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Australian 18 Footers League

The Publisher

Oct 3, 2011, 2:27 PM

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Australian 18 Footers League

With Australia now in its spring season, the sailing schedule on Sydney Harbour this Sunday will see the opening race of the 18-foot skiff season. The history of this over-canvassed, triple trapeze, wave jumping craft dates back to 1892, and Sydney still remains ground zero for this class over 100+ years later.

Frank Quealey of the Australian 18 Footers League explains how they operate down under:
The official name of the class is “18 Footers”. Many people around the world seem to prefer 18ft Skiffs and in Australia they are often referred to as ‘the 18s’ so we are happy to go with whatever they are called.

All boats are owned by the club - the Australian 18 Footers League - and we also charter some to other states such as Queensland and Western Australia. No sailor has to pay any fee for the use of a club boat (other than normal Yachting Australia fees). Most come to us looking to sail the boats and as much as possible we manage to get a boat for them. New and young crews generally start with an older boat and progress up the ladder as they gain experience and improve their performance.

Ironically, the 2010 Giltinan Championship-winning Gotta Love It 7 is a three-years-old hull, which was stiffened up before last season with a new deck. We are presently in the process of having other hulls receive the same treatment during the off season.

Our basic aim is to introduce young, talented sailors to the class and encourage them to progress to their potential. Probably, we operate similar to a football club which brings young juniors into their system as a means of maintaining their position into the future.

The club is a small, but successful, trading club at Double Bay on Sydney Harbour with most of our income derived from poker machines, the bar and a very popular dining room. As a not for profit organization, we have spent in excess of $10million on the 18 Footers since 1993.

We recently produced a small video showing what a race day is like at the club:

For many years the Australian 18 Footers League has been conscious of the need to keep the cost of racing to a realistic level or risk the future of their fleet and the emerging fleets in the U.S. and throughout Europe.

During the 1990s the League introduced a single hull design and appointed a specialist builder to construct each hull. This allowed the club to control all aspects of the process and become owner of every boat in their fleet.

The move has had two positive effects on the sport. Firstly, the cost of each new boat was reduced and the stability of design has also allowed for more equal competition of racing in all major international 18ft Skiff championships.

Since then the USA and UK have each won Giltinan (world) Championships for the first time and the level of international competition generally has also improved.

A true vindication for the rule change and initiatives.

Class boat builder Van Munster Boats built a new deck mould last year and is presently giving the League’s existing boats an upgrade ‘treatment’ to bring them up to the current 2011 specs.

First boat to receive the upgrade ‘treatment’ to the ‘new’ specification was Gotta Love It 7 in December 2010. Success of the project was immediate as the three years old Gotta Love It 7 hull won the Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbour in March 2011.

Another five of the Australian 18 Footer League’s boats are presently undergoing the same upgrade given to Gotta Love It 7 with similar numbers again likely next year as the club continues to improve the quality of its entire fleet.

“We can upgrade 3-4 boats each year for the same cost as building one new boat. The economics are there for all to see”, said club President John Winning.

“With the new structural arrangement doubling the competitive life of a hull, it’s a two pronged bonus for the club in these difficult financial times”.

“It will also allow us to have more funds available to spend on our sails and rigging which will ensure we maintain our position as world leaders in sailing development”.

“It also means a better all-round deal for our sponsors”.

Continual refinement of the hull structure and construction over the past decade means that the upgrade comes in four separate levels. Depending on the age of each existing hull, the nature and level of upgrade differs to bring each up to the current specifications.

As well as producing the upgrades for the League, Brett Van Munster says his company can also produce the upgrades for interstate and international competitors.

“We can produce the upgrades for each boat specification and have them shipped interstate or overseas where a local boat builder could fit them to the existing hull”.

“This would allow all sailors with older hulls to bring their skiffs up to the present 2011 level for international competition”.

Supporting the move in a recent interview, two-time Giltinan champion Howie Hamlin, of the United States, told Pressure Drop ( “The boats are extremely light and highly loaded, so the class has found it is best to have one builder who can really specialize in building perfect boats. Van Munster Boats is the current builder”.

Pressure Drop suggested the competitive longevity of the boats in Australia is approximately 4-5 years), so asked Howie how long he thought they would last on San Francisco Bay.

Howie said: “They built a new mould last year that solved some structural issues, so I think new boats will last 10 years - even on San Francisco Bay”.

The move should ensure stability in the class and improve the likelyhood of a further spread on an international as well as interstate level within Australia.

Most of the upgraded hulls will be on Sydney Harbour next Sunday (9 October) in the League’s opening race of the season.

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League