18ft Skiffs – Boost for Queensland 18 footer revival

The revival of the Queensland 18 footer racing scene took a major step forward recently when the Brisbane 18 Footers Sailing Club had a brand new 18ft skiff hull built by Van Munster Boatbuilders for David Hayter’s campaign at the 73rd JJ Giltinan World Championship regatta on Sydney Harbour from March 4-12.

It is the first state-of-the-art skiff hull built for a Queensland team for more than 30 years and is a great boost towards returning the state to its former glory days in the 18s.

Dave Hayter drives Big Foot hard at the recent nationals (Frank Quealey)
Dave Hayter drives Big Foot hard at the recent nationals (Frank Quealey)

For David Hayter and his team of Ben Roxburgh and Elliott Mahar, it’s a well-deserved reward for some promising performances over the past four seasons at the major 18 footer championships.

The team’s former skiff, C-Tech, is now crewed by Josh Sloman, George Morton and Angus Barker, the young team which had its first taste of the major championships at last season’s nationals, and contested the 2022-23 Australian Championship last month on Sydney Harbour.

David Hayter, a four-times Australian International 14ft Skiff champion, who is leading a group of young sailors determined to get a Queensland name back on a championship winner’s list, recalls.

Dave recalls their first few sails on an 18: “The initial days were a bit tough, Elliott (Mahar) can break the best of boats let alone those that have been neglected for a few years. After breaking nearly all of the gear in the shed, we found one that lasted (Queenslander), a few reasonable sails and took it to Sydney for our first JJs with Alex Watson (who then went on to campaign his own boat ‘Lumix” in the 2019 JJs).

Progress for Dave and the Brisbane 18 footers club over the next four seasons has been exceptional, particularly as it was severely hampered by the dreaded COVID.

Dave explains, “In 2019, it was time for upgrades, with a new #2 rig and some sails, and with backing from the Brisbane Club, Lumix and QMC were purchased from the League for two additional teams who started sailing regularly on Moreton Bay.”

“Three boats competed in the 2019 JJs but even with improved gear were no match for the top end of the Sydney fleet however, they showing great promise. It was time to look at some newer gear!”

“The 2020 JJs were a strange event to experience with COVID running hot. The world shutting down and there we were sailing around in a very empty harbour, such a strange feeling.”

Dave Hayter's C-Tech, head-to-head in 2022 JJs with champion, Andoo (Frank Quealey)
Dave Hayter’s C-Tech, head-to-head in 2022 JJs with champion, Andoo (Frank Quealey)

“2021 saw an opportunity for the club to purchase the C-Tech skiff from New Zealand, and with the unanimous support of club members, completed its shift across the ditch to become a Brisbane boat. With another new team joining the Brisbane fleet, Queenslander was then handed on to Josh Sloman and his new team while QMC was repurposed for youth development.”

Bringing things up to date, Dave explains, “During 2021/22 the club undertook a comprehensive review of its structure, governance and funding and again demonstrated its strong support for the continued growth of the 18s fleet, alongside its support for its historic 10 footers, with members supporting the commissioning of a new skiff.”

“The new skiff is the Club’s first new boat in over 30 years with members voting to name it ‘Venom’, connecting the clubs modern history with the legendary Brisbane 18 sailor, Ben Lexcen.”

“The club also welcomed a new sponsor, Big Foot Bags and Covers as naming rights sponsor for the new boat.”

Rob Brown (photo courtesy of Rob Brown)
Rob Brown (photo courtesy of Rob Brown)

“Three-time world 18ft skiff champion, Rob Brown came on-board as the club’s coach with C-Tech and Queenslander travelling to Sydney for the 2021-22 Australian Titles then C-Tech returning to contest the JJs. The Brisbane team’s performance improved further with a best result of 6th in one of the heats, further motivating the club to continue to support the 18s.”

Big Foot at the recent nationals on Sydney Harbour (Frank Quealey)
Big Foot at the recent nationals on Sydney Harbour (Frank Quealey)

Rob recalls, “Soon after moving to Queensland in 2020, I received a call from Dave Hayter to see if I was interested in giving them a hand with their campaign.”

“Along with three or four other boats, we started training as the Brisbane 18’ Skiff Club was keen to invest in raising the bar by supporting their small fleet and I was happy to assist.”

“Over the last two years, I am pleased to say that the standard has increased significantly and, now with the edition of a brand-new skiff, things are on the move here in Brisbane.”

“Expectations are conservatively high with the new equipment, but realisation of the lack of regular racing in big fleets still presents issues for fast development. Hot on the heels of Big Foot is the up and coming, C-Tech crew, of Josh Sloman, George Morton and Angus Barker.”

“These guys are young, keen and very skilful and are showing all the signs of being very competitive over the next few seasons. Other keen skiff sailors who have been great contributors to the program, include Steve Wilson and Matt Sloman, sailing Lumix.”

“The 18’s are sailing out of Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron which provides first class race management and club facilities. With numerous classes hosted at RQ, the 18’s always draw an interested crowd, especially the young sailors coming up through the ranks. With a strong 29er, 49er, foiling moths/sail boards and multihulls, the 18’s are very likely to draw new talent to the 18’s one day.”

“All in all, it’s very encouraging to see the 18’s on the move in Brisbane, and all involved should be congratulated.”

Dave Hayter sums up, “The Brisbane 18 Footers Sailing Club continues its over 100 year history as the driving force behind the 18 footers in Brisbane and, looking forward, it’s the club intention to continue to support youth sailing in Brisbane at all levels to develop the 18 foot skiff sailors of the future.”

No doubt, it may take a lot of inspiration and hard work to return Queensland to its ‘golden days’ of 18 Footer racing, when it made such significant contributions to the development and achievements in the sport, but the right people with the right intention are involved so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

What should never be forgotten is the fact that Queensland’s designers, boat builders and sailors were not only at the forefront of the sport but actually dominated the class up until the early 1960s.

Queensland skippers won more Australian Championships than NSW teams did up until the late 1950s, and the NSW winners were often the result of Queensland designs or boats built in Brisbane and purchased by Sydney competitors.

The Queensland ideas and innovations not only changed the style of the boats for decades, but also shaped the future of Sydney 18 Footer racing forever.

A big statement, but one that is difficult to deny.

From the first official Australian Championship in 1912-13, Queensland competitors won 20 of the first 35 championships staged up to the 1957-58 regatta.

There was little, or no change during the ‘Big Boat Era’, which lasted from the 1890s until the early 1930s, but what followed is what changed the future of the Sydney 18 Footer racing scene.

Australia, (Bill Stanley) the 1946-47 Auustralian champion, on the Brisbane River
Australia, (Bill Stanley) the 1946-47 Auustralian champion, on the Brisbane River

Things began to change in the early 1930s when the fleet in Brisbane began to dwindle as boat owners were reluctant to replace old boats with new ones, due to the rising costs and the difficulty of maintaining the large number of crew members required to sail them.

Queensland designers began applying the principles of aerodynamics to boat building which resulted in a radical new type of 18-Footer, named Aberdare, which was a no heel skiff with a 7ft beam and depth of 2ft. She had a lighter hull and smaller rig and carried a crew of 7-8 men, compared to the 12-13 needed in the ‘big boats’.

Aberdare, in the 1930s, was the major breakthrough from the original 'big boats'
Aberdare, in the 1930s, was the major breakthrough from the original ‘big boats’

Aberdare produced great downwind speed with mainsail, reaching jib, ringtail and peak head spinnaker, and was so fast that she was christened ‘the Galloping Ghost’ and won four consecutive Australian Championships between 1933-34 and 1936-37.

The success of the new concept was the beginning of the end for the ‘big boats’ but when the Sydney Flying Squadron (SFS) refused to register the new narrow beam boats for their local sailors, a group wanting the new boats formed their own club, which was originally known as the NSW 18 Footers Sailing League, and is now known as the Australian 18 Footers League.

That was when the future of Sydney 18 Footer racing changed forever.

Norman Wright (centre) with sons Ron (left) and Norman Jr (right)
Norman Wright (centre) with sons Ron (left) and Norman Jr (right)

Following WW2, Queensland started rebuilding its fleet, and in 1945 decided to race 6ft beam boats. This time the roles of the two Sydney clubs were reversed. The League opposed the move, but it was approved by the SFS. The first of these 6ft beamers, which were designed by Norman Wright and Lance Watts, began to sail in Brisbane in 1946.

These boats were cheaper to build, lighter than the previous 7ft beam boats, needed only a crew of 5-6 compared to 7 or 8, and they were fast.

Eventually, all three of the major Australian 18-Footer clubs got back together but most of the new ideas and top championship contenders were coming from the designs and sheds of people such as Lance and Harold Watts and Norman Wright.

Jenny VI, Queensland's first world 18 footer champion in 1956
Jenny VI, Queensland’s first world 18 footer champion in 1956

At the 1952 World Championship in Suva, Fiji, Norman Wright saw the advantages of the ideas used on New Zealand’s championship-winning Intrigue, and used them when he built Jenny VI, which was a 3-layer, moulded hull, and became Queensland’s first Giltinan World champion in 1956.

In 1959, after chine hulls were approved, Norman Wright designed the first new 3-handed boat, which was banned in Sydney but permitted to compete in both international and interstate contests.

The Brisbane club again wanted to build its fleet and asked Norman Wright to design a cheap, easy to build 18. Bob Miller (later known as Ben Lexcen) had a sail loft in the Wright shed and in a joint effort with Wright produced a totally new design.

Bob Miller (aka Ben Lexcen) and the controversial Taipan in 1960
Bob Miller (aka Ben Lexcen) and the controversial Taipan in 1960

This new boat, named Taipan, was a light ply chine, two-thirds decked, with large genoa, inboard rig, no bowsprit, smaller sail area, and was designed for a crew of three with two on trapeze. She also had heavily flared topsides and a narrow 4ft 3in beam on the chine. Taipan had a smaller rig (similar to one used on a Flying Dutchman class boat) and bending spars.

Taipan immediately created dramas (not unusual in the 18s) when Miller took the boat to Auckland for the 1960 World Championship. The skiff was decked far in excess of the allowable area of that time, so Miller was forced to do a major reconstruction job prior to the start of the regatta, and the deck was reduced by around fifty per cent.

Taipan became vulnerable in choppy conditions and finished only fourth, which included two non-finishes.

Venom, Ben Lexcen's 1961 world champion
Venom, Ben Lexcen’s 1961 world champion

Despite the problems experienced at Auckland, there was little doubt about the design so Miller again teamed up with Wright to build an improved version which was lighter and stronger. The new boat was named Venom.

When Venom contested the 1961 World Championship, she dominated the racing and easily won the series. Sydney’s leading skipper Len Heffernan, who was the 1958 World champion, won the first race, after Venom capsized before the start, but Venom then won the next four races.

Sadly it was the final big impact the Queenslanders had on the 18s but who knows what may happen again in the future.

Big Foot team in Sydney at the 22-23 nationals (Frank Quealey)
Big Foot team in Sydney at the 22-23 nationals (Frank Quealey)

Whatever happens, it’s great to see Queensland 18s going forward with such good people in charge!

C-Tech crew at the 22-23 nationals (Frank Quealey)
C-Tech crew at the 22-23 nationals (Frank Quealey)

NOTE: Race dates for the 73rd JJ Giltinan World Championship are:

March 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12. A spectator ferry will follow every race of the championship

Dave Hayter's first JJ in 2019 (Frank Quealey)
Dave Hayter’s first JJ in 2019 (Frank Quealey)

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.

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