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18ft Skiffs: The League's Youth Policy

by Frank Quealey 8 Nov 2023 08:40 GMT
Simon Nearn's Burrawang-Young Henrys leads the fleet earlier this season © SailMedia

The current success of the young talent in the Australian 18 Footers League's 2023-24 season fleet has the club excited about the future of the sport on Sydney Harbour and the prospects of producing more world champion sailors who have graduated through the League's ranks.

Australia's iconic 18 footers have long had a reputation for being one of the most demanding boats to sail at a highly competitive level, but the rewards are great as they help produce some of the best internationally-known sailors, who honed their talent in the Australian 18 Footers League's Sydney Harbour fleet.

Some of the best known are Hugh Treharne (tactician on 1983 America's Cup winning Australia II), Iain Murray AM (skipper of Australia's defender at the 1987 America's Cup, numerous line honours in the Sydney-Hobart race and race management with both America's Cup and SailGP), David Witt (campaign manager of the SHK-Scallywag maxi boat and competitor in the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race) and Adrienne Cahalan OAM (champion yachtswoman and navigator with multi line honours on Wild Oats in the Sydney-Hobart race).

These champions all took advantage of an early grounding in the class.

Hugh Treharne competed for the first time as a 17-year-old when he was runner-up in the 1963 World Championship in Auckland, then won the worlds, Thomas Cameron, on Sydney Harbour seven years later (1970).

Iain Murray won the first of his six world championships as a 17-year-old. David Witt also entered the class at 17 years in 1988, and won the world championship with Tim Robinson in 1999.

Adrienne Cahalan was a 12ft skiff sailor before she came to the 18s in 1988, with Ella Bache sponsorship, and competed successfully in both the League's fleet and on the Grand Prix Sailing national circuit.

Aware of the opportunity the class can give potential Olympic and other international class sailing hopefuls, the Australian 18 Footers League has continually looked for recruits to ensure the future of its fleet while maintaining the link in the chain of international success.

Steve Quigley, the 1996 world 18 footer champion and club Director, saw a need for introducing a youth intake and was active in the early 2000s with bringing new talent into the class. "The Youth development policy is something I'm passionate about and it seems to be paying dividends, and it's encouraging to see our new teams providing youth and enthusiasm and a high level of vitality to the fleet, and generating a good vibe in the boat park."

Three years ago, according to the Australian 18 Footers League Commodore, Simon Nearn, the club formalised a specific program. "The concept we came up with is to have a clear pathway for sailors into the 18 Footers."

"Gone are the days where you have older equipment and work it out as you go, spending as much time fixing gear as sailing the boats. Instead, all the teams have the latest gear and support for all aspects of 18 footer sailing."

"Under the management of sailing manager, Jess Crisp, the Academy runs a pre-season winter program backed up with team support through the year."

"Pulling on the experience of past and present champions, sail makers and high performance coaches, the Academy covers set up and rig tune, boat handling and speed skills, as well as rigging skills and maintenance. A big shout out to those who have given of their time for the next generation 18 sailors."

One of the skippers to benefit from the first Academy, in the Australian winter of 2021, was a 29er Australian champion Henry Larkings, who won two Australian 29er Championships (2017 and 2018) and was the bronze medalist at the 2018 Youth World Championship, in the USA, on his way to joining the 18s in 2021-22.

Henry is full of praise for the League and its youth policy, which has assisted his team over the past two seasons. "The club made it incredibly easy and welcoming, and provided us with a functioning boat and all the gear; even with new sails for the season. It made it enjoyable to come into the class."

"It also supported us by having experienced 18 footer sailors help us to rig up for the first time and take us out on our first sails, and we were thrilled when we got a new 18 from the club."

In the 2023 Academy, the League focused more on introducing female talent into it's 2023-24 season fleet, and the result to date has certainly been encouraging.

The leading graduate is twenty four-year-old Emma Rankin, a five-time national champion in a variety of classes, who is only 163cm tall and weighs just 62kg, but she has already shown everyone that she is up for the challenge, as skipper of Shaw and Partners Financial Services, in the four races sailed so far.

Discussing her time at the Academy, "I was under the guidance of Charlie and Cameron Gundy, and Cameron McDonald in the ways of sailing the 18-foot skiff and I really appreciated their mentoring in the short time I've been sailing the skiff."

"I'm incredibly lucky to have Cameron McDonald and Tom Quigley as crew for my first season and I appreciate Yvette Heritage who connected me with both of these experienced sailors."

"I feel incredibly lucky to have a great crew, a good boat, and the support of the 18-footer League, and I appreciate Yvette Heritage who connected me with these experienced sailors."

Sean Langman began his career in the 18s in the 1994-95 season and in 2006, as Managing Director of Noakes Group, originally introduced Noakes Youth "to assist young people make their way in the world". His daughter Nikki was the first youth co-ordinator.

The original Noakes Youth involvement in the 18s was the 2006-07 season when former 29er world champion, Jacqui Bonnitcha contested the 2007 Giltinan world Championship, against a very strong 32-boat fleet, on Sydney Harbour.

Following that original entry into the youth program, Ash Rooklyn and Kirk Mitchell flew the Noakes Youth flag before Yvette Heritage joined Sean's group as Noakes Blue in 2019-20.

As Yvette explained at the time, "the Noakes Blue theme represents the recreational business side of Noakes, which has an approach of inclusiveness within their business and community."

A real highlight of Sean's incredible nautical career must be the Sydney to Auckland record he and his crew of the 60ft trimaran Team Australia (nicknamed 'Big Bird') set in October 2013. The elapsed time was 2 days 19 hours 2 minutes 45 seconds at an 18.8 knot average speed for the Trans-Tasman ocean crossing.

Aside from his wonderful record of achievement on the water, Sean has always been a person with a positive outlook and an ever-ready willingness to assist talented sailors in their quest to achieve results in keeping with those talents.

Summarising the League's program, Simon Nearn added, "We are very engaged with the 9ers and the Cherub; the new crop of sailors is no coincidence. It's the same path as John 'Herman' Winning, Euan McNicol, Micah Lane, James Dorron, Seve Jarvin and others before them."

"We have been working hard at this. Constant work in progress and we are already talking to the guys bound to the worlds - most of who are already guest sailors in our fleet."

"The results are already starting to come through with the squad of young sailors competing in our fleet, such as Henry Larkings, Emma Rankin and Jacob Marks, etc."

After five races of the League's Spring Championship, and with only one more race (on Sunday week, November 19), The Oak Double Bay-4 Pines, skippered by 16-year-old rookie Jacob Marks, is leading the series on 24 points, ahead of JJ Giltinan world champion John Winning (Yandoo) on 27 points, with Jordan Girdis (Fisher & Paykel) in third place on 28.

In fact Jacob Marks is only one of four recent 'newcomers' to the 18s in the leading six placings.

Fourth placed Henry Larkins (Balmain) is in his third season, fifth placed Nathan McNamara (Smeg) is in his second season, and sixth placed Emma Rankin (Shaw and Partners Financial Services) has sailed only the five races of the Spring Championship in her debut season.

While the Spring Championship will take a one week break this Sunday for a sponsor's race, each of the four young skippers has a 'second-to-none' chance winning Race 6 and becoming the 2023-24 champion, then going on to greater glory.

In the meantime, the League has decided to conduct a spectator ferry for Sunday's sponsor race, leaving Rose Bay Public Wharf at 2pm and, despite a previous announcement, SailMedia's live streaming team will be on the water to catch all the action.

If you can't get out onto Sydney Harbour to see the racing, or make it to Rose Bay for the spectator ferry, you can still come to the League's Bay Street clubhouse and watch it on the big screen.

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