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Black Knight: Team Germany's challenge for the JJ Giltinan Championship

by Frank Quealey 29 Mar 05:42 BST

Since the first regatta in 1938, twenty one countries have been represented by some of their best sailing talent as they attempted to win the world's greatest 18ft skiff championship, the JJ Giltinan World's 18 footer Championship.

So far, only four countries have been successful, Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA, but recently at the 2023 JJ Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbour, two German teams were out to try and make it five.

Heading the German challenge was the Black Knight team of Heinrich von Bayern (skipper), Thomas Martin (sheet) and Andy Martin (bow), who were competing for the third time after previous challenges in 2019 and 2022.

Heinrich has experience in 49ers, Moths and yachts, while Thomas and Andy were in the German 49er squad for five years and have done many international races, with Thomas helming and Andy on the sheet.

All three have been sailing foiling boats, especially Flying Phantoms and Moths, as well as inshore and offshore yachting.

The original challenge was very much a learning experience on unfamiliar harbour conditions in a relatively uncompetitive boat.

Thomas says, "With old material, the speed was limited but the manoeuvres and tactics were promising."

Covid-19 then prevented further attempts in 2020 and 2021 but the team was back in 2022 and mounted a very good performance before a racing accident affected the final races in the regatta and the team was forced to use a borrowed boat to complete the championship.

Despite the accident, the Black Knight team still managed to finish in 11th place overall, in the 25-strong fleet, recording four top eight placings in the eight races they completed.

Following the 2022 challenge, the team purchased a hull from Australia and had it shipped to Germany where it had "much carbon work".

According to Thomas before the 2023 Giltinan Championship, "It is still 14kg overweight but stiff and ready to sail."

On arrival in Sydney the team quickly began training extensively on Sydney Harbour in a borrowed boat (until their boat became available from shipping) in preparation for the regatta, which featured 24 of the best skiff teams in the world.

During the championship, Thomas commented, "The 2023 JJs have been sailed consistently in the first half of the fleet and featured plenty of racing with the best of the best."

"Manoeuvres are probably the best of all the skiffs, but speed is not yet sufficient. The team is the best team with old gear, an old boat and not the latest masts and sails."

After recording five top-10 placings (including three sixth places) in the opening eight races, the Black Knight team sent out an ominous message for the future in the final race of the regatta, when it finished in third place behind only the Australian champion Finport Finance and Giltinan champion Andoo teams, in 12-14 knot South-West wind conditions.

The Black Knight's final placing overall was ninth.

Commenting on the experience, Thomas says, "We're flying in from Germany to race against the best sailors in the world. Nowhere else can we race against fully professionals, ex-Olympians and America's Cup sailors."

"We absolutely love Sydney Harbour. The north-easterly and the southerly winds are the very best conditions for the 18ft skiffs. Jumping over waves is one of the best adrenaline kicks there is and we all come back with big smiles on our faces."

"We have many sailing friends from Bavaria, Germany and the United States cheering for us, watching the races and telling us where we should have tacked. The biggest fan clubs are our home sailing clubs, the Bernauer Segelclub Felden and the Bayerischer Yachclub."

Heinrich, Thomas and Andy are now set to compete against the European fleet of around 20 teams from England, Hungary, Denmark, Netherlands and France, as well as other teams from Germany in Euro GP and other European races.

According to Thomas, "Our current schedule of GPs looks like Ammersee, Germany; Balaton, Hungary; the Italy GP and European Championship at Lake Garda, Italy; Aarhus, Denmark and Southampton, UK."

"There is also an England GP series which features six regattas out of Southampton."

The determination and ability of the Black Knight team, together with the experience it gains each year about the tricky Sydney Harbour conditions, could mean that a fifth nation could soon become a winner at the JJ Giltinan World 18 footer Championship.

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