The Kiwis are coming...
New Zealand’s 18ft Skiff sailors will make their strongest challenge in recent years when they contest the JJ Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbour over 17-26 February.
Since the time James J. Giltinan first conceived the idea of holding a world’s championship for 18ft Skiffs, New Zealand has not only been a regular and successful competitor in the event, but has also been a leading innovator in the class.
The most famous of these Kiwi innovators is Bruce Farr, whose designs dominated the class during the 1970s, but others to stamp their name on innovations are the Mander brothers (Peter and Graham), Jack Logan and Russell Bowler.
New Zealand were represented from the first regatta on Sydney Harbour in 1938 then held and won the 1939 event (Manu, skippered by Geo. Chamberlain) at Auckland.
Jack Logan was next in the 1950 series in a radically designed snub nosed skiff named Komutu before the Manders (Intrigue) made a sensational breakthrough with the first trapeze men to become the first two-time winners of the championship in the 1952 and 1954 events.
Although they were always competitive the only New Zealand winner between 1954 and the early 1970s was Bern Skinner, who took the 1960 series in Surprise.
The most successful New Zealand 18ft Skiff designer came into the 18s in 1969/1970 when Bruce Farr boats represented USA, UK and Australia as well as New Zealand.
Don Lidgard took the 1972 series for New Zealand with Smirnoff and Terry Mc Dell (Travelodge New Zealand) also won for New Zealand in 1974. Both in Farr designed boats. Bob Holmes (Travelodge in 1973) and Dave Porter (KB in 1975) also won for Australia in Farr designed boats.
Russell Bowler was the next Kiwi to progress the evolution in design with the super lightweight hull construction of Benson & Hedges for the 1977 regatta at Auckland.
Escalating costs over the next two decades has seen the Kiwi challenge suffer in comparison to the earlier years, although the deeds of skippers such as Chris Skinner, Phil Airey and Scott Kennedy can’t be underestimated as they have put up some excellent performances against the might of Australian, USA and UK teams.
Hard work and dedication by Graham Catley and Alex Vallings has seen a heartening revival in the class in New Zealand. Only one month ago, Alex Vallings won the 2012 Mark Foy Trophy regatta at Auckland in his brand new C-Tech skiff - one of two hulls built by Van Munster Boatbuilders late in 2011 for both Alex and Graham (Maersk Line).
The New Zealanders have six boats (including the two new skiffs) entered for the 2012 Giltinan:
C-Tech (Alex Vallings), Yamaha (David McDiarmid), Maersk Line (Graham Catley), Stunt Academy (Chris Hirst), Cutting Shapes (Ed Ross) and Bridge Marina Travelift (Kez Cameron).
Graham Catley, who was also a crew member with Russell Bowler on Benson & Hedges, looks back at the struggle the Kiwis have had since the 1980s but is confident that the present position of the class in New Zealand suggests it will only get stronger in the future.
“The New Zealand fleet went into decline and subsequently died out when the Grand Prix 18 circuit effectively made the cost of competition prohibitive for our participation”, he said. “Phil Airey relocated back to Auckland and teamed with Alex Vallings in 2003, then I imported three more boats in 2005. We began to refurbish the boats and commence local racing on a regular basis. We had three boats at the 2007 Giltinan Championship, which was the beginning of the renaissance in the New Zealand fleet.
"In 2011 our effort intensified with the launching of the two new boats for Alex and me, which has brought our fleet up to nine good boats for regular club racing. Alex and I have fitted our boats with strong participation from New Zealand sail and spar makers. Alex’s win in the recent Mark Foy Trophy international regatta gives an early indication that the New Zealand fleet continues to grow in maturity and competitiveness”, Catley concluded."
The New Zealand resurgence can only be good for the class as it continues its international progression.