18 footers in San Fran

Skiffs gather for week of spectacular racing

Monday August 30th 2004, Author: Rich Roberts, Location: United States
The promise of windy and wild conditions has drawn a select fleet of sailors from the extreme side of the sport back for five days of racing this week in the third annual International 18 Skiff Regatta hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club.

Eight of the high-performance craft - also known as "Aussie 18s" - will race Monday through Friday on a windward-leeward course along the City Front between the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. The start-finish line and mid-course gate will be set approximately opposite the club for spectator viewing.

An exception will be Thursday when, following a single buoy race, the Ronstan Bridge to Bridge Race downwind to the Oakland Bay Bridge is scheduled for late afternoon. The 18s will be joined by kite boards and windsurfers in historically close competition.

The 18 Skiff Regatta is one of the class's three global events, along with the European International Championship and the JJ Giltinan Trophy Championship, the class's premier event that has been contested in Australia, the boat's country of origin, since 1938.

This fleet includes three former Giltinan winners. Trevor Barnabas' five titles are second only to fellow Australian Iain Murray's six consecutive wins in 1977-82.

Howard Hamlin, of Long Beach, Calif. representing the Newport Harbor Yacht Club, has been the Giltinan's only American winner, in 2002 and 2003. Australia's John Winning won in 2000 and currently is ranked No. 2 in the world behind Great Britain's Rob Greenhalgh, who won in San Francisco last year but is not competing here.

Barnabas, ranked No. 3, rates San Francisco Bay as the ideal venue for the 18s.

"I enjoy the excitement of sailing in breeze, and certainly San Francisco is the best place to sail them because you get breeze every day," he said. "It blows 18-20 knots, and that's ideal for these boats."

Other high-ranked competitors here include Hamlin, fifth; Grant Rollerson of Australia, sixth, and St. Francis' own Patrick Whitmarsh, 10th.

Barnabas, sailing with his son Trent and Rob Greuter as crew, says this will be his last 18 Skiff event, although he is only 49 - younger than Winning, 52, and Hamlin, 51.

"I have other things in my life I want to do," he said. "I want to build a catamaran and go cruising for awhile."

He admitted that may be a difficult adjustment after a quarter-century of the excitement of sailing an 18 on the edge.

"That's exactly what's kept me in it," he said. "In my whole history I've been on a [keelboat] five times. When I get on them I say, 'Well, this is good, but why would you go sailing on one of these if you can sail an 18-footer?' "

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