Often, amazing feats begin with a ‘what if’ and that was certainly the case when a series of world records were set in Trinity Inlet in 1980s.

In 1983, tourism cruise boat company Hayles had just taken ownership of a new catamaran and General Manager Reg Reddicliffe and his then business partner Ray Fry pondered how many skiers it could tow.

They approached the Cairns & District Power Boat and Ski Club with plans to break the world record set in Florida, by towing 80 skiers.

“In the beginning I was very skeptical that a club organisation with volunteers had the necessary discipline – with the number of skiers we’re talking about – to actually keep it in control,” Reg reflected.

While the attempt was successful, with 54 skiers remaining upright, the formation included skiers behind skiers, which almost led to disaster when one of the participants in front fell and became tangled by the neck in a rope behind him.

The team knew it could improve on its methods and techniques.

Marc Richards, then Chief Naval Architect at engineering firm NQEA was heavily involved, outfitting the 22-metre catamaran with booms.

“It got quite interesting,” he said.


In 1984 they made another attempt, outshining their previous achievement and setting a secondary record for the greatest number of people on single skis.

However, when 87 Florida skiers eclipsed their feat, they decided to really up the ante, attempting to tow 110 skiers behind another new boat, Reef Cat, in 1986.

From the get-go, potential skiers were carefully selected.

Neville Fry, the former Vice Commodore of the Cairns & District Power Boat and Ski Club said two world champions were involved.

“Back in the 80s, skiing was very, very big in North Queensland,” he said.

“People were just lined up wanting to join and come onboard.”


Thousands of spectators turned up to watch the early morning spectacle.

While ten skiers tumbled, the group achieved the record for 100 skiers, then each participant successfully dropped a ski to again break the single ski record.


For the Harbour Master at the time, Paul Matthews, it was a huge relief.

“My greatest problem was to make sure that we weren’t going to get our name in lights in a negative way,” he said.

“It was pretty to watch when we got them all up – it was unbelievable.”

The double ski record stood for 24 years, eventually being broken in 2010 by 114 Tasmanian waterskiers, however the single ski record remains undefeated. 

Wayne Mawer was the youngest skier involved in the 1986 attempt at 12 years of age.

He went on to become a world champion skier and wakeboarder and was recently named in the International Waterski and Wakeboard Federation’s Hall of Fame.


This story originally appeared in Tropic magazine Issue 36, in partnership with the Cairns Historical Society.

world records
It was a real tribute to the local industry and the local people.
Marc Richards
Former NQEA Chief Naval Architect
I think there were seven kilometres of ski rope.
Neville Fry
Former Commodore, Cairns & District Power Boat and Ski Club