2014 JJ Giltinan - Famous Incidents in 18 foot skiff history
by Frank Quealey on 21 Feb 2014
2014 JJ Giltinan and Australian 18ft Skiff Nationals - During the 75 years history of the JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship there have been many ‘incidents’ which have involved teams who won the championship in which the incident occurred (albeit one them lost the championship on protest) and almost saw a breakdown between the governing bodies and competitors of Australia and New Zealand.
Manu 1939 - JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship Frank Quealey © /Australian 18 Footers League http://www.18footers.com.au
Obviously, the high level of competition and the nature of the competitors who sail the 18ft Skiffs, as they try to gain any advantage possible over the opposition, lead to numerous protests and much ‘bad blood’.
Three of the most notable ‘incidents’ relate to the 1939, 1963 and 1984 regattas,
After winning the first regatta on Sydney Harbour in 1938, Bert Swinbourne (Taree) led the Australian team to Auckland to defend his title at the 1939 regatta.
Huge crowds on the foreshore were estimated at 25,000 people, but the series was marred by several protests, the latter of which saw Swinbourne (the provisional winner) being disqualified, and New Zealand’s Gordon Chamberlin (Manu) declared the winner.
Swinbourne lodged an appeal against the decision, but when the appeal wasn’t heard before the Australian team returned home, he decided to hang on to the trophy.
When the Australian Board of Control later upheld the New Zealand decision, Swinbourne didn't agree and refused to hand over the trophy.
He was expelled by the Australian League and for the next four years the Giltinan Trophy remained hidden in Swinbourne’s possession (said to have been under the kitchen sink in his house).
In 1944, he finally apologized for his actions and returned the trophy to the League.
It was subsequently handed over to New Zealand and presented to the ‘Manu’ owners.
Gordon Chamberlin’s daughter, Elaine Hopping said this week: 'The 1939 situation was indeed most unfortunate and dad never raced again'.
'His passion was messing about in boats as we farmed on an island so had boats rather than cars'.
'He was a very gentle, quiet man and hated conflict. The disruption of going off to war also didn't help his racing continuity either'.
The second ‘incident’, also in Auckland, in 1963, involved Australia’s Ken Beashel, who won the title in ‘Schemer’.
Beashel and his team were clearly superior throughout the series, but in Race 3 ‘Schemer’ was hit by a Royal New Zealand Air Force launch, which was carrying a TV cameraman.
Beashel recalls the incident: 'We were sailing towards the finish with a reasonable lead when we had to tack'.
'This boat, it was actually a small ship, came steaming up taking photos of us so I yelled at him to stop but the next thing he was aboard us'.
'I managed to climb up the stem and got on board and told him what I thought about him with my hands (I grabbed him and thumped him) then jumped back into the water to check my damaged boat'.
'It created an international incident but the Australian Government’s External Affairs Minister told me not to apologise'.
The third 'incident' occurred at the 1984 Championship, which was sailed on Sydney Harbour.
Peter Sorensen’s Tia Maria team was the defending champion and well placed to defend the title when one of the most bizarre incidents occurred.
It was just before the start of the race when, as sheet hand Matt Coleman recalls: 'We tangled with the chain holding the marlin board on the starter’s boat'.
'I don’t know how it started, but Big Kite (Dave Stephens) hit me and we were into it. We were standing toe to toe in the middle of the boat and I don’t know how we didn't capsize'.
'We were near Bradley’s Head and I remember the crowd there and people on the spectator ferry cheering loudly'.
'Finally, Soro managed to break it up and we started late – well behind the other boats'.
'Big Kite had two broken fingers and I had a cut above the eye which bled throughout the race, but somehow we managed to get around the course and finished second or won. Honestly, I can’t remember'.
'Afterwards, I was taken to St. Vincents Hospital and Big Kite to Royal North Shore Hospital'.
'It was just one of those things. Two aggressive, competitive young men who just exploded in the heat of battle'.
'We actually got on well together and were back in the boat the next then went on to win the championship'.
Suppose it takes a certain type of individual to tame an 18ft Skiff, but, whatever the reason, there is rarely a dull moment at the 18s.