18ft Skiffs: Remembering the “Ocean Challenge”

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18ft Skiffs: Remembering the “Ocean Challenge”

by Frank Quealey Jan 7, 2020 9:24 PM PST
January 13, 1985

Tia Maria and Chesty Bond and the spectator fleet as the skiffs cross the Heads towards Sydney Harbor – The Ocean Challenge © Frank Quealey

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Chesty Bond swell at sea – The Ocean Challenge © Frank Quealey

When the 2019-2020 season of the Australian 18 Footers League resumes its races on Sunday 12 January, it will be 35 years since the club celebrated its 50th anniversary in January 1985 by hosting a unique event, which produced, by way of a final , one of the most spectacular 18-foot single scull races in the sport’s more than 125-year history.

The regatta, “The State Bank Gold Cup”, took place on the weekends of January 5 and 6, and January 12 and 13 and brought in a total prize of $ 7,500 as well as a gold cup in the race. winner.

There were seven races in the event. The first six races were held on specially designed courses in Sydney Harbor. The prize for the top six in these races was $ 5,500.

The final race, The Ocean Challenge, was undoubtedly the highlight of the series.

With a prize of $ 2,000 up for grabs, 19 boats lined up for the Le Mans-style start on the Pittwater side of Palm Beach.

The skippers had to run to their boats, which were kept ready by the other two crew members, sail around the Palm Beach headland, set out to sea, then head south along the shore to the “Heads”. at the opening of Sydney Harbor.

Once inside the harbor, the 18 were to run to the finish line, located east of the Sydney Opera House.

It was the first 18-foot single-scull ocean race ever and it went with all the fanfare expected from such a unique competition.

Sponsored by the State Bank of New South Wales of the Government of New South Wales, the departure followed a spectacular air show over the waters of Palm Beach. Local television covered the festivities with pre-race interviews, helicopter coverage as the skiffs descended the coast, on the 26-mile course, and in Sydney Harbor to the finish line.

For the day to be a complete success, all that was needed was a perfect north-easterly wind to push the skiffs along the coast at full speed.

When the starter returned the fleet, the organizers’ prayers were answered as the breeze was 15-18 knots northeast.

The fleet included some of the biggest names in the history of 18ft Skiff Racing in Australia, including six world champions JJ Giltinan: Trevor Barnabas (Chesty Bond), Julian Bethwaite (Prime Computer), Peter Sorensen (Tia Maria), Robert Brown Bradmill), John Winning (Flora Margarine) and Michael Walsh (Stubbies).

Bradmill, Chesty Bond and Tia Maria were the three best skiffs this season. Along with Anthony Scali’s Nick Scali Furniture, they were the leaders as the fleet crossed the tip of Barrenjoey, set up their spinnakers and headed south towards Sydney Harbor.

Once out of the headland, Bradmill stayed close to shore, Chesty Bond was further from shore, and Tia Maria was even further offshore.

According to Chesty Bond skipper, Trevor Barnabas, “We had our No. 3 rig while Tia Maria had her bigger No. 2 rig”.

“Our tactic was to set the spinnaker as soon as we had passed Barrenjoey Point. Tia Maria, with the larger rig, set to sea before putting on a wire luff spinnaker.”

Little broke this lead group apart before Bradmill broke his Collaroy rudder, leaving Chesty Bond and Tia Maria arguing for the lead.

Because she was closer to shore, the Chesty Bond crew had moments of anxiety in unfamiliar waters.

Barnabas said, “We didn’t know the depth, or if there were any rocks or shallows sticking out, and at one point we weren’t sure we could clear Long Reef.”

“Luckily the breeze calmed down a bit and by keeping the boat heeled we were able to free it. We all heaved a sigh of relief once we could see the bottom beneath us.”

“Despite Long Reef’s nerves, it was the most exciting race of my life.”

“A seasoned yachting identity, Bill Buckle later told us he estimated our average speed on the 26-foot-wide wings to be around 20 knots.”

Despite the speed of the ride, there was yet another hurdle for the Chesty Bond team to overcome.

Once again, Barnabas and his team were worried. “We weren’t going to clear North Head, but as we got closer the breeze calmed down a bit and we were able to clear the cliffs again.”

A large group of spectator boats waited for the fleet to arrive at Heads in Sydney Harbor, and they weren’t disappointed when Tia Maria and Chesty Bond arrived with only a few boat lengths separating them.

The NE wind meant it would be a spinnaker coming down into the harbor, but both teams would have to jibe several times in a match race style battle to secure the victory.

Tia Maria’s team released the luff spinnaker and switched to the n ° 2 normal spinnaker for the harbor race.

By the time the two skiffs met, Tia Maria was two steps ahead of Chesty Bond.

Tia Maria, with her # 2 rig, had the biggest sails, which was the right rig for the spinnsker coming down from the harbor to the finish line just east of the Sydney Opera House.

Barnabas recalls: “Tia Maria was the first to jibe to enter the harbor. We chose to stay on course a little longer because the breeze was weaker under North Head.

“When we jibed we had made a gain and were now ahead of Tia Maria as we prepared for the race to the finish.”

“We knew Peter Sorensen didn’t like to be covered, so when we got close to the first cross we jibed in front of him. He only passed us in the wind, which he didn’t. could do because we luffed it. ”

Despite the sail area disadvantage, the Chesty Bond crew were able to stay between Tia Maria and the finish line as the two skiffs raced almost side by side the entire length of the harbor – from Heads to Sydney opera.

Barnabas added: “Phil (listening hand) and Adam (bow) sailed flawlessly, and together we were able to jibe and pick shifts to stay ahead of Tia Maria all the way down to the finish line. , where it was barely 8-10 knots. ”

When asked how the Chesty Bond team managed to contain Tia Maria in the light winds near the finish line, Barnabas replied: “Both boats were on starboard tack and still had to jibe twice to cross. the finish line.”

“When Tia Maria gybed we decided not to jibe ahead of her because we thought we would be rolled in the light breeze.”

“We kept starboard tack then gybed to port so that the final jibe was closer to the finish line. We were able to complete our final jibe and cross the finish line just ahead of Tia Maria.

Incredibly, after 1:43:15 and 26 miles of ocean racing at full speed along the coast, followed by a spinnaker match in Sydney Harbor, the Chesty Bond crew consisting of Trevor Barnabas, Phil Barnett and Adam South took top honors just one second behind Tia Maria. team of Peter Sorensen, David ‘Big Kite’ Stephens and Mark Peelgrane.

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