The 1970s are often referred to as “the golden era of 18 foot single scull racing” because they produced large competitive fleets in both the Australian 18 Footers League and the Sydney Flying Squadron, a strong fleet in Brisbane. 18 Footers Club on the Brisbane River, and an incredible era of progress and achievement for the New Zealand designers, builders and competitors of the Auckland Sailing Club.
After a fifty-year absence, the 1970s also saw the return of an 18-foot fleet of Western Australian Skiffs, running on the Swan River in Perth.
International interest had gained momentum for a number of years and finally peaked in the 1970s when small fleets were established in the UK and US.
As a result, the JJ Giltinan World Championship also began to take on a more international feel with entries coming for the first time from the United States (1970), United Kingdom (1975), France (1976) and Italy (1979).
The interest and expansion in the 1970s was an exciting time for 18 foot supporters in Australia, but the real highlight was the quality and color of the local races in Australasia, driven by an influx of skippers and champion teams, top sponsors, incredible designers and advancements in building techniques and technology.
Legendary 18ft Australian single scull names such as Iain Murray, John Winning, David Porter, Bob Holmes, Trevor Barnabas, Rob Brown and Hugh Treharne, to name a few, were prominent in the 1970s as as skippers.
Two New Zealand designers, whose designs and innovations have been ‘stars’ over the decade, were the internationally renowned Bruce Farr and Russell Bowler.
In the early 1970s, it was still a period of transition / opinion between the merits of three-way boats versus four-way boats, which were essentially a 1963 “Schemer” flow.
Bob Holmes, who had already won three world titles in the 1970s, and Hugh Treharne, who was runner-up in 1963, preferred to stay with four hands. Treharne was successful in 1970 and Holmes added two more titles to his name in 1971 and 1973.
Despite this success, the writing was on the wall as the new generation of sailors and designers of the 18s definitely had different ideas.
Former Inter-Dominion 12ft Skiff champion David Porter joined the 18 during the 1970-1971 season in a three-handed flying machine designed by John Chapple, named Aussie, which dominated races in Sydney Harbor. Aussie won two races at the 1971 JJ in Auckland, adverse conditions resulted in two retirements which proved too costly in the overall result.
Bruce Farr design started showing its potential with good performances in Auckland in 1971 and then by 1972 the true strength of Farr design was evident as Don Lidgard’s Smirnoff totally dominated the JJ Giltinan World Championship at Waterloo Bay, Brisbane .
Smirnoff’s victory was so dominant that Bob Holmes was an immediate convert for the 1972-1973 season and the 1973 Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbor. Holmes made an additional request to Bruce Farr. He wanted a four-handed design, rather than Farr’s three-handed one.
When Bob Holmes won the 1973 title in the four-handed Travelodge, it was the last four-handed boat to win a Giltinan Championship.
Bruce Farr continued to dominate the scene in Australia and New Zealand with victories for Terry McDell (Travelodge New Zealand in 1974) and David Porter (KB in 1975), before the Iain Murray boats became the next successful model. 18 feet long.
Sandwiched between legendary sailing design gurus and the growing high-tech world at the time were the Kulmar family, who won the JJ Giltinan World Championship in 1976 in a skiff named Miles Furniture. .
Miles Furniture was designed by the Kulmares and built by Les Kulmar (father) in the garage under the family home. Once ready for the race, the two brothers Stephen Kulmar and Paul Kulmar sailed the boat, along with their brother-in-law Paul Ziems, and won the Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbor in 1976.
The next breakthrough in the class came from New Zealander Russell Bowler in 1977 when, after advancing his ideas over the course of a few seasons, he came up with a revolutionary skiff that pioneered a polystyrene core with a construction fiberglass laminate, which would have been a third lighter than plywood boats.
A similar construction was used in the boats the Australians built for the following season, although Iain Murray chose a different combination of materials to produce his future Color 7 hulls.
John Winning’s original Miles Furniture and Pacific Harbor Fiji were the first to introduce small aluminum “wings” to their hulls before Western Australia’s Richard Court took it a step further with the introduction of a sliding frame on Court Yachts.
The Australian 18 Footers League played an important role with its expansion program in the late 1960s and pioneered regattas in California, USA. The club’s next step came in 1978 when it sent a team of champion single sculls to compete in an “Open” world championship in Plymouth, England.
A highlight of the 1970s class was the next huge spectator at the 1979 JJ Giltinan Championship in Sydney Harbor.
Generated by promotional support from the Championship sponsor (Channel 7 TV network), all vantage points around the harbor tidal flats were packed with spectators, while hundreds of spectator-filled boats also followed every minute of the action.
There were so many spectators at the Bradleys Head site that park rangers were forced to close the approach road, and it was estimated that 10,000 people watched the weekend’s races.
It has been a magnificent decade, but like all “highs” it was followed by some lows.
The costs associated with the new technology could not be sustained outside of the Sydney schedule and, with the rapid design changes, the Australian 18ft League had to introduce a ‘one-design hull rule’, which brought about a radical and positive change. At the sports.
Fifty years after the ‘Golden Era’, the Australian 18 Footers League continues to promote its top-level races, highlighted by live broadcasts of all of its races throughout each Australian summer.