When the New Zealand teams C-Tech and Yamaha finished One-Two in Tuesday’s Race 3 of the 2014 JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship, sponsored by Sydney City Marine, it reflected the work being done by the Kiwi sailors to rekindle the fleets’ glory days.
Alex Vallings, skipper of C-Tech, which won Race 3, has been at the forefront of the New Zealand 18ft Skiff revival with international regatta victories in the Mark Foy Trophies of 2012 (Auckland) and 2013 (San Francisco).
Vallings and David McDiarmid (Yamaha) lead strong teams capable of a JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship victory in the near future – something that has eluded Kiwi 18ft Skiff sailors for the past 40 years.
During the 1970s, New Zealand’s Bruce Farr was the dominant designer in the 18s and the Auckland-based fleet regularly produced several extremely competitive teams.
The first Kiwi success in the 70s came when Don Lidgard won the 1972 regatta with Smirnoff on the Brisbane River.
Australia’s top teams were quick to have Bruce Farr design their skiffs and Dave Porter, the best Australian competitor in 1974, went to Auckland as a raging hot favourite to take the title in KB.
Many Australian ‘supporters’ also went to Auckland prepared to relieve local Kiwi followers of their pocket money, but were they in for a shock.
The current C-Tech crew contesting the JJ Giltinan Trophy -
Although Travelodge New Zealand, skippered by Terry McDell, Peter Brook (Mainsheet) and Kim McDell (forward) won the Invitation Race, KB was still considered a certainty to take the championship.
When the five-race championship proper began, these Aussie supporters still invested heavily on KB. The result; Race 1 was an easy win for Travelodge New Zealand.
Undeterred, the gallant Aussie punters continued to put their hard-earned cash on KB. The result, again, Travelodge New Zealand kept winning and after Race 4 had sealed the victory with a perfect score from four consecutive wins - ranging from 1m45s to 5m2s.
The Travelodge NZ team regularly conceded starts to their rivals in most races but were so much faster they soon worked their way to the lead with great boat speed and precision sailing.
A heritage of 18 Footer sailing in the McDell family, a beautifully prepared boat built strictly to Bruce Farr’s plans, meticulous preparation, hard training and a fitness program designed for Olympic athletes played a large part in the victory.
Kim McDell also gave credit to other local teams. 'Strong local competition from Don Lidgard (Smirnoff) during the months leading up to the worlds was very important'.
'Our boat was a conventional, hard chine Farr design (as were nine other contestants), carrying three rigs. Our intermediate rig proved superior and allowed us to win most races by wide margins', he added.
Terry McDell with the trophy, Peter Brook (left) and Kim McDell, their wives, manager Roy and Pat McDell -
Terry McDell recalls: 'As youngsters, we often crewed on our father’s boats and developed a passion for the thrill of sailing 18s'.
Our first serious go at the JJ Giltian was at Brisbane in 1972, sailing Bobby Holmes’ previous Travelodge, and we managed to finish fourth'.
'A new boat two years later provided us with tools to succeed'.
The McDell brothers went on to success in bigger boats. Terry was in New Zealand’s winning Admirals Cup team in 1987, and Kim sailed on Gunboat Rangiriri, winning the World Half Ton championship at Sydney in 1977.
The McDell’s were also involved in initiating the current revival of the New Zealand 18 Footer scene when they helped Alex Vallings into his first 18.
Last weekend Terry and Kim were in Sydney (on the Australian 18 Footers League spectator ferry) for the 75 year reunion and to support Alex, David and the other New Zealand teams.