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Sail-World NZ e-Magazine - Yamaha dominates in Sydney

by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World.com NZ on 8 Mar 2017
Yamaha’s crew drive their skiff on the two-sail reach - Race 2 - 2017 JJ Giltinan Trophy 18ft Skiff Championship, February 26, 2017 Frank Quealey /Australian 18 Footers League http://www.18footers.com.au
First published in Sail-World.com's New Zealand e-magazine for March 6, 2017

It was a case of so near but so far for David McDiarmid, Matt Steven and Brad Collins competing in Yamaha NZ in the 2017 JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championship over the past week in Sydney.

A protest room decision to award, and then not award, them redress after being hit by a port tack yacht in Race 3 of the regatta, along with a should have been discard 19th place in Race 5, cost Yamaha any chance of becoming the first NZ winner in Sydney in the history of the 79 year old trophy.

They also missed being the first New Zealander since 1974 to win the trophy, regarded as the most prestigious in 18ft skiff sailing and arguably the most prestigious small boat trophy/regatta in the Southern hemisphere.


A second New Zealand crew C-Tech (Alex Vallings, Shane Young and Scott Barnes) placed third equal on points, but dropped back to fourth after a tiebreaker was applied. Knight Frank (Riley Dean) finished 9th overall and Maersk (Graham Catley) placed 23rd. Of the other international competitors, Harken (USA) was 11th, Great Britain was 12th and the Danish entry 26th out of the 26 boat fleet.

The series winner, Thurlow Fisher, placed in the top five in all seven races, but only won one race. Coopers Rags and Famish had four places in the top three and two in the top ten, but didn't win a race. Yamaha won four races, placed 5th in another, and had to count a 19th after the protest committee removed redress for her DNF in Race 3.

Only two boats, Thurlow Fisher and Asko (6th overall) finished the regatta without a double-digit place on their score-card.

In its history the JJ's have been moved to several venues around the SW Pacific, often on an annual basis, and that had an element of evening up the chances of winning.

The decision to not move the regatta out of Sydney was no doubt made with the best of intentions - being held at the strongest organised club, sitting comfortably with the history of the Sydney Harbour 18ftrs, and with the strongest local fleet of the venues, plus the ferries, betting and all the fun of the Fair.


For sure the event has become the pinnacle of the season for the Sydney fleet. That is reflected in their ability to develop and mount a now high quality live TV production - insomuch as you can adequately cover a fleet that is spread the length of Sydney harbour.

The use of a drone camera this year was a master-stroke and should become a model for the coverage of major sailing events. Running a drone has quickly become a whole new art, combining flying skill with video camera-work , and as with all photography being in the right position at the right time is critical. Add to that the fact that drones, unlike helicopters can't fly in all wind-strengths, don't like the rain, and suffer the occasional attack from sea gulls.

It's not easy and the AeroMedia and Camera Cat team did an outstanding job of putting the live coverage together - and weren't helped by the weather with rain squalls injecting themselves all too frequently into the racing.

The JJ's now have got themselves into the same space as the New York Yacht Club, in the early days of the America's Cup, when the Challenger had to sail to USA on her own bottom and race against the entire local fleet.

Now the seven challengers for the JJ Giltinan come by container - but still race the 19-strong home fleet, over the same waters and courses as the Sydney boats sail all summer.

The odds are heavily stacked against the international competitors. Ashore they fare no better with no international representation on the protest committee or organising body.


To be fair the same home-ground situation exists when skiff regattas come to Auckland and other venues. In one 12ft Interdominion an Australian protestor was asked if he had any witnesses. 'No, there were no Australians around' was the deadpan response.

Maybe the 'we do it this way here, sonny' is part and parcel of the Sydney skiff sailing scene. But it is difficult for the event to be taken credibly without some levelling of the conditions under which the contest is conducted. It doesn't require the expense of an international jury, but it does require at least one person on the protest committee to come from outside Australia. The local knowledge advantage can never be removed, as long as Sydney Harbour is used, but it can be flattened.

While it is great to see skippers sailing in the regatta who are in their sixties, the fact is that those sailors are also the people who keep the class afloat literally through their management, sponsorship and philanthropy.

With World Sailing on the look out for a demonstration event for the 2020 Olympics, and the likelihood that the event selected will just be a variant of what is also in the existing line-up. The 18ft skiffs, now a near one-design class and easily able to put together a fleet of 10-12 boats, should have their hand up for that slot and could make a compelling case. Of the sailing classes, the 18ft skiffs alone have the history and culture of extreme sailing extending back to 1892. They are still the bleeding edge of contemporary sailing, partially in technology but mostly in sheer sailing skills.


The 18's have made great strides over the past few years, and this year particularly with their media and online coverage, but the class is built on a foundation of eggshells, and needs to keep the changes coming and maintain the momentum that has been built over the past few years.

Sadly New Zealand's chances of winning the event in Sydney seem to be as forlorn as ever. Not through a lack of sailing ability but because there will always be some issue or incident that trips up the international teams. For the Sydney-siders it is principally a matter of applying the lessons they have learned through years of sailing in their own back-yard, and being consistent. One of them will inevitably come through - it is just a question of who.

In regattas outside the Sydney Harbour stadium, it becomes apparent that the Australians have to just pull their trousers on one leg at a time, like everyone else. The competition becomes a lot more even. But it isn't Sydney.


Follow all the racing and developments in major and local events on www.sail-world.com by scrolling to the top of the site, select New Zealand, and get all the latest news and updates from the sailing world.

Good sailing!

Richard Gladwell
NZ Editor

sailworldnzl@gmail.com

Please forward news stories and images these directly to Sail-World NZ using our new very easy to use submission system, or forward to the email address: sailworldnzl@gmail.com as text in the email and attach images in the standard way for emails.

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