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18ft Skiffs: John 'Woody' Winning, 70 years young

by Frank Quealey 18 Jun 20:10 PDT

Australian 18 Footers League President and legendary 18ft Skiff champion John 'Woody' Winning celebrates his 70th birthday this week but you would never know it as the dynamic 'Woody' prepares for his 38th season of 18 footers racing on Sydney Harbour, in the 'famous' Yandoo skiff with the red and blue oval colour patch of the 7th Field Artillery Brigade.

John, a JJ Giltinan world champion as well as an International and Australian Championship winner, has also been President of the Australian 18 Footers League for the past 18 years and is responsible for the sport's stability and success over the past two decades.

'Woody' has not only been the major influence in 18ft Skiff Racing on Sydney Harbour over the past 20 years, or more, he is still an active competitor in both the modern and historical 18 footer fleets each weekend over the summer months.

'Woody' joined the 18 footer ranks in 1975-76 in a skiff sponsored by TraveLodge, after winning the 1971-72 Australian 12ft Skiff Championship with Yandoo and the 1974-75 Inter-dominion 12ft Skiff Championship for the TraveLodge company.

In the 18s, he won the JJ Giltinan world Championship in 2000 when he skippered AMP Centrepoint to victory with teammates Euan McNicol and Anthony (Jack) Young, and has won the Australian Championship as well as international 18ft Skiff championships in Europe, the USA and New Zealand.

John's record could have been even greater as he was also runner-up to the legendary 18 footer champion Iain Murray in two JJ Giltinan world and three Australian 18 footer championships, and had he not taken several years away from the 18s to concentrate on family business commitments.

John's international 18 footer championships record includes three European championships (2001, 2004 and 2011), a Mark Foy Trophy victory with Yandoo at Sonderborg, Denmark in 2011, the San Francisco International Championship in 2004 and the ANZAC Regatta at Auckland in 2010.

In 1999, John was also heavily involved in establishing the 'Historical 18s' fleet. Class historian John 'Steamer' Stanley, who has known John for many years, recalls:

"John and I went for a sail on a replica of Aberdare with Robert Tearne, who built the boat, and we were both hooked on the challenge of sailing on such a boat. Woody had Robert build a replica of Australia I, the 1946-47 Australian Champion, which included John's father and his uncle Dick Winning in the champion crew. That was the start of a rebuilding program to preserve and recreate the rich 18-Footer history."

As usual, he was prepared to back his belief with his own cash and still owns or has an interest in 5 or 6 boats in the present historical fleet.

John Stanley added, "Woody puts far more back into the sport than he takes out of it. He is extremely generous with his time and money, and is always prepared to help fellow sailors or anyone who needs it."

Mark Foy established an action-packed sport, and promoted it to the general public, who had previously little knowledge of sailing, while James J Giltinan was a sports promoter responsible for initiating a world championship for the 18s.

'Woody' has now consolidated the work of those men by ensuring the continuation of the class, through sponsorship by his family business and corporate associates, while promoting the racing with live-as-it-happens video coverage to the world.

John first served as President of the Australian 18 Footers League from 1984-85 but had to relinquish the position as this was at the time when he became more involved as head of the family business. When Mr. Eric Bowen, who took over the presidency from John in 1985, retired in 2003, John resumed the role at the League, and still holds the position today.

The League's fleet has flourished during the 2000s under John's presidency, and it's his personal as well as his family's initiatives, and financial support, which has been such a significant part of the success.

John, and his wife Kerrie, together with the late Bob Killick, were the original trio who created the video coverage of the League's racing, and the family business has been a major financial backer for each JJ Giltinan Championship since 2007.

The ongoing success of Australia's iconic 130-year-old sport of 18ft Skiff Racing on Sydney Harbour, owes much to the incredible actions and support of John 'Woody' Winning, the Winning family and the Winning family's business.

Happy 70th Birthday John from everyone involved with the 18s and thank you for everything you have done, and still do, for the sport.

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