18-foot skiffs: Rob Brown, OAM

18ft single sculls: Rob Brown, OAM – Three time world champion in the 1980s

by Frank Quealey Feb 28 10:56 PM PST

Rob Brown – JJ Giltinan Championship © Rob Brown

Three-time JJ Giltinan 18ft World Champion Rob Brown OAM has a wonderful track record of success in a sailing career that has spanned three continents and culminated in three victories in three of the most popular sailing events. most prestigious in the world.

Among other accolades, Rob has received the Order of the Australian Medal (OAM), the Australian Bicentenary Hall of Fame and the Australian Sailing Hall of Fame.

Like many of the top 18ft single scull champions over the years, Rob started sailing at the age of 6, in Sabot dinghies, at the Snails Bay Sailing Club, and sailed as a fourth hand in 16 to Drummoyne before moving into the 12ft single sculls at Balmain as a 15-Age. In his third season in the 12-year-old, he won the state and national junior championships.

His talent must have been apparent to 18ft administrators at the time as he was contacted by the NSW 18 Footers League to sail an 18ft skiff, with a provided sponsor, Polyunsaturated Flora. He recalls: “I bought a boat that used to be David Porter’s KB in 1972. Dave was my idol growing up so being able to sail one of his boats was an honour! I had pictures and posters on the wall of Dave’s Aussie, Porter Marine and KB I also had some pictures of my dad Norm, sailing his 18ft and 12ft skiffs.

“It was a good learning season. We just missed the NSW team for Worlds and my mainsheet hand, Greg Bury was also a mentor. He taught me how to sail in 18 and instilled in me the importance of thorough preparation and the responsibilities that come with wearing a company logo on your boat and on your shirt.”

The ‘lesson’ must have been learned well by Rob and the team, as sponsor Unilever backed them again the following year. The new polyunsaturated flora was a Frank Bethwaite design, which was the same design as Dave Porter’s new boat. The two introduced the first hydraulic jacks under the mast for rig tension control, and Brown’s team finished third behind Iain Murray and Dave Porter at the 1978 Worlds.

Deciding it was time to add his own design and engineering twist, Brown came up with a design for the 1978-79 season boat, which raced as Steelstocks. They used Klegecell foam and Kevlar for the shell, which was supported by a titanium tube frame. The team again finished third, behind Murray and Porter, at the 1979 Worlds.

In 1979 Rob also competed in the Admirals Cup on Impetuous, with Hugh Treharne and Sir James Hardy, and survived the tragic Fastnet Gale. “We raced the whole time, surviving unbelievable conditions to finish third in handicap, and together with other members of the Police Car team and Ragamuffin, we won the trophy for Australia. I also did my first Hobart race that year on Impetuous.”

When Richard Court introduced the wing concept in early 1980, Brown built hinged alloy flip-flop wings which he used on Steelstocks at the 1980 Worlds in Auckland. “We started the 1980 Worlds with two convincing victories, but our lead in the regatta was cut short when I developed food poisoning and had to spend a night in hospital.

Brown was a member of the 1980 America’s Cup campaign and was again involved in the Australia II campaign, much of his time was spent preparing for the Cup and he had little time for himself. dedicate fully to 18 year olds. Naturally, this was offset by involvement in such a fantastic winning achievement.

According to Rob, the 1980-81 season on the Iain Murray-designed Westfield Shoppingtowns skiff was disappointing. “Our results were mixed and we were behind and had below standard results.”

After that disappointment, “I was inspired to do my own thing again. With sponsorship from Bradmill, McConaghy built the shell with a carbon fiber/foam sandwich. The next step was to go with a carbon tube frame to stiffen the carbon tube hull and fenders to save weight.They were light, but flimsy, and there were no noteworthy results that year.

Brown recalled, “After spending so much time with the Americas Cup and what we achieved there through our attention to detail, innovation and our constant drive for improvement in all areas of our campaign, I decided to redo my own design for the 1984.-85 season.”

“I got really close to Peter Van Oossananen, who tested the Australia II in Holland and did all the design development work on the keel for Benny Lexcen. Peter also managed our telemetry system monitoring our performance every day we sailed.”

“Colin Beashel built the Bradmill from balsa and carbon fiber that year at his Elvina Bay shipyard, which was done safely, due to our extensive design research and concepts that we wanted to keep secrets.”

“The hollow feature was a breakthrough in the design of an 18ft skiff. It involved having a hollow section in the last third of the hull, which generated an upward force on the hull. The performance gain was quite staggering The speed of the boat increased out of a tack a force of 45-50kg was generated lifting the transom vertically which meant the boat got on the plane much sooner so much faster out of turns, and also meant that I could reduce the wetted area of ​​the overall body of water due to the trough.”

“It meant a faster single scull throughout. We took out the USA, the Australians and won our first world championship. The team was Matt Coleman, mainsail sheet, Ian Souter, who sailed at Worlds with a torn medial ligament, up front, and Phil Wulff, who was a coach and maintenance manager.”

For the team’s defense of his titles, Bradmill changed his sponsor name to Entrad on the new skiff, for frontline marketing and branding reasons. Brown made further design changes by increasing the hollow shape and decreasing the wetted area of ​​the hull. He declared it “by far the fastest skiff ever”.

Julian Bethwaite (bow) joined Rob Brown and Matt Coleman in the new skiff, which Brown said “was by far the toughest skiff we have ever sailed. placing sails on the bow to prevent it from diving from the nose and overcoming its bad habits when the wind was blowing and the sea state rose.”

“We decided that to win this year in extreme conditions we needed to train harder and more often to beat this beast, so we trained between Sydney Heads in very bumpy and unpredictable waters and waited for more breezes of 25 knots to really test us.”

Attention to detail and Julian Bethwaite’s idea of ​​using carbon fiber in the alloy mast ends prepared the team for the 1986 Worlds in Auckland, but when the skiff ran aground in round 2 and ripped the center housing from the hull, it could all have been over.

According to Rob, “Everyone thought we were done, but they were wrong. We worked the skiff all night and repaired all the damage and got her ready for the race at 11am the next day. We won the World’s Championships.”

A number of situations arose during the 1980s, including the rising cost of competition, which led to a drop in available sponsorship and, likewise, a drop in the number of fleets. This led admins to make a number of rule changes in an attempt to fix the problem.

Unfortunately, the changes were complicated as they concerned the number and replacement of sails based on their use in previous races, and included a percentage box to determine whether each sail was declared ‘new’ or ‘replacement’.

Not surprisingly, the resulting confusion led to a very unique situation at the 1988 JJ Giltinan Championship when Rob Brown’s Southern Cross and Trevor Barnabas’ Chesty Bond were declared joint champions after a number of protests and appeals.

Both skippers were unhappy with the decision and each took a break from 18 the following year.

Rob took a different direction when he later resumed his career in the 18’s and recalls: “I was approached by Grand Prix Sailing to come on board and help run the events, and work as an expert commentator for the television series.”

In 1990, he was asked to take over the skiff Prudential and also became its manager. “I won seven GPS Grand Prix titles before retiring from racing in 1996.”

After an incredible career in sailing, which included victories as part of Australia II crews in the 1983 America’s Cup and Impetuous in the 1979 Admirals Cup-winning Australian team, ten Sydney-Hobart Yacht Races and many other championships in various classes, it was interesting to ask Rob, what was it like to win the World Championships at 18?

Despite all the wonderful accomplishments, Rob admits, “the most valuable and gratifying were the three Skiff JJ Giltinan 18-foot World Championship wins.”

The 2022 JJ Giltinan Championship will take place in Sydney Harbor from March 5-13.

The dates of the races are:

March 5 Race 1, George Calligeros Trophy
March 6 Race 2, Cliff Monkhouse Memorial Trophy
March 8 Race 3, Alan Cole Memorial Trophy
March 9 Races 4 & 5, AJ Reynolds Trophy
March 10 Races 6 and 7, Bill Miller Memorial Trophy
March 12 Race 8, Big Kite Memorial Trophy March 13 Race 9

Spectators can follow the races on board the spectator ferry. Book online on the club’s website www.18footers.com is essential.


For those unable to make it on the water, Sail Media’s live broadcast team will be on Sydney Harbor to capture all the action.

The live stream is available on www.18footers.com by clicking on the ’18 Footers TV’ link.

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