18 Foot Skiffs and the 1980s

The 1970s are considered the “golden era” of 18ft racing with a large fleet and champion competitors competing weekly in Sydney Harbour, strong fleets in New Zealand and Queensland and emerging fleets in Western Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

What followed during the 1980s was a mixture of incredible innovations by very talented individuals, but this also affected costs and led to a significant reduction in all fleet sizes.

Despite the issues, it’s important that we don’t let the “negatives” outweigh the wonderful achievements and advancements made within the iconic 18-footer evolutionary class during the 80s.

In fact, the first stage of the innovation process began in the second half of the 1970s when New Zealander Russell Bowler introduced modern technology in hull construction and Australian competitors began to introduce the use of wings on the sides of their hulls.

New Zealander Russell Bowler had advanced his design ideas over the previous 3 or 4 seasons and presented his latest design on Benson & Hedges at the 1977 World Championship. The boat was a very small, lightweight round chine hull which pioneered a polystyrene core sandwiched by a very thin fiberglass laminate, and would have been a third lighter than New Zealand plywood boats.

Bowler’s new structure proved to be stiff and fast and it was no surprise that a similar method was adopted by the Australians for the following season to replace the lightweight molded wood construction.

Murray was impressed, but for the following season he decided to use Nomex honeycomb paper as the base material, covered with Kevlar skins in a female mould. Hull weight was about 160 pounds, with all fittings.

Murray told Australia’s top yachting journalist Bob Ross in an interview that he rejected Styrofoam and Klegecell and opted for Nomex honeycomb paper (which was developed as part of the US space program ) for the base material of its new 1977-78 Color 7 shell.

Working with boatbuilder John McConaghy, Murray developed a construction process in which they “laminated the hull in a female mould, with the Nomex sandwiched in Kevlar skins, and fitted it with a alloy frame suspension system to support the center case and relieve the rigging. loads.”

Later Color 7 hulls were constructed from Nomex honeycomb paper sandwiched between carbon fiber and S glass skins. Murray believed this made the hull twice as strong as the previous hull with Kevlar skin.

The “revolutionary” hull weighed around 160 pounds, with all fittings, and was claimed to be 40 pounds lighter than KB (Color 7’s main competitor), which was constructed from a Kevlar/Klegecell combination.

The next big change in 18ft gear came at the 1979-80 Australian Championship in Perth when Richard Court of Western Australia introduced a sliding frame to increase leverage on his Court Yachts skiff.

In 1974-75 Stephen Kulmar (Miles Furniture) and later John Winning (Pacific Harbor Fiji) had previously used small “fixed” tracks on the side of their hulls, but the new method was so successful for Court that the top teams in the 1980 Giltinan World Championship in Auckland used hinged “wings” for the leeward one, lifted by a wire connecting it to the windward one.

According to Andrew Buckland, during the early years of the 1980s there was little development in hull design, but technological improvements continued apace, with the major boats all being built from pre-engineered carbon. impregnated on Nomex.

During the 1982-83 season, the innovator Julian Bethwaite introduced his latest design, sponsored by Prime Computers, which was a stretched version of the two-person Tasar canoe, designed by his father Frank Bethwaite.

The boat was built in a fiberglass foam sandwich and had only two platforms as it was intended to be the first 18-foot two-handed skiff. Unfortunately for Bethwaite, the rules required a minimum of three crew in championship and many club events, so the boat had to run primarily with a lightweight third hand.

Another significant innovation occurred at the end of the 1982-83 season when Andrew Buckland, who was sailing 1983 World Champion Tia Maria, observed that the boat had sailed all season without removing the spinnaker pole from the forestay. and that all systems could be simplified by removing the spinnaker pole and rigging the spinnaker from a fixed or retractable bowsprit.

The concept quickly evolved into a sail (asymmetric spinnaker) with a loose luff that looks much more like a conventional spinnaker than the old jib-style asymmetrical sails.

The honors for the 1983-84 season were shared by Peter Sorensen’s Tia Maria and Trevor Barnabas’ Chesty Bond. Both boats were constructed from a sandwich of carbon fiber and Nomex honeycomb paper, but the hull of the Tia Maria was baked in an autoclave at an extremely high temperature, which Sorensen says has made the boat stronger.

That season and the 1984 Giltinan World Championship made history. It was the first time two-handed 18ft single sculls had been allowed to race and Julian Bethwaite, the designer, builder and skipper created even more history when his two-handed Prime Computer (MkII) won the race 5 in the Giltinan World Championship.

According to Bethwaite, the hull was constructed of slat plank balsa, bonded around the edges with epoxy over a male mould. The Prime Computer shell, complete with wings, weighed about 150 pounds, 50 pounds lighter than the lightest three-hander of the time.

The success of Prime Computer (Mk II) led to the construction of a new one (Mk III) for the 1984-85 season. This hull was constructed from slatted balsa, sealed with S-glass. According to her Bethwaite, “it was ridiculously light (45kg, not including fittings and fenders), and had airplane ply frames of 1mm.”

Three other new boats built for 1984-85 were labeled “crayons” due to their narrow waterline width of 4.3 feet and wingtip width of 21.3 feet, and garnered many discussions because of their “navigability”. The design logic was based on the principle that two pairs of hands were never enough, but the lighter travel offered by the two-handed concept was definitely an advantage.

The Australian 18 Footers League held a unique 18 footer singles promotional event in January 1985 to celebrate its 50th anniversary which captured the imagination of supporters and produced one of the most incredible 18 footers races ever seen.

The event was the seven-race Gold Cup series, highlighted by the final race of the Ocean Challenge, which was a 26-mile race beginning on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach and ending east of the ‘Sydney opera.

A large crowd watched an aerial display before the skiffs rounded the headland, set up their spinnakers and headed south in a perfect 15-18 knot northeasterly wind. The leading crews cruised the coast (on their 26ft wingspan) at an average speed of around 20 knots.

A large fleet of spectators met the skiffs at the heads of Sydney Harbour, and they weren’t disappointed when the two leaders, Chesty Bond and Tia Maria, arrived with just a few boat lengths separating them. With media helicopters hovering overhead, the two teams produced a magnificent spinnaker race in the harbor before Chesty Bond finally crossed the finish line a second ahead of Tia Maria.

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