Please select your home edition
Zhik 2020 AnneMarieRindom LEADERBOARD
Product Feature
Zhik Superwarm V Skiff Suit and Tops
Zhik Superwarm V Skiff Suit and Tops
Boat Insurance from Noble Marine

Full racing risks
New for old cover

18ft Skiffs: Remembering 'the Ocean Challenge'

by Frank Quealey 8 Jan 05:24 GMT 13 January 1985
Tia Maria and Chesty Bond and the spectator fleet as the skiffs come through the Heads to Sydney Harbour - The Ocean Challenge © Frank Quealey

When the Australian 18 Footers League's 2019-2020 Season resumes racing on Sunday, January 12, it will be 35 years since the club celebrated its 50th Anniversary in January 1985 by staging a unique event, which produced, as its finale, one of the most spectacular 18ft Skiff races in the sport's more than 125-year history.

The regatta, 'The State Bank Gold Cup', was conducted over the weekends of January 5 & 6, and 12 & 13, and carried total prizemoney of $7,500 as well as a gold cup to the winner.

There were seven races in the event. The first six races were sailed over specially designed courses on Sydney Harbour. Prizemoney for the top six place-getters in those races was $5,500.

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

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

Skippers had to run to their boats, which were being held ready by the other two crew members, sail around the Palm Beach headland, go to sea, then head south along the shoreline to the 'Heads' at the opening to Sydney Harbour.

Once inside the harbour, the 18s had to race to the finish line, which was positioned east of the Sydney Opera House.

It was the first ocean-going 18ft Skiff race ever staged and came with all the fanfare expected from such a unique contest.

Sponsored by the NSW Government's State Bank of New South Wales, the start followed a spectacular air display over the waters at Palm Beach. Local television covered the festivities with pre-race interviews, helicopter coverage as the skiffs raced down the coast, over the 26-mile course, and down Sydney Harbour to the finish line.

All that was needed to make the day a total success was a perfect North-East wind to push the skiffs down the coast at top speed.

When the starter sent the fleet away, the organisers' prayers were answered as the breeze was 15-18 knots from the North-East.

The fleet included some of the greatest names in the history of 18ft Skiff Racing in Australia, including six JJ Giltinan (world) champions: 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 top skiffs of that season. Along with Anthony Scali's Nick Scali Furniture, they were the leaders as the fleet cleared Barrenjoey headland, set their spinnakers and headed south towards Sydney Harbour.

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

According to Chesty Bond's skipper, Trevor Barnabas, "We had our #3 rig on while Tia Maria had her bigger #2 rig."

"Our tactics were to set the spinnaker as soon as we cleared the Barrenjoey headland. Tia Maria, with the larger rig, headed out to sea before setting a wire luff spinnaker."

Little separated this leading group before Bradmill broke her rudder off Collaroy, leaving Chesty Bond and Tia Maria to vie for the lead.

Because she was closer to the shore, Chesty Bond's crew had some anxious moments in the unfamiliar waters.

Barnabas says, "We didn't know the depth, or if there were rocks, or shallows that stuck out, and at one stage we weren't confident about clearing Long Reef."

"Fortunately, the breeze eased slightly and, keeping the boat heeled, we were able to clear it. We all breathed a sigh of relief once we could see the bottom under us."

"Despite the nerves off Long Reef, it was the most thrilling ride of my life."

"Experienced yachting identity, Bill Buckle told us later that he estimated our average speed on the 26ft wide wings was around 20 knots."

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

Once again, Barnabas and his team were concerned. "We weren't going to clear North Head, but as we approached it, the breeze lightened a little and again we managed to be able to clear the cliffs."

A large group of spectator craft was waiting for the fleet to arrive at the Heads into Sydney Harbour, and they weren't disappointed when Tia Maria and Chesty Bond arrived with just a couple of boat-lengths separating them.

The NE wind meant that it was going to be a spinnaker run down the harbour, but both teams would have to gybe several times in a match race-style battle to get the victory.

Tia Maria's team dropped the wire luff spinnaker and changed to the normal #2 spinnaker for the harbour run.

As the two skiffs met, Tia Maria held a two boatlengths lead over Chesty Bond.

Tia Maria, with her #2 rig, had the bigger sails, which was the correct rig for the spinnsker run down the harbour to the finish line just east of the Sydney Opera House.

Barnabas recalls, "Tia Maria was the first to gybe to enter the harbour. We chose to stay on our course a bit longer because the breeze was lighter under North Head."

"When we gybed, we had made a gain and were now in front of Tia Maria as we prepared for the run to the finish."

"We knew Peter Sorensen didn't like being covered so, when we approached the first cross, we gybed in front of him. His only was past us was to windward, which he couldn't do because we luffed him."

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 down the entire length of the harbour - from the Heads to the Sydney Opera House.

Barnabas added, "Phil (sheet hand) and Adam (bow) sailed faultlessly, and together we were able to gybe and pick the shifts to stay ahead of Tia Maria all the way down the harbour to the finish line, where it was barely 8-10 knots."

Asked how the Chesty Bond team managed to hold off Tia Maria in the light air near the finish line, Barnabas said, "Both boats were on starboard tacks and still needed to gybe twice to cross the finish line."

"When Tia Maria gybed, we decided not to gybe in front of her as we thought we would get rolled in the light breeze."

"We kept on the starboard tack then gybed onto port so the final gybe would be closer to the finish line. We were able to complete our final gybe and crossed the finish line just ahead of Tia Maria."

Incredibly, after 1hr 43m 15s and 26 miles of top speed ocean racing down the coast, followed by a spinnaker match race down Sydney Harbour, Chesty Bond's crew of Trevor Barnabas, Phil Barnett and Adam South grabbed the honours by just one second from Tia Maria's team of Peter Sorensen, David 'Big Kite' Stephens and Mark Peelgrane.

Related Articles

18ft Skiff Australian Championship day 4
Two spectacular wins by Tech2 on Sydney Harbour Two spectacular wins by Jack Macartney, Charlie Wyatt and Trent Barnabas on Tech2 in Races 6 and 7 of the Australian 18ft Skiff Championship on Sydney Harbour has given the team a nine points lead in the series with just two more races to be contested. Posted on 16 Feb
18ft Skiff Australian Championship day 3
Race 5 abandoned Winds in excess of 35 knots, which battered Sydney waters all day, forced the Australian 18 Footers League to abandon Race 5 of the Australian 18ft Skiff Championship, which was scheduled to be contested on Sydney Harbour today. Posted on 9 Feb
Historic 18 Footer Australian Championship overall
Nine skiffs contest the Galloping Ghost Trophy The 2020 Historic 18 Footer Australian Championship for the Galloping Ghost Trophy was conducted by the Sydney Flying Squadron in conjunction with the Australian Historical Sailing Skiff Association (AHSSA), on Sydney Harbour over 3 races Posted on 8 Feb
18ft Skiff Australian Championship day 2
Smeg team record a double victory on Sydney Harbour The Smeg team of Micah Lane, Ricky Bridge and Peter Harris recorded a double victory on Sydney Harbour today when they scored two come-from-behind wins in Races 3 and 4 of the Australian 18ft Skiff Championship. Posted on 2 Feb
18ft Skiff Australian Championship day 1
Finport Finance team totally dominate the racing The Finport Finance team of Keagan York, Matt Stenta and David Ewings totally dominated the racing in a 8-12 knots SSE wind to lead the fleet after the two-race opening day. Posted on 19 Jan
18ft Skiff NSW Championship overall
Tech2 showed that the Winning Group may have a tougher battle ahead The Winning Group team of John Winning Jr., Seve Jarvin and Sam Newton didn't start in today's final race of the NSW Championship as the team had already won the title but today's winner Tech2 showed that the Winning Group may have a tougher battle ahead. Posted on 12 Jan
18ft Skiff NSW Championship Race 4
Smeg sailed beautifully in 12-16 knot NE wind to take the win The Smeg crew of Micah Lane, Ricky Bridge and Peter Mackie sailed beautifully in the 12-16 knot NE wind to take out Race 4 of the NSW Championship, but it was the second-placed Winning Group which has wrapped up the championship Posted on 15 Dec 2019
18ft Skiff Supercup on Sydney Harbour
Eight former JJ Giltinan champions and other top 'guest' skippers race The Australian 18 Footers League conducted the second 'Supercup' on Sydney harbour this evening when they invited eight former JJ Giltinan (world) champions as well as several other top names from the world of 18ft Skiff Racing to become guest skippers. Posted on 13 Dec 2019
Vaikobi and the 18 footers
Vaikobi have just launched new 18 foot skiff Vaikobi have just launched our new 18 foot skiff in partnership with our friends from Shaw and Partners Financial Services. The skiff has an awesome team of James Dorron, Harry Bethwaite and Tim Westwood, who are the current Champions. Posted on 11 Dec 2019
18ft Skiff NSW Championship Race 3
Winning Group went into today's race on Sydney Harbour as a hot favourite After two outstanding wins in the first two races of the NSW 18ft Skiff Championship, Winning Group went into today's Race 3 on Sydney Harbour as a hot favourite to extend her lead in the championship Posted on 8 Dec 2019