18ft Skiffs – The Man they call “Bucko”

Andrew Buckland and a decade of influence in the 18s

Regular viewers of the Australian 18 Footer League’s Sail Media livestream coverage of 18ft Skiff Racing on Sydney Harbour will hear the insightful comments of Andrew Buckland without knowing the full extent of his incredible record and knowledge about what makes an 18ft Skiff go fast, and the influence he had during the period from the late 1970s through to the late 1980s.

He not only ‘talks-the-talk’ on the livestream coverage, he definitely ‘walked-the-walk’ on his way to winning seven JJ Giltinan World 18ft Skiff Championships as well as numerous other national and international 18ft Skiff events in Australasia, USA and the United Kingdom.

Next week, Andrew will feature as Sail Media’s expert commentator, live and from the race course, at the 73rd JJ Giltinan World 18ft skiff Championship on Sydney Harbour, beginning with the invitation race on March 3, then during heats of the championship on March 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12.

Color 7 at the 1978 Open Worlds at Plymouth (archive)
Color 7 at the 1978 Open Worlds at Plymouth (archive)

It was the legendary 18 footer champion Iain Murray who obviously first saw Bucko’s talent when he recruited him to join the Color 7 racing team for the 1977-78 season.

Together with skipper Iain Murray and for’ard hand Don Buckley, sheet hand Andrew Buckland formed an incredible team in the famous Color 7 skiffs, and the trio were unbeatable as they won every major championship regatta between 1977-78 and 1981-82, inclusive, when the team disbanded upon Murray’s retirement from the 18s.

One of the early Color 7 skiffs (archive)
One of the early Color 7 skiffs (archive)

During the five seasons the Color 7 team were together, the three members were responsible for the design, construction and development of all aspects of the boats, as well as ‘packaging’ of many 18ft skiffs for their rival competitors and sponsors.

Typical Color 7 spinnaker action on Sydney Harbour (photo by Bob Ross)
Typical Color 7 spinnaker action on Sydney Harbour (photo by Bob Ross)

The 1975 JJ Giltinan World Champion David Porter, (and runner-up on five other occasions), who also won three Australian Championships, five NSW Championships and numerous Club Championships with the two Sydney 18 Footer clubs, is one of the greatest 18 Footer sailors in the sport’s history and, in his gold-coloured KB skiffs, is often regarded as the ‘King of Sydney Harbour’ during most of the 1970s.

Color 7 with wings in January 1982 (photo by Bob Ross)
Color 7 with wings in January 1982 (photo by Bob Ross)

Porter once said: “Andrew Buckland has been making fabulous sails for Iain Murray. It seems to be the cut in these mainsails more than the quality of the cloth. Everyone is copying these sails, but no one seems to have discovered the clue to their power and drive.”

Bucko (seated on the ground) with Richard Chapman, Don Buckley, Rob Brown and Iain Murray, alongside two SFS club officials (archive)
Bucko (seated on the ground) with Richard Chapman, Don Buckley, Rob Brown and Iain Murray, alongside two SFS club officials (archive)

Peter Sorensen, who had been one of the team’s main challengers over the entire five seasons, like Dave Porter, saw the value of Andrew’s overall 18 footer knowledge, as well as his obvious skill as a competitor, and quickly signed him as sheet hand on Tia Maria for the 1982-83 season.

Tia Maria (photo by Bob Ross)
Tia Maria (photo by Bob Ross)

The return to Sorensen was instant and gave ‘Soro’ the first of his two World 18 footer titles in 1983. When Tia Maria won the worlds again in 1984 it gave Andrew Buckland his seventh World 18 footer championship, which was the most by any 18 footer sailor until Seve Jarvin passed that mark, when he won his eighth title in 2015.

(It was appropriate that Andrew Buckland was the person who presented Seve and his Gotta Love It 7 team with the winner’s blue ribbon on the final day of the 2015 championship)

Andrew Buckland made a comeback to the 18s as sheet hand on Taskforce 87 (photo by Bob Ross)
Andrew Buckland made a comeback to the 18s as sheet hand on Taskforce 87 (photo by Bob Ross)

During Andrew’s ‘period of influence’, there was an incredible amount of change in the class. More than at any other period in the 131-year 18 footer history, to 2023.

It began with the virtual termination of the use of timber in hull construction in 1977-78 and continued with the introduction of a sliding frame to increase leverage, which was immediately superseded by the ‘wings’ style which are still used on the hulls of today.

Sliding and fixed spinnaker poles, two-handed 18ft skiffs and ‘pencil’ hulls, which followed and, by the end of the 1980s, a whole new type of hull began to emerge.

Aside from Andrew’s sail design superiority (as mentioned earlier in David Porter’s comments) throughout the dominant Color 7 era, and beyond, he was also a student of everything that could make an 18 footer go even faster.

In 1983, Andrew re-designed the rig on the 18s to eliminate spinnaker poles altogether.

Color 7 team in action at the 1979 worlds on Sydney Harbour (photo by Bob ross)
Color 7 team in action at the 1979 worlds on Sydney Harbour (photo by Bob ross)

According to Andrew, “It came to me while sailing on Peter Sorensen’s Tia Maria in 1982-83. While watching the pole almost on the forestay all the time, I began to realise that the pole wasn’t necessary at all.”

He replaced it and its weight, and complicated rigging, with a bowsprit.

For running, an asymmetrical single-luff spinnaker was flown with the leach about 1m shorter and the luff about 1m longer than the previous double-luff spinnaker.

Julian Bethwaite adopted Buckland’s pole-less spinnaker and used a 3m aluminium bowsprit permanently attached and stayed to the bow of his 2-handed Prime Computer skiff in 1983-84.

Bethwaite’s 2-anded skiff, built from a core of planked balsa wood, sandwiched in S-Glass and saturated with WEST System epoxy resin, performed well against the traditional 3-handers and won a heat of the 1984 worlds on Sydney Harbour.

Andrew saw what the 2-handed Prime Computer achieved and rationalised that two pairs of hands were never enough to race an 18, but the lighter displacement of the 2-hander concept was certainly an advantage.

Three of the 'pencil' skiffs in action (photo by Bob Ross)
Three of the ‘pencil’ skiffs in action (photo by Bob Ross)

Consequently, in collaboration with Iain Murray, he designed a new style 3-hander, which was built with a strip-planked balsa core, and using WEST System materials and techniques. They were often referred to as ‘wooden pencils’.

Three-time Giltinan World 18ft Skiff champion Rob Brown, one of Bucko’s main rival throughout his 18s career, has nothing but praise for his former rival, “Andrew Buckland stands out as one of the trail blazers in 18ft skiff history. His innovative and scientific thinking has left an indelible mark on the class, with such innovations as the asymmetric spinnaker set from the retracting spinnaker pole in the 80’s.”

Taskforce 87 (photo by Bob Ross)
Taskforce 87 (photo by Bob Ross)

“As a sailor, his uncanny tactics and read of the weather, teamed up with the great Iain Murray and Don Buckley all moulded into the Color 7 dominance of the late 70’s and early 80’s.”

1981 Poster used to promote a San Francisco regatta (archive)
1981 Poster used to promote a San Francisco regatta (archive)

“I had the pleasure of sailing against Andrew and Color 7, albeit often being the bridesmaid in most regattas. It wasn’t until many years after he retired from 18′ that I sailed a number of yacht races with Andrew, and more years later on the Historic Skiffs where we had a great time trying to tame the beast!”

SailMedia Commentators, from left, Jim Bury, Andrew Buckland, Peter Shipway

“In all, Andrew has contributed so much to what the class is today and he continues to express his theories across the livestreaming world with Sail Media, and doing a great job at that as well.”

Viewers of Sail Media’s livestreaming coverage will already realise the extent of Andrew’s knowledge as well as his innovative and scientific thinking.

The link to next Sunday’s livestream is: http://youtube.com/video/KNOfq6D1kAg/livestreaming

Visit www.18footers.com for the very best in 18 foot skiff racing from Sydney Harbour and beyond.

Color 7 in action in 1980 (archive)
Color 7 in action in 1980 (archive)

Those who haven’t watched the livestreaming coverage so far will also have the opportunity to hear ‘Bucko’ when the Sail Media team covers every race of the 73rd JJ Giltinan World 18ft Skiff Championship.

The race dates for the 73rd JJ Giltinan World Championship are:

Saturday March 4 Race 1

Sunday March 5 Race 2

Tuesday March 7 Races 3 and 4

Wednesday March 8 Races 5 and 6

Thursday March 9 Race 7

Saturday March 11 Race 8

Sunday March 12 Race 9

Color 7 team with the JJ Giltinan World Championship trophy in 1978 (archive)
Color 7 team with the JJ Giltinan World Championship trophy in 1978 (archive)

An Australian 18 Footers League spectator ferry will follow the racing on each of the seven days, leaving from Double Bay Public Wharf, alongside the clubhouse, at 2pm.

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.

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