Norman Smith: the cloverleaf buoy

Technician Norman Smith tells story of the design, construction and testing of the National Institute of Oceanography's cloverleaf buoy wave recorder in the 1960s.

Listen to the full interview track and all other tracks from this interview on British Library Sounds

Let’s keep going through your various inventions then. Well, there was wave recorder, the cloverleaf buoy. Dave Cartwright, who was the originator of that, and he – he was talking to me on a train journey down – I think it was somewhere like Edinburgh down to London, and he was talking to me about it. And we – they had different ideas how it should be done and he asked me whether there was a practical way of doing it. And I said, yes, it was simpler because it contained only one gyro instead of four gyros. And you had a reference to the framework and the buoys, which would make it much simpler for analysing and more accurate for a figure. So it was done – designed on the back of a Gold Flake 20 packet of cigarettes that somebody – a cigarette carton that somebody had left in the carriage and we sketched it out there [laughs]. And that we gave to Frank Pearce [ph] afterwards and said, ‘Could we do this?’ And I told him, he’d have to make the tubes to hold the buoys out of a good quality aluminium and to make them light, ‘cause you’ve got to float these speed buoys and you want to throw them [ph] halfway up the side of the buoy. And we took it to NPL when I’d got it all made. Everybody said it would sink [laughs], but it didn’t, it floated halfway up the floats, the three floats, and I was very pleased about that. But unfortunately we flooded the main long tank at the NPL because I called John Ewing [ph], a person who worked there, and asked him for a very long wave, and of course it travelled fast. But for some reason or other it was too high, this wave [laughs], and we flooded the lift shaft and everything else and the tank at NPL. John Ewing [ph] was very upset about that [laughs]. He didn’t think, and we didn’t think, what would happen if we put a very long wave in to prove – prove that it was working properly, we had it recording. But we did and we managed to mop up the NPL before we left and it worked very well indeed.
  • Interviewee Norman Smith
  • Duration 00:02:41
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Paul Merchant
  • Date of interview 3/22/2011
  • Shelfmark C1379/47

Related Audio Clips

The following clip is a short extract from an in-depth interview.
To listen to the full interview visit

Related disciplines