Railton Water Speed

Peter Du Cane (1901 - 1984)

Peter Du Cane, as with many of those involved in the field of record breaking as “back room boys”, has left a small, defined fingerprint on history. One that is difficult to add to.  The son of Charles Henry Copley Du Cane, of Braxted Park, his grandfather, Sir Charles Du Cane, was a well known politician of his time, while his grandmother Georgiana was the daughter of John Copley, the 1st Baron Lyndhurst.

As a thirteen-year-old he joined the Royal Navy, resigning his commission as a Lieutenant-Commander in 1928, joining the Royal Auxiliary Air Force the following year. He flew Westland Wapitis while serving in No. 601 Squadron RAF.

 At some stage during this time, Glen Kidston invited Du Cane to join him at the Vosper Shipyard. Following Kidston’s death and several changes in the company’s ownership, Du Cane was offered a managing director’s position, which he held in tandem with the title of Chief Designer.

Du Cane’s major role was improving the companies’ commercial position, and under his guidance, Vosper won a number of contracts for high-speed boats, including the construction of Sir Malcolm Campbell’s Blue Bird K4.

Du Cane had previously been asked to pilot Campbell’s earlier Blue Bird K3, a single step hydroplane, that although successful, it was plagued with poor handling as the planeing system was pushed beyond speeds it was capable of coping with. Du Cane piloted K3 at just over 100 mph on Lake Halwyl, and had to concede that even at speeds some 30 mph below the record speed Campbell had achieved the day before, K3 was at her limit. The same day both Du Cane and Campbell tried a small “three point” Ventnor hull that Reid Railton had organised to be available, and it was from this, the genesis of K4 began.

Laid out by Freddie Cooper, K3’s designer, the design was turned into wood and metal by Vospers under Du Cane’s supervision.

Piloted by Malcolm Campbell, K4 took the world water speed record in 1939, and for his part in the project, Du Cane was awarded a Segrave Medal by the Royal Automobile Club. 

Peter Du Cane - an engineer of sorts
Peter Du Cane – an engineer of sorts

Du Cane also designed a high-speed torpedo boat, the MTB 102, many of which were used extensively during the D-Day landings, and he was also responsible for the marine architecture of Brave Challenger, a super-yacht with a top speed of 60 knots, the powerboat Tramontana, which won the inaugural Cowes–Torquay race in 1961, and its successor Tramontana II.

Later in his career, Du Cane joined the Fleet Air Arm, and in 1964 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Peter Du Cane had been responsible for Vosper’s reputation and commercial success, in what were extremely trying times commercially. He died on 31 October 1984, aged 83, and in keeping with naval tradition was buried at sea.

© Steve Holter