Generations of skiff sailors reunite at Airlie Beach Race Week

Airlie Beach Race Week Festival of Sailing has been attracting more and more former and current skiff sailors to the Whitsunday Sailing Club hosted event.

Old skiff sailors don’t die – they come to Airlie Beach and take advantage of great racing on flat waters – perfect for the skiffs. But these sailors are here refining their yacht, multihull and sports boat skills.

On Yarrandi is owner/skipper Dave Griffiths, North’s Michael Coxon (tactics), Peter Shipway and Andrew Buckland, the former six-time 18 foot skiff world champion with Iain Murray and Don Buckley.

Aboard the sports boat ‘Heat’ is Geoff Williams, and the Ratcliff siblings, Luke, Kristen and Paul, who spent their formative years sailing skiffs.

Add to that the former two-time 18ft skiff world champion Dennis Lehany and John ‘Steamer’ Stanley (who won a World’s with Lehany) on Lehany’s trimaran, ‘Billy the Kid’. Both are in their seventies, but their love for sailing has never diminished – and they are having a ball at their first Airlie Beach Race Week.

Skippering Condor is local WSC sailor, Dave Molloy, an ex skiffie. The famous yacht is under charter, with Molloy in charge. The grin is always in place when he leaves friends on Hammer of Queensland in their wake on the race course.

In recent years, former 18ft skiff world champion Phil ‘Cub’ Barnett (NSW) has chartered the famous old war horse, Hammer of Queensland’, built in 1987. Racing in the Cruising division, he co-opts skiff sailing legends to come and try their luck.

Having too much fun last year – and sailing in conditions that were light on, Hammer did not place, but she was second to a full-on racing machine in Cruising Division 2 in 2016.

This year Barnett has another former 18s former world champ in tow, Adam South. Joining them are former 12ft sailors David Cleworth, Julian O’Mahoney (built 12 footers), Richard Imlay, Andrew Glassock and some of their sailing children.

“We do it as a group. It’s an opportunity that came up after we agreed we’ve chased our kids around the sailing circuit, so we decided to get some parent time back. We went for a long period there where we didn’t sail,” Barnett says.

“It’s a great chance to get out of Sydney. We love the weather here and love Airlie Beach. It’s a great opportunity to go for an old fashioned sail,” he says.

“We have a good strong boat, so we can push it as hard as we can and we try to make it go as fast as we can. We’re enjoying it – but we need more wind – she’s heavy.”

Barnett says the crew will head to Whitsunday Sailing Club to night, “where we hope to catch up with some other old skiff mates. And then there’s lay day….,” Barnett ends.

David Griffith has brought his Marten 49, Yarrandi, to Airlie Beach Race Week Festival of Sailing for the first time: “I think it’s a wonderful place and beautifully run regatta. It’s glorious,” the Sydney sailor says.

“We’re berthed at Abell Point and enjoying the scenery here. There’s a great coffee shop and a chandlery, everything you could want – and they’re very helpful and friendly.”

Joining Griffith on board Yarrandi are old skiff sailing mates Peter Shipway, Andrew Buckland (he won a record six 18’s World’s with Iain Murray and Don Buckley) and Michael ‘Cocko’ Coxon.

“Cocko and I sailed together in the early eighties on the Syd Fischer sponsored Gazebo. Shipway, myself and others sailed in 12 foot skiffs, as our fathers did before us. We’re missing Johnny Winning and Mark Anderson – they couldn’t make it.

Griffith says they are lucky to have Ian ‘Spot’ Smith and his wife Jane aboard. Both are well known in the yachting scene. “We’re lucky; we have an abundance of great talent.

“It’s all good here – a very friendly place. We plan on catching up with other old mates tonight at the Club (WSC). We’ve already had some good laughs with Dennis and Steamer (Lehany and Stanley).

For all information on Airlie Beach Race Week Festival of Sailing, go to:

Di Pearson, ABRW media

M.O.S.S Australia