Pair recall their daring Moat Boat Race water skiing stunt

THIS year marks the 60th anniversary of the very first Wells Moat Boat Race back in 1963.

And with the 2023 event fast approaching it has prompted memories of previous events – including when water skiing on the Moat at The Bishop’s Palace was part of the entertainment.

Trevor Cook was the first person to water ski on the Moat, towed along by his friend Peter Butler in Peter’s power boat at speeds of more than 20mph.

They had a practice run a few days before the Moat Boat Race in, Trevor thinks, 1971 to make sure they could perform the stunt safely, which they decided they could, even though the boat collided with the stone drawbridge.

“We were a bit worried about whether it would work which is why we tried it out beforehand,” said Trevor, who was aged 19 at the time.

“We were probably doing about 25mph but couldn’t do anything too fancy as it was difficult to stop. We didn’t have a lot of room to play with.

“We did some water skiing on the actual day between races once we’d proved we could do it.”

A photograph of the practice run originally appeared in the Wells Journal, which Trevor thinks was probably taken by Eric Purchase.

Trevor had become proficient at the sport after he joined others from Wells who made visits to Weymouth to go water skiing.

The Moat Boat Race takes place this year on August 28, organised by the City of Wells Lions. It was originally started by St Thomas Youth Fellowship, a youth club set up by Arthur Rice after he moved to Wells as a teacher at St Thomas School on St Thomas Street, the precursor of Stoberry Park School. The St Thomas School site is now a block of flats.

St Thomas Youth Fellowship held a fete in the Recreation Ground in 1962 and raised £100, and it was suggested to Bishop Henderson, the then Bishop of Bath and Wells, that it would be better if the fete in 1963 was held at The Bishop’s Palace. Bishop Henderson agreed, and also permitted the use of the Moat for raft races, which continued for 12 years while he was Bishop.

A group of people including Trevor cleared weeds from the Moat before the first event on Whit Monday, June 3, and the planned course was shortened so as not to disturb the swans, that he said were nesting at the time.

Peter said that the boat – which he bought for £135 at Moff Motors in Castle Cary – had no brakes, and the only way of slowing it down was to put the propellers into reverse. But he had to maintain speed towards the end of the course so that Trevor could glide across the water and step on to the lowered grass verge near the drawbridge – which is why the collision occurred.

“The boat did clunk into the drawbridge,” said Peter, “but no damage was done.”

Peter had already secured his place in the history of the Moat Boat Race as captain of the winning team in that first event in 1963.

He, Mike Lane and Johnny Hawkins made their raft from a 6ft log with a tractor tyre inner tube stretched around it, which proved more streamlined than other rafts that utilised oil drums; the rules were subsequently changed to prevent tractor tyre inner tubes from being used. But they still found their raft would not support the weight of all three of them, so Johnny Hawkins was told to wait on shore instead with swimming trunks and flippers on ready to jump in and help propel the raft.

“He dived in halfway round and gave us a push, but it didn’t make any difference to the result,” said Peter. “It was fun, it was all part of the entertainment.”

Peter, who lives in Wells, maintained his interest in power boats, going on to become a TV commentator on power boat racing. He has also been a regular entrant in the Mendip Vintage & Classic Car Tour with his 1952 MGTD, and has just written a series of children’s books, despite an operation and treatment for bowel cancer in recent years.

After completing a monotype keyboard apprenticeship with Clares Son & Co, Trevor went on to become a car salesman. He lives in Westbury-sub-Mendip, and enjoys playing golf at Wells Golf Club.

He remembers Arthur Rice fondly. “I feel very grateful to Arthur Rice for instilling in us that it’s not about us, and to do things for other people. He gave us goals in life and set us in the right direction. “Recently I won a trophy playing golf with a colleague and it turned out to be the Arthur Rice Salver, and I was so chuffed.”