Clarke Whitney (giving a thumbs up) with the rest of the gang in the power boat used to catch the Princess Marguerite on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

Prank to produced: daredevils waterski behind Victoria to Seattle ferry

A look back at SS Princess Marguerite and her adventures as a ski boat

Clad in bell bottoms and plaid and sporting handlebar moustaches, the group pushed full-throttle to catch up to the SS Princess Marguerite as it travelled from Seattle to Victoria.

The two power boats, one pulling three water skiers behind, caught up with the ferry as it passed near Whidbey Island.

As the power boats approached, a co-conspirator on the ferry threw a 500-foot line with three handles attached out a porthole on the ship’s deck.

The ski boat held steady and everyone held their breath as the three skiers worked to transition from their original lines to those attached to the ferry.

The water skiers work to transition from original lines to those attached to the ferry on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

Two successfully made the move to the delight of the growing crowd on the back deck of the Princess Marguerite.

The prank made the front page of the Seattle Times, said Clarke Whitney, a Bremerton accountant reminiscing about the August 1976 prank – he was the driver of one of the boats.

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A newspaper clipping from the time, said the “passengers on the ship cheered and waved…seeing three water skiers happily traversing the 369-foot ship’s large wake.”

“It was like mission impossible,” said Whitney. “We’d never be able to pull that off now.”

While it may have looked like a spontaneous prank, the plan had been in the works for months if not years.

Whitney’s college roommate, Bruce Amundson, was first to hatch the plan. Whitney and Amundson originally tried the prank on the smaller Seattle to Bremerton ferry and when that was a success, they set their sights on the Marguerite.

“It was a much more sophisticated event, with the three skiers. I believe, all total, it took 12 individuals to make this happen,” said Whitney. “Looking back at the photos, it’s like something out of Starsky and Hutch.”

The group got together recently for a 40-year reunion of the adrenaline-fuelled prank.

Eight years later, another young man would find himself in “Maggie’s” wake.

A newspaper clipping of 19-year-old University of Victoria student Brad Sherwin skiing behind the Princess Marguerite in 1984, as part of Thrill of a Lifetime TV show. (Submitted Brad Sherwin)

This time the adventure was with permission and organized by the producers of Thrill of a Lifetime, a popular TV show in the 1980s.

People were encouraged to write in to the show to let the producers know what their biggest thrill would be. The program would then choose their favorites, arrange all the details for the adventure, and film it to be featured on the show.

In 1984, 19-year-old University of Victoria student Brad Sherwin wrote in.

“I told them my thrill would be to water ski behind a ferry,” said 54-year-old Sherwin from his office in Vancouver, laughing at the memories of the event decades earlier. “I can remember almost every detail. I put it in an envelope because well, it was 1984.”

Ten days later, Sherwin – who grew up water skiing at his parent’s cabin on the Sunshine Coast – got the call.

“They said, ‘It looks like we got a boat. It looks like the Princess Marguerite,’” said Sherwin.

The show also brought on board some experts – Ian Tostenson and legendary water skiers Greg Athens and Steve Bush.

On the day, their powerboat “went like hell” to catch the 15,500 horse power ferry, that Sherwin said was going about 25 knots.

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“The adrenaline rush was amazing,” said Sherwin. “They dropped a life-ring off the back of boat. The guys reached out and grabbed the line, gave it to me and all of a sudden I was 300 feet behind the Princess Marguerite.”

Sherwin skied for what felt like 30 minutes before he dropped a ski and went slalom.

“I started heading for the wake and it was so far away I just kept going and going,” he said.

When it was over, the ski crew pulled up alongside the Princess Marguerite and the passengers on board were all cheering.

“It literally was a thrill of a lifetime,” said Sherwin. “Everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame. I got like three days.”

As a memento, Sherwin was given the life-ring of the SS Princess Marguerite. To this day, it hangs in his home office, a reminder of his unforgettable thrill of a lifetime.


 

keri.coles@blackpress.ca

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The three water skiers on their way to catch the Princess Marguerite on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

The water skiers on their way to catch the Princess Marguerite on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

The water skiers work to transition from original lines to those attached to the ferry on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

The water skiers work to transition from original lines to those attached to the ferry on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

Clarke Whitney (right) and a portion of the group that organized and executed the prank to water ski behind the SS Princess Marguerite ferry on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

Two skiers successfully made the move to the lines attached to the ferry, much to the delight of the growing crowd on the back deck of the Princess Marguerite. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

Clarke Whitney (giving a thumbs up) with the rest of the gang in the power boat used to catch the Princess Marguerite on Aug. 21, 1976. (Submitted Clarke Whitney)

As a memento, Brad Sherwin was giving the life-ring of the SS Princess Marguerite. To this day, it hangs in his home office, a reminder of his unforgettable thrill of a lifetime. (Submitted Brad Sherwin)

A newspaper clipping of 19-year-old University of Victoria student Brad Sherwin skiing behind the Princess Marguerite in 1984, as part of Thrill of a Lifetime TV show. (Submitted Brad Sherwin)

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