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18ft Skiffs: Team Barnabas

by Frank Quealey 1 May 2023 07:11 BST
Trent and Trevor on Omega Smeg-2UE in the 1990s © Frank Quealey

For the past 45 years in Australia, the name Barnabas has been at, or near, the top of 18ft skiff championship point scores and has produced a total of eleven World, six Australian and five international 18 footer victories for Trevor Barnabas, and his son Trent.

Trevor and Trent were only the second father and son to both win the Giltinan World Championship, since it was first sailed in 1938.

Don Barnett (1967) and his son Phil became the first in 1987 when Phil won the first of his three championships. Trevor and Trent Barnabas became the first, and only, father and son to win the championship as part of the same crew, in 1997.

It all began in the 1979-80 season when Trevor joined the 18s ranks with the support of the Bonds clothing company and raced the first of five Chesty Bond skiffs until the end of the 1987-88 season.

Prior to his entry into the 18s, Trevor sailed at the Manly 16ft skiff club where he dominated the 16 footer class and won three consecutive Australian Championships, from 1976-77 to 1978-79 inclusive. In the 1978-79 season, his Buckle Toyota-sponsored team was undefeated.

Unfortunately for Trevor, his entry into the 18s coincided with the incredible run of victories for the legendary Iain Murray-led Color 7 team between 1978 and 1982, inclusive.

Following the retirement of the Color 7 team at the end of the 1981-82 season, the three skippers (Barnabas, Peter Sorensen and Rob Brown) who had spent so many seasons in the wake of Murray, and his Color 7 team, began a no-holds-barred competition to take over the sport's top spot.

Peter Sorensen realised the importance of Andrew (Bucko) Buckland to the Color 7 team and immediately signed him for the crew of his Tia Maria skiff. The move proved to be a winner for Sorensen when he won both the 1983 and 1984 World Championships.

In January 1985, The Australian 18 Footers League celebrated its 50th Anniversary by staging a unique event which produced, as its finale, one of the most spectacular 18ft Skiff races in the sports history, 'The Ocean Challenge'.

From a 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 opening to Sydney Harbour then race to the finish line, which was positioned east of the Sydney Opera House.

Incredibly, after 1hr43m15s and 26 miles of top speed ocean racing down the coast, followed by a spinnaker match race in Sydney Harbour, Chesty Bond's team of Trevor Barnabas, Phil Barnett and Adam South grabbed a 1sec victory from the Peter Sorensen-led Tia Maria team.

The Chesty Bond team also won the $2,000 prizemoney that went to the victor.

Trevor Barnabas and his team then won the 1985-86 Australian Championship, but had to wait as Rob Brown won both the 1985 and 1986 World Championships, before Barnabas finally won the first of his five victories, in the world's major championship, in 1987.

For the first time in its history, the 1987 World Championship was staged on the Swan River, Perth. Due to many classes contesting their nationals on the same area, race times were allotted to the host clubs to prevent congestion, and the 18s were allocated four early morning start times.

Trevor believed he would need a big mast to take full advantage of the expected light winds in the morning-start races. The result was a #1 mast on Chesty Bond, which measured an incredible 45ft above the waterline. It was the tallest single mast ever carried on an 18ft skiff.

True to form, Chesty Bond won the two earlier start races and Rob Brown's Goodman Fielder won the three afternoon races, before another morning start in what was a controversial race six.

The race began shifty and light for half the course before a sea breeze arrived and built fast, causing a reshuffle of placings and some dramas as crews battled to keep their vastly over-canvassed boats upright.

Chesty Bond grabbed the lead and won the race comfortably. Goodman Fielder was back in the pack and failed to finish after capsizing on the final reach.

It appeared that Chesty Bond had won the championship with a race to spare but the Goodman Fielder team entered a protest against another competitor and was awarded average points equivalent to better than a second placing, and the championship race between Chesty Bond and Goodman Fielder was back on again.

The last race was again light and shifty. This time Chesty Bond took the lead immediately and set up an incredible lead over the rest of the fleet before finishing with a winning margin of more than ten minutes. Goodman Fielder was only able to finish in tenth place.

In 1988, the World Championship was conducted under a complicated set of rules relating to the use of sails, and what was deemed to be a new sail, and once again protests created tension and drama between the Barnabas and Brown teams.

Barnabas had lodged a protest against Brown, who 'won' the championship narrowly on points.

After losing the protest, Barnabas lodged an appeal against the decision and the committee upheld the appeal. Their decision granted Chesty Bond and every other boat in the fleet redress, which moved Chesty Bond up to equal first. For the one-and-only time in its history, the World Championship had joint champions.

At the end of the 1987-88 season, both Barnabas and Brown took a break from the 18s.

Trevor went back to the 16ft skiffs, which he sailed on Saturdays, and raced with young Trent each Sunday on a Flying Eleven.

When Trent became old enough to sail on an 18ft skiff in 1994-95, Trevor came out of 'retirement' and the pair began to sail one of the new-style boats, which the Australian 18 Footers League had introduced in 1993.

Team Barnabas began to take shape when Trevor and Trent, along with Rod Howell, won three consecutive JJ Giltinan world Championships in the Omega Smeg-2UE-sponsored skiff.

Although Trevor didn't win another world Championship before he retired in 2004, Trent picked up the baton and won three more JJ Giltinan world Championships, one with Euan McNicol in 2009 and two with Michael Coxon, in 2017 and 2021.

Trent's 2021 victory was in a skiff sponsored by Smeg, which was the same sponsor when Trent won his first victory back in 1997.

Trent's ability was undoubted and he was always in demand by leading skippers. Howie Hamlin, of the USA, was one who engaged Trent to sail with him in major championship and this resulted in two victories at the San Francisco International Regatta (Pegasus in 2005 and 2006) and three at the European Championship, again in Pegasus in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

After winning the 2021 Giltinan world Championship in 2021, Trent decided to retire from racing the 18s and his son Zac took over in the bow of Smeg, which finished sixth at the 2022 JJs.

Other sporting commitments have prevented Zac from continuing his 18s career, for the moment, but hopefully he will come back at some time in the near future to keep the Barnabas name alive in the 18 footer class.

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