The Australian 18ft skiff teams' campaigns to retrieve the JJ Giltinan Trophy, won by New Zealand's Honda Marine earlier this year, begins on Sunday when 18 of Australia's best skiff crews line up for the first race of the 2018-2019 NSW Championship on Sydney Harbour.
With the return to the class by a number of former champion sailors, and the ever-improving young teams pushing them to the limits, the Australians are looking to throw down the gauntlet to the hot-shot Kiwis.
Leading the fight back by the Aussies is former 2006, 2007 and 2017 Giltinan champion Michael Coxon, who takes over the tiller of the 2016 Giltinan champion Smeg skiff.
Coxon is joined by the successful 2016 JJ Giltinan crew members, Mike McKensey and Ricky Bridge, in a powerful combination.
While the Smeg team will likely go into the NSW Championship as favourite, two teams more than capable of a series victory are Asko Appliances and Finport Finance.
Both Asko Appliances (James Dorron/Paul Montague/Harry Bethwaite) and Finport Finance (Keagan York/Matt Stenta/Charlie Gundy) were narrowly defeated by Honda Marine at the 2018 Giltinan Championship, and each has shown that they have made progress in crew work during the early races this season.
Two more teams yet to reach their peak are the brand new Winning Group (John Winning Jr.) and Bing Lee (Micah Lane).
Each will have very strong crews of experienced 18ft Skiff sailors when the 2019 Giltinan Championship is contested in March, but at this stage of their preparation are likely to be a little short of the consistency they will have by March.
John Winning Jr. (Winning Group) is a former world 29er champion and a leading 18ft Skiff skipper, who is returning to the 18s after a seven-year layoff to concentrate on his successful business commitments.
Although Winning is tight-lipped about his crew for the Giltinan Championship, there are suggestions that a former JJ champion will be amongst the team for the 'big one'.
2006-2007 Australian champion Micah Lane is also returning to the 18s in the Bing Lee-sponsored skiff, which was previously sailed by US champion Howie Hamlin.
Lane's crew are Peter Harris and Mark Kennedy, who have both crewed for several years in top 18ft Skiff teams.
This team represents a very strong challenger for major honours.
Three other experienced teams, Yandoo (John Winning), Appliancesonline.com.au (Brett Van Munster) and Noakesailing (Sean Langman) all have the potential to win races and are definitely expected to finish well towards the top of the overall points table.
The young Rag & Famish team, led by Bryce Edwards, is also expected to continue the excellent form which enabled it to win the Spring Championship, which concluded last Sunday.
Last year's NSW champion, The Kitchen Maker-Caesarstone will defend the title with two new crew members. Jordan Girdis (skipper) and Lachlan Doyle (main) join bowman Tom Quigley in a strong youthful combination.
Following on their successful first season in the 18s, Kirk Mitchell, Daniel Barnett and Tim Westwood have the record to again show they are capable of a race win on Vintec.
Entries for the 2018-2019 NSW Championship are:
Smeg Michael Coxon, Mike McKensey, Ricky Bridge
Yandoo John Winning, Mike Kennedy, Cam McDonald
Asko Appliances James Dorron, Paul Montague, Harry Bethwaite
R Marine Pittwater Simon Nearn, Cam Gundy, Brandon Buynik
Appliancesonline.com.au Brett Van Munster, Phil Marshall, Kurt Fatouris
Rag & Famish Hotel Bryce Edwards, Rory Cox, Jacob Broom
The Oak Double Bay-4 Pines Aron Everett, Courtney Maher, Geoff Little
Triple M Tom Anderson, John Walton, Nick Daly
Vintec Kirk Mitchell, Daniel Barnett, Tim Westwood
The Kitchen Maker-Caesarstone Jordan Girdis, Lachlan Doyle, Tom Quigley
Dal Zotto Jack Sprague, Tim Narborough, Josh Feldmann
Noakesailing Sean Langman, Ed Powys, Nathan Edwards
Finport Finance Keagan York, Matt Stenta, Charlie Gundy
Ilve Jonathan Whitty, Pedro Vozone, Tim Lake
Winning Group John Winning Jr. Lachlan Gilmour, Lewis Brake
Bing Lee Micah Lane, Peter Harris, Mark Kennedy
Quality Marine Clothing Yvette Heritage, Richard Heritage, Daniel McLachlan
Lumix Katie Love, Locky Alexander, James Patterson
Races dates for the NSW Championship are:
Race 1 – November 25, 2018
Race 2 – December 2, 2018
Race 3 – December 9, 2018
Race 4 – December 16, 2018
Race 5 – January 13, 2019
The Australian 18 Footers League's spectator ferry will follow all the racing action, leaving Double Bay Public Wharf at 2pm on each race day.
Live streaming of each race at: https://www.18footers.com.au/18-footers-sailing/18-footers-tv/
All information: www.18footers.com
18 Footers League