to be flat calm in order to reach high speed without hazard. The distance Cobb had to cover to gain the official record was 1 statute mile but in both directions and an average speed being calculated for both runs. The run had been measured and marked by two large milestones, one on either side of the Loch, and can still be viewed today. The timekeepers where to be supplied by the M.M.A. (Motor Marine Association).


'Crusader's' jet engine was tested many times on the run up to the official attempt, the same engine fitted to the 'Comet' jet airliner, a De Havilland Ghost which produced a 5000 lb static thrust, who's ear shattering whine could be heard reverberating around the Glen. The construction of Cobb's 31 ft long speedboat was of aluminium and marine ply making it a light, dynamic vehicle.



John Cobb takes on the water speed challenge  Crusader water speed record boat


John Cobb boarding his Crusader jet powered WSR boat to get the record for Britain. After Cobb's death in 1952, Donald Campbell took on the challenge in the K4 Bluebird boat, also falling foul of the water at Lake Coniston in 1964.



For a number of weeks Cobb gradually pushed Crusader ever closer to the record during test runs and was quietly confident of victory. The world media by this time was beginning to assemble hoping to witness history in the making and the 'Glen's' population was agog with excitement. As each day dawned the anticipation for perfect conditions was overwhelming, this particularly affected the local school children who wanted to be present when the attempt took place. Mr Cobb's press officer, Mr Angus Barr, asked the public to refrain from boating on the Loch during calm weather so 'Crusader' could be tested safely. 


On Friday 5th September Cobb held two speed trials, on both occasions the boat handled well. The second trial was faster than the first. 140 mph for the second trial and 20 mph slower on the first. Then 'Crusader' was lifted out of the water for a 48 hr inspection. Friday 12th September. 'Crusader' back on the loch, did a double run between Drumnadrochit and Invermoriston. Cobb was confident he had beaten the world record in the run to Invermoriston. The record was held by an American, Mr Stanley Sayres, at 178.4 mph.

By the 16th of September the equipment used by the timekeepers to measure 'Crusader's' speed over the measured mile was in position in the area where the attempt was to be made. By this time patience was wearing thin, time ticked by waiting for the right conditions.


Tuesday 23rd September. Before 8am in the morning 'Crusader' was lowered into the water and Cobb took her for another trial run. Shortly after 8am he shot forward to the run in to the measured mile. A side wind blew her slightly off course. After that false start he was towed back and she streaked off on the measured mile once again reaching over 180 mph. The official timing for that trial was announced later by Lt. Commander Bray of the M.M.A., 185.57 mph for the outward trip and 161.71 mph on the return giving an average of 173.14 mph. An attempt was to be made on Friday the 26th of September for the official record but had to be postponed because it was reported that flood water from the River Garry was bringing driftwood i.e. tree trunks into the loch.


When the morning of the 29th arrived conditions were far from perfect, slight ripples on the surface of the water .By almost 9.30 am conditions had worsened, then events took a turn for the better in that surface conditions had improved dramatically.  At 11.25 am 'Crusader' was again put in the water at Temple Pier and the official observers boat 'Maureen' set off to land the timekeepers at the Drumnadrochit end of the Loch. The 'Maureen' had reported the timekeeper were ashore at 11.50 am. At 11.55 am 'Crusader's' engine was started and she catapulted out at an angle from Urquhart Bay. Cobb came round to his starting point and revved his engine up to full power. 'Crusader' rose in the water and the attempt was under way, the time was almost 12 noon. 



Crusader on Loch Ness


John Cobb and Crusader on Loch Ness



With a slight burst of spray in front and a trail of white foam behind she skimmed over the course and reached the second marker. As 'Crusader' reached 200 mph eyewitness accounts say she was hardly touching the water when she came out of the measured mile. Then 'Crusader' started to decelerate to make the second run but hit a wave causing her to bounce twice, she recovered for a second but the next moment the horrified spectators saw the boat plunge in a whirl of spray and foam, flaked with flying wreckage. There was no audible explosion but the boat gave the appearance of bursting apart. Hopes for Cobb's safety was roused when the yellow light attached to his safety apparatus bobbed to the surface. The 'Maureen' made her way to the floating debris and lowered a small boat which reported Cobb had been found. The news brought an immediate call over the radio for a doctor and ambulance, but later it became clear Cobb was dead, probably killed instantly.

His body was taken by fast motor boat to Temple Pier where a large silent crowd waited for news. As the report of his death grew from a rumour to a certainty the spectators left and Temple Pier lay deserted. The disaster had been watched by Mrs Cobb from a point above the measured mile. Later she was driven back to Inverness and at 4 pm left by car for London.

Mr Cobb's body was taken to the Royal Northern Infirmary, Inverness where a postmortem examination was carried out.  Wednesday 1st October. Thousands of people lined the streets of Inverness to bid farewell to John Cobb, as the hearse left the Royal Northern Infirmary heading for Surrey.


The timekeeper's log stated that before the disaster Cobb was traveling at 206.89 mph, this is the fastest time ever recorded over water but cannot count as a record as the attempt must be made over two runs in opposite directions.  The record holder, Stanley Sayres fastest speed for a one way run was 185.57 mph. Cobb's manager said "What John did was to be the first man to travel on water at over 200 mph".









On 5th July 2002 Adrian Shine and his team discovered some of the wreckage of Crusader on the loch bed, 200 metres down.


On Thursday the 4th July examination of the sonar contacts began and on Friday 5th July Adrian navigated the ROV over the search line and at 3pm success was achieved. The remains of Crusader, stark, angular and twisted loomed out of the dark sitting quietly in 200m of water. There were feelings of satisfaction on the completion of the technical quest but also a sense of awe with John Cobb's courage and his achievement.

Adrian said that the decision to look for the remains of the speedboat was taken in part because it was the 50th anniversary of the accident and also to celebrate the achievements of who he calls "this modest man".


We (Max Energy) wish Adrian and his crew all the best with their efforts to raise Crusader, if that is their plan. Should they succeed, we are sure that the National Lottery Fund would consider supporting a museum exhibit.





Loch Ness.
IV63 6TU

Telephone: UK 01456 459007



  Crusader on her trailer

















This website is copyright 1991- 2020 Max Energy Ltd. All rights reserved. The bird logo Blue bird trade mark logo Bluebirdand name Bluebird are trademarks.  All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged.  Max Energy Limited is an educational charity.





  Land and water speed aces. The Railton Mobil Special and the Crusader of John Cobb.