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18ft Skiffs: An ideal racing partnership

by Frank Quealey 2 Jan 22:32 PST

Two of reasons for the incredible 128-year success of 18ft Skiff Racing on Sydney Harbour are the competitors' attitude towards the sport and the clubs which have conducted the racing, together with the ability to uphold the tradition of producing the most spectacular racing for supporters.

From the early 1970s, sponsorship also became just as critical to the future of the class as a high-performance racing sport.

By the early-1990s, the escalating costs had put so much pressure on individuals wanting to get into the class that the Australian 18 Footers League made a decision to introduce rules which would change the direction of the sport.

Basically, the club would own the only mould and appoint a class boat builder to produce the only hulls permitted to contest the events. The club would own every boat and depend on the income from the licensed club as well as the support from naming rights sponsors on the skiffs to help cover the costs.

The League has since spent at least $15-million on the production and maintenance of its fleet as well as the promotion of the 18 Footers at regular regattas in Europe, USA and New Zealand.

During this time, the traditional spirit of the competitors has continued. The League has also been fortunate to have many generous and loyal sponsors, who have assisted the club to pursue its policy of maintaining the high standards of competition throughout its fleet.

One of the present partnerships that reflects the long-standing tradition of the sport is the 10-year sponsorship of The Kitchen Maker, through Darren McKavanagh and his family, along with the attitude and ability of the 2020-2021 racing team members, Jordan Girdis, Lachlan Doyle and Tom Quigley.

Darren originally came into the 18s, as a competitor, in 2001 when he sailed with Greg Windust and Daryl Milham on Total Recall.

Darren says "It was a huge learning curve as I had only sailed flying 11s before then. Greg was a family friend and we sailed Flying 11s together and against each other, along with many other sailors that now sail 18s. Clynton Wade-Lehman then joined us for the JJ and sailed under the South African Flag."

"From there I went on to sail a variety of different 18s before deciding to sponsor my own boat. "A lot of my work had come through sailing contacts, so I thought it would be nice to give back and also touch base with a bigger market of sailors and good contacts."

"My first year as a sponsor, I sailed with Brett Van Munster which was a good experience and I learnt a lot. From there an old friend Cameron McDonald took over the skipper role and we had a great time."

Darren added that prior to the 2012-2013 Season, "I bumped into Malcolm Page a few times and, as old sailing friends, I asked him would he like to sail 18s again and he said yes. Finally, I asked him if he would like to sail on The Kitchen Maker with me and, without any hesitation, he said yes."

"I was shocked, then spent the next two years sailing with Malcolm and Cameron. It was another huge learning curve, and great fun sailing with good mates."

According to the two-time Olympic gold medallist, Malcolm Page. "Sailing and racing 18 footers never gets boring. The rides are memorable, the skill required to keep them upright is hard to perfect, which is what always brings people back to the class. Sailing with a mate (Darren) that you grew up sailing with and against just shows this is a sport for life."

"One of my highlights was sailing with a Danish team in Lake Garda and becoming the European champions. I can't lie, it was fun to beat my own sponsored boat, The Kitchen Maker."

"Unfortunately, a back injury has kept me out of a regular team, but I love going for a sail when time and body lets me."

"Now I really enjoy following the 18s and watching Jordan, Lachie and Tom fight it out."

"Thanks to the support of the Australian 18 Footers League, its members, volunteers and Caesar Stone, my involvement as a sponsor, and hopefully a sailor, will continue for a long time to come. The club is a great place. The people that I have met, and friends I have made, are amazing."

In 2017-2018, it was a fitting reward for Darren's efforts when four-time JJ Giltinan Champion Scott Babbage, together with his young teammates Tom Quigley and Sam Ellis won the NSW Championship in The Kitchen Maker.

According to Darren, "It was an awesome achievement and something I wish I had also been able to do as a competitor."

Jordan Girdis and Lachlan Doyle moved into the 18s together in the 2016-2017 Season then moved onto The Kitchen Maker and joined Tom Quigley for the 2018-2019 Season.

The young team has been a strong competitor in the highly-competitive fleet for the past three seasons and have many top-10 placings over the past JJ Giltinan championships they have contested.

Australian 18 Footers League President John Winning said, "Tradition has played an important part in the long history of our sport and the Australian 18 Footers League is fortunate to have people like Darren and the young men who race The Kitchen Maker-Caesarstone skiff each week."

The Kitchen Maker-Caesarstone, along with the other 17 teams in the Australian 18 Footers League fleet, will resume racing next Sunday (10 January) when the club will conduct the fourth race of the 2020-2021 NSW Championship on Sydney Harbour.

Spectators can follow the racing on board the club's spectator ferry, however due to the COVID-19 policy, numbers are limited. Booking online through the club's website is essential.

For those unable to make it out onto the water, the live broadcast video team will be on Sydney Harbour to capture all the action. Live streaming is available at by clicking on the '18 Footers TV' link.

Follow all the club's racing throughout the 2020-2021 Racing Season:

Club Website -
Twitter - @18skiff
Instagram - @18skiff
Facebook - International 18Ft Skiff

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