Julian Bethwaite has an incredible record of achievement in 18ft Skiff Racing as a designer, builder and competitor in the northern and southern hemispheres.
He designed, built and skippered two JJ Giltinan world championship winning boats, the AAMI in 1991 and 1992, and has the unique record of also being at the bow with Rob Brown’s 1996 world champion Giltinan, Entrad, in Auckland, New Zealand in 1986.
Since he retired from 18 years his design skills have continued to innovate and he is the man responsible for his 49er design being the one who introduced single scull racing to the Olympics in 2000.
Julian is the youngest member of one of Australia’s most successful sailing families. His father (the late) Frank was a prolific designer and authority on wind models, his brother Mark was a two-time Olympian and world champion in J24 and Solings. Her sister, Nicki was multiple world champion and in 1976 won the Cherub world championship with Julian. She also represented Australia at the 1988 and 2004 Olympics.
The first 18 foot single scull that Julian designed and built for himself was Bradmill Stubbies for the 1979-1980 season. It featured a rotating platform, had a 10 foot beam (extreme for those pre-sail days), and was constructed of styrofoam and epoxy. It was a rare “failure” for the talented designer, who commented “it was an interesting learning curve”.
A follow-up Bradmill, for the 1980-1981 season, was much more conventional. It was constructed from a Kevlar-foam sandwich and featured fender extensions, which had been introduced in the 18’s.
A huge change occurred for the 18s during the 1982-1983 season when Julian designed and skipped the first of his two-handed Prime Computer skiffs, although the boat had to compete in all major championships with a three-man crew. to conform to the 18 foot single scull. Class rules.
The boat was an elongated version of Frank Bethwaite’s Taser dinghy and was built in a fiberglass foam sandwich. It only had two rigs (compared to the four used on the other 18) and cost around thirty percent of the money spent on the top 18 at the time.
Prime Computer (Mk II) followed in 1983-1984. This hull was constructed from glued laminated balsa on a male mold and adopted the new style of bowsprit mast, which had just replaced the conventional masts used previously.
Bethwaite, with teammate Michael Wilson, proved to be very competitive, especially in winds below 12 knots, and finished sixth (including a race victory) at the 1984 JJ Giltinan World Championship in Sydney Harbor. .
The success of Prime Computer (Mk II) led to the construction of one (Mk III) for the following season. This hull had an even thinner entry than the previous design, and was constructed from glulam balsa, sealed with S glass.
According to Bethwaite, “It was ridiculously light (45kg, not including fittings and fenders) and had 1mm plane ply frames.”
12-footer single scull champion Craig Ramsden made his debut in the 18-year-old as a main for’ard on the single scull, which finished sixth at the JJ Giltinan and Australian Championships. Unfortunately for the team, the ever-increasing wing width on the three-handers reduced the competitiveness of the two-handers.
At the end of the 1983-1984 season, the class banned both hands, so Julian decided to join Rob Brown and Matt Coleman in the Entrad team, which won the 1986 JJ Giltinan Championship in Auckland.
Julian’s B18 designs from the late 1980s to early 1990s totally revolutionized the 18 foot Skiff Racing design. Massive sponsorships, multiple rigs and “big” hulls became unnecessary as Bethwaite hulls dominated racing in traditional and Grand Prix sailing fleets.
In 1990 Brian Keane, Managing Director of AAMI Insurance Company, wanted his company to be associated with such an iconic Australian sport as 18ft Skiff Racing, and was introduced to Julian, who had just built his last single scull. The pair immediately formed a wonderfully successful team, both on and off the water.
The success was instantaneous. Bethwaite and his team won the JJ Giltinan title in 1991 and Julian is quick to point out “we finished first or second in every event this season and won the Grand Prix Sailing TV series with an event to spare”.
A new AAMI single scull was launched for the following season and won the 1992 Giltinan Championship, giving Julian his second victory, as a skipper, in the first championship.
With another new AAMI built for the 1992-1993 season, Julian won the Grand Prix sailing circuit and then sailed as Scott Ramsden’s assistant on AAMI in GPS 1993-1994 before retiring from 18 years due to increasing work commitments related to its 49er class. design.
Following the League’s decision to go for a new Iain Murray design for all future boats, Julian decided to focus on the European scene, and by the mid-1990s, Starboard Products of the Bethwaite family were building B18s for compete in European Championship events.
Julian had advanced his 18 foot design in the 1990s to the Nokia Grand Prix, then to the pinnacle, the Looney Tunes design.
Looney Tunes, which Julian built for a Hong Kong-based skipper named Robin Johnson, featured strong fenders and a triangular mainsail to exert more downward pressure from the mast to the boom.
According to Julian, “Looney Tunes had a lot of innovative things that then went into the 49er. “
While Julian has turned 18, he still has a keen interest in club races and regularly follows them from a harbor side vantage point watching his son Harry compete.
Like dad, Harry Bethwaite is also a winner, having teamed up with James Dorron and Trent Barnabas in Asko Appliances to win the 2018-19 Australian Championship.
– Frank Quealey