18ft Skiffs – The Beashels


An incredible sailing family

The 18 footer class has a rich tradition of family generational competition and one of the most prominent families in all skiff racing is the Beashel family which, for five generations, also has an incredible history right across the sailing world.

It began for the Beashel family in 1904 when Dick ‘Rocco’ Beashel started sailing 16 footers (Lark, Linnet and Thrush) at the Port Jackson Skiff Club, of which he later became President and Life Member.

When Watty Ford had a new boat built for the legendary Chris Webb for the 1912-13 season, ‘Rocco’ purchased Golding, the boat previously sailed by Webb, and won a NSW Championship.

Ill health shortened his career as a skipper in the 18s but the Beashel name continued when his son, Alf joined the Port Jackson Skiff Club in the 1920s. He won his first race in 1923 in the 16 footers and sailed with the club until 1934.

When the NSW 18-footers’ Sailing League (now known as the Australian 18 Footers League) was formed by a group of unhappy Sydney Flying Squadron skippers who were not permitted to sail the new 7ft beam 18 footers with the SFS, Alf built his first 18ft skiff, which he named Alruth. This was a combination of his and his wife’s Christian names.

It marked the beginning of an incredible dedication by Alf to the League until he died in 1978.

In total, Alf built four Alruth 18s (1935, 1943, 1947 and 1952) and two Miss Dulux 18s (1954 and 1956) during his racing career at the League before he retired from racing in 1962. He was selected to represent NSW, skippering Alruth III, in the 1950 World Championship in Auckland, New Zealand and twice represented NSW at the Australian Championship – Miss Dulux II in the 1955-56 and with Miss Dulux IV in 1959-60.

As the League’s Secretary James J. Giltinan aged during the latter half of the 1940s, Alf took on a more-prominent role.

He became the Sailing Secretary and was the official measurer for 46 years, and during his term of office was a strong advocate for the international acceptance of the iconic 18 footers class and actively promoted his vision when he led groups to the USA, UK and Sweden in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Alf’s efforts were highly successful and were the greatest move forward to the establishment of international acceptance since Giltinan’s original success in 1938.

An international regatta was staged at Long Beach, California in the USA and Alf arranged for world champion skippers Bob Holmes and Cliff Monkhouse to represent Australia. His efforts were also rewarded when a fleet of Bruce Farr-designed boats was established in the UK. The USA was then represented for the first time in the 1970 World Championship, closely followed by the UK in 1975.

Alf Beashel was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1974 – for his ‘services to sport’ and, as a monument to his memory, the fixed YA buoy near the Sow and Pigs Reef is known as the Beashel Buoy.

His greatest contribution to the League and 18 footer racing on Sydney Harbour came in the late-1950s.

The League had been without a clubhouse since its formation in 1935 and the committee saw an opportunity to purchase the Ireland Boat Shed, which was located on Double Bay Public Wharf, the site of the present clubhouse, but soon realised that the club didn’t have enough money to secure the purchase.

The opportunity appeared to be lost before Alf made a wonderful gesture which changed the situation and secured the future of the Australian 18 Footers League clubhouse that we know today.

Alf, who was a draftsman at the Sydney County Council, decided that he would retire prematurely and put his superannuation money into securing the purchase on behalf of the League. Without his action, the Australian 18 Footers League clubhouse would not have the magnificent location it enjoys today.

Current League President, John Winning, has a strong appreciation of history and also honoured Alf’s memory by having a Historical 18 Footer built in 2001, which races as Alruth every weekend during the summer months on Sydney Harbour.

Alf’s son Ken was the third generation of the Beashel family to sail in the 18 footers, although Ken openly declared that he preferred the 16 footers because “the 16 footers of the time were real skiffs, completely open boats, where the 18s had lee cloths and bow cloths to keep the water out.”

Ken first raced as a skipper when he was 15. It was a novice skipper’s race at the Port Jackson club. He won the race and two years later built his first boat, called Thrush, which was a planked boat he designed and built in the backyard.

He began his own shipwright and boat building business at Elvina Bay in 1962. He designed and built many types of boats, particularly the 16 footers, 18 footers and 12 footers, as well as VJ and VS.

Ken designed and built a 16 footer, named Seaforth, and won the 1961-62 Australian Championship.

For the following season he built a new 16, appropriately named Defender, but after a disappointing season accepted an offer from local identity Benny Walsh to sail an 18, Schemer, for the latter part of the 1962-63 season.

Len Heffernan had built two similar 18s. He sailed one of them, a three-hander named Aberdare, with the SFS on Saturdays, and a four-hander, named Schemer, with the League on Sundays.

(Three-handers were not allowed to race at the League at that time even though they were legal to contest the world championship)

Heffernan won the 1962-63 Australian 18 footer Championship in Aberdare and chose it for the 1963 worlds in Auckland.

With some of his 1961-62 Australian 16 footer championship-winning crew, Ken took over Schemer and won the 1963 World 18 footer Championship with Hugh Cooke, Ron Powell and Bob Hagley,.

Ken and his team were convincing winners but the victory included an incredible incident during Race 3 when a RNZAF launch, carrying a TV cameraman, and Schemer collided while Schemer was holding an almost unbeatable lead.

Beashel managed to climb aboard the launch for a short, effective visit. He recalled, “I managed to climb up the stem and got on board. I told him what I thought of him with my hands, then jumped back into the water to check my damaged boat.”

The following season he returned to designing, building and sailing 16s, but just before the 1964 worlds, boat owner Benny Walsh persuaded him to sail Schemer again. Without his full crew and no preparation, he was runner-up to Cliff Monkhouse, who was sailing a new boat.

Ken decided to concentrate on the 16 footers and easily won the 1965-66 NSW 16 footer Championship in a cold-moulded, round-bilge skiff named Elvina Bay. Despite being defeated in the Australian 16 footer Championship, boats from the mould were successful, including two Australian championships in the late 1960s-early 1970s.

Beashel crewed aboard Sir Frank Packer’s Gretel in the selection series for the 1967 America’s Cup and, through that association, persuaded Sir Frank to sponsor a new 18 Footer, Daily Telegraph, to contest the 1968 World Championship in Auckland.

He designed Daily Telegraph with a finer hull to handle the bumpy tidal chop on Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour, a lesson he learned with Schemer in 1963. It was a winner for Beashel as Daily Telegraph scored three wins and two seconds in the five-race series to take the title for the second time.

Ken went racing the international Soling and 5.5 Metre keelboats in the 1970s and later headed the maintenance team in Australia II’s 1983 America’s Cup victory.

Ken Beashel “wanted to win the Australian 16-footer title and the World 18-footer title”, and he did.

Ken and his wife Barbara had two sons, Colin and Adam, and a daughter, Joanne, who were the fourth generation in the Beashel family. Both Colin and Adam were outright international champions, however Adam was the only one of the two to compete in the 18 footer class.

Adam is best known for being part of Team New Zealand at the 2003 America’s Cup and strategist for Emirates Team New Zealand at the 2007 America’s Cup, however he was also a 49er sailor who, together with Teague Czislowski, came second to Chris Nicholson and Ed Smyth at the 1999 World Championship.

Adam and Teague then won the national selection process for the 49er class at the 2000 Olympics, but in controversial circumstances, the Australian Yachting Federation nominated Nicholson and Daniel Phillips for the sole Olympic spot.

Adam also had two short ‘stints’ in the 18 footers. Firstly, he contested the 1996-97 Grand Prix Sailing season, with US sailors Morgan Larson and Kevin Hall, on Moore, and in 2007-08 with Phil Hebden and Cam McDonald on Club Marine at the Australian 18 Footers League.

Colin, the eldest of Ken and Barbara’s three children, has the distinction of competing at six Olympics between 1984 and 2004 and winning a bronze medal in 1996 in the Star class. He was rewarded in 2004 when he was chosen to carry the Australian flag at the opening ceremony of the Athens games.

Colin was also the mainsheet trimmer on America’s Cup-winning Australia II in 1983 and won Etchells and 5.5 Metre world championships.

The likely fifth generation to compete in the 18 footers will be the now fifteen-year-old Joel Beashel, who is the son of Adam and his wife Lanee.

Lanee is a US-born windsurfer who competed, representing USA, at four Olympics from 1992 to 2004, so it’s no surprise that Joel is a very good young sailor.

Young Joel has already amassed an impressive list of victories as he works his way through the classes.

He won the Flying Ant Nationals twice, as Skipper, in 2020 and 2021, the 2020 Optimist Nationals in Open and should have represented Australia at the Worlds in Lake Garda, Italy but for the worlds being cancelled due to COVID 19.

Joel also won Flying 11 Nationals as Skipper in 2021, at Belmont, and recently (2023) won the 29er Nationals, as skipper, and will be going to the Worlds, in July this year, at Weymouth.

credits: Robin Elliott (Galloping Ghosts), Bob Ross, John Steamer Stanley

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.

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