18ft Skiffs: Britain's Rob Greenhalgh

One of the long list of super-talented JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship-winning skippers is the 2004 champion, Britain’s Rob Greenhalgh. 

Rob, one of only three skippers from the northern hemisphere to win the world’s premier 18 Footer championship, and his RMW Marine-sponsored team totally dominated the 2004 regatta with winning margins averaging two minutes. 

For Greenhalgh and his team-mates, Dan Johnson and Peter Greenhalgh, it was a sweet victory after the RMW Marine trio was narrowly beaten (by less than one point) at the previous JJs. 

Rob had sailed in the Optimist, 420 and 49er classes as well as the nine-man trapeze Ultra 30 before making a decision to take on the world’s best 18ft Skiff teams on Sydney Harbour.  “The 18’s had always been the pinnacle of skiff racing so I jumped at the chance to campaign an 18.” 

Greenhalgh’s first challenge for the Giltinan Championship came in 2001 when he sailed a former Sydney skiff under the name Fat Face. 

He caught the ‘bug’ immediately and had a new hull built by Ovington Boats in preparation for another challenge at the 2002 regatta.  Richard Woof came on board as sponsor (through his RMW Marine company) and a team of Dan Johnson and Johnny Mears was assembled. 

Despite some new boat teething problems, the team performed well and finished in the top group, but Rob’s competitive nature was now committed to winning ‘the big one’. 

Rob’s brother Peter joined the team in place of Mears and it was back to Sydney Harbour for a crack at the 2003 championship. 

Going into the final race of the 2003 championship, the very fast and consistent RMW Marine held a lead which appeared would be good enough to take the title. 

USA’s Howie Hamlin, the defending champion in General Electric-US Challenge, was the nearest challenger and had the task of finishing first or second in the race while hoping that RMW Marine would finish worse than fifth. 

RMW Marine led early in the race and was still fourth at the final rounding mark, and looked to have the championship won. 

As the fleet worked across the harbour to the finish line off Clark Island, the RMW Marine team was caught on the wrong side of a wind shift and was passed by two other competitors, which relegated the team back to sixth place. 

The incredible finish gave the 2003 championship to Howie Hamlin by just 0.35 of a point. 

Hamlin actually returned to shore believing that Rob Greenhalgh’s team had won the title and had to be convinced that the result was correct, and his team had actually retained the title he won with the same boat in 2002. 

Given the gut-wrenching result, it could have led to Greenhalgh giving up his dream of winning the JJ Giltinan world 18ft Skiff Championship, but Rob’s competitive nature was so strong that it actually drove him to return again – and this time nothing, and no team, was going to stop the RMW Marine team from becoming the 2004 champion. 

Rob recalls, “The 2003 JJ was ours for the taking and to lose it by such a small margin was a shocker, but we knew we would have another chance, so went away and came back quite a bit better.” 

Rob is quick to point out the support he received from RMW Marine’s Richard Woof.  “Richard Woof was pivotal in my 18ft Skiff sailing and professional sailing career.  Without super keen sailing enthusiasts like Richard, sailing wouldn’t be where it is today.” 

According to Rob, the decision to contest the 2005 championship was a last-minute decision, and a close third place (just two points behind the winner) was an excellent result. 

“After winning the JJ, I think there was a natural progression to take a step back and not campaign quite so hard.  We had always planned to return in 2005 but by that stage I was heavily involved with ABN AMRO Volvo Ocean Race, so we had very little training time. The Australian fleet were trying to win the JJ back and we came up against some stiff competition but also a much lighter wind regatta than we had had previously”. 

“My latest 18 ‘Benny’ was put together in 2008 and named after the late Benny Walsh, from Sydney, one of our most committed supporters when we used to contest the JJ.  I always missed 18s and was keen to get back in.” 

(Benny Walsh was not only a loyal supporter of 18 Footers on the League’s spectator ferry each Sunday until the day he died, Benny was the owner of 1963 Giltinan world champion Schemer, which was skippered by Ken Beashel) 

In June 2009, Rob, Dan Johnson and Phil Harmer contested the inaugural Mark Foy Trophy regatta at the Yacht Club de Carnac, France and defeated a top class fleet after winning four of the 11 races. 

There was no plan to return to Sydney for the 2010 JJs, but when shipping support from PSP Worldwide Logistics and Aust-Asia Worldwide Shipping came about, the Mark Foy Trophy winners made a last-minute decision and finished seventh overall behind Seve Jarvin’s Gotta Love It 7. 

Rob Greenhalgh is a great sailor who has had extensive success in a variety of boats.  As well as winning the Giltinan Championship and numerous UK National and European championships in the 18s, he won the world International 14 Championship in 2003 as well as National and European titles in the International Moth Class. 

Rob has competed in five Volvo Ocean Races, winning with ABN AMRO ONE in 2006 and finishing second on two other occasions, and won the 2007 Extreme Sailing Series.  He was also a member of the transatlantic record-breaking Comanche team

Rob has chosen Sydney as his home base and joined the North Sails team in Australia. 

Asked about the possibility of returning to the 18s in the future, Rob didn’t rule it out: “Pro sailing has kept me from the fleet for a number of years now, but I’m hoping to get back in the fleet at some stage.” 

Let’s hope we get to see Rob Greenhalgh back in an 18ft Skiff on Sydney Harbour in the near future.

– Frank Quealey, Australian 18 Footers

JPK August 2023
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