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18ft Skiffs: Fisher & Paykel - A successful 18 footers return for a familiar name

by Frank Quealey 9 Jul 23:02 PDT

Over the years, the Australian 18 Footers League has had a number of wonderful relationships with many of its sponsorship supporting companies and their individual owners and representatives, and the recent 2021-22 season produced the latest situation when the Fisher & Paykel company re-commenced an 18ft Skiff sponsorship it previously had for ten years.

This time it also produced a 'unique situation' along with a successful season for the racing team.

During the ten seasons, the name Fisher & Paykel was prominent on Sydney Harbour as a boat sponsor in the Australian 18 Footers League's 18ft Skiff fleet, having first appeared on the sails of Andrew Cuddihy's skiff in the 2005-06 season and remained in the fleet, through a number of different skiffs and teams, until the end of the 2014-15 season.

The highlight came at the 2010 JJ Giltinan world Championship when Trevor Barnabas, as a late replacement for the team's usual skipper, won Race 3 of the regatta and gave the team a good 10th place overall in a very strong 32-boat fleet from five countries.

The Fisher & Paykel name came back into the League's Sydney Harbour fleet again during the 2021-22 season, this time in a skiff skippered by Jordan Girdis.

Girdis originally brought his regular two crew members with him to the new team but suffered a critical setback and had to make late changes just before the season began when both members of his team had to withdraw due to injury and interstate university studies.

It was a critical set-back for Jordan in such a high-pressure fleet but the team's performance was consistently good throughout the season. After finishing 5th in the NSW Championship, the Fisher & Paykel team finished eleven in the nationals then a very good 8th in the 25-strong JJ Giltinan world Championship in March.

Fisher & Paykel, which is a premium appliance brand with a New Zealand origin, has been closely involved with sailing over many years so it's not surprising that it has returned to the 18s. The most memorable involvement being the 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race in which the Fisher & Paykel NZ 82' Farr campaign, skippered by Grant Dalton, finished second.

As Richard Searle, National Key Account Manager for Fisher & Paykel, points out, "Premium appliance solutions driven by class leading innovation with sustainability, a consideration at every level, are cornerstones of the Fisher & Paykel brand, which couldn't be closer to the world of 18 footer racing."

Mr. Searle is the enthusiastic 'face' of the Fisher & Paykel company on race days at the League and is a regular on-board the club's spectator ferry to watch his team compete.

Asked how the company's return to the 18s came about, Richard said, "It all started with an invite to jump on Yandoo with 'Woody' (John Winning) after a race in the 2020-21 season. There was a reasonable breeze and naturally it was an amazing and unforgettable experience."

"I'm heavily involved with the Winning group at Fisher & Paykel, so when 'Herman' (John Winning Jr) asked about sponsoring an 18 a few months later, it was an easy decision."

"The first season has been fantastic, beyond expectations. We were lucky to get the ex-Winnings boat, and even more fortunate to get Jordan Girdis as helm."

"Jordan had to deal with an unfair share of crew injuries and Covid issues through the 2021-22 campaign, but still managed to produce some great results.

For Richard, the 18 footer experience is more than simply sponsorship. "I've been sailing since I was 7, so personally this is almost a dream come true. I remember seeing the 18s in sailing magazines, and occasionally on TV, thinking it was amazing and slightly crazy. Back then, sailing a Mirror on the beautiful Salcombe Harbour and the flooded gravel pits of Yorkshire, it seemed a million miles away. I still can't quite believe it."

"It's also great to see so many sailors from my local club, Cronulla, gracing the fleet."

What makes the 'unique situation' mentioned earlier, is the additional involvement by Richard's daughter Jenna. As Richard proudly says, "Jenna now works in Jess Crisp's team on Sundays with Lara Quigley, updating the live social media streams during the 18 footers race; Instagram & Twitter. Part of the job is helping in post and pre-race interviews, which she loves. What up and coming sailor wouldn't like to be rubbing shoulders with the best?"

"Jenna has been sailing since she was six. Her brother Jeremy was crewing for Neil Tasker at Cronulla Sailing Club and I was in the rescue boat with Jenna. Most Sundays she would jump in with Bryce Edwards on his NS14 sailing to the start line and then after the race back to the club."

"Her first crewing gig was at seven years old in Flying 11's, competing in her first nationals that year. She has gone on to sail O'pen Bics, J24s, MG14s. She is now under the tutelage of Nev Wittey's team at the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron youth development squad, match racing on Elliots."

Naturally a young, up-and-coming sailor is going to make the most of any opportunity to go for a sail on an 18 on Sydney Harbour and Jenna didn't miss her opportunity. Richard recalls, "At the first practice sail of the year, Jenna ended up on the F&P with Jordan. Within 10 minutes she had the helm on a kite run towards the bridge. I was very proud and extremely jealous at the same time."

"Her sailing highlight must be the Queen of the Harbour Race this year."

Then on the final race day of the 2021-22 season, after the Queen of the Harbour race, Richard got his turn. "Jordan asked me to jump on too...five up on an 18? A little cramped but a lot of fun. My sailing highlight, to be out on the wire with Jenna that day, when Jordan handed me the helm. It wasn't for long, but I have the picture and it's on the wall! From Mirrors in Yorkshire to helming at 18 with my daughter on Sydney Harbour. It really doesn't get better than that. I am very fortunate."

The Fisher & Paykel team of Jordan Girdis, Elliott Mahar and Charlie Gundy will soon head off from Sydney to contest the Mark Foy Trophy regatta at Lake Garda, Italy from July 18-20 then it's back home to prepare for the 2022-23 season on Sydney Harbour.

Richard Searle summed up the association with the 18s, "A big thank you to the 18 footer community, the talented sailors, the fantastic support teams, and the Winning family. To be part of the 18's and its history is quite amazing. On behalf of all at Fisher and Paykel, it's great to be back!"

The Australian 18 Footer League's President John Winning was quick to reply "It's great to have such a supportive sponsor back in our fleet."

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