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18ft Skiffs: Bec Hancock - Tough times don't last – tough people do!

by Frank Quealey 31 Jan 06:29 GMT 31 January 2024

We're told that adversity is continued difficulty, misfortune or unpleasant experiences, and showing the strength to face these adversities often makes the individual more successful.

If that is true then a 'tough' 22-year-old, 158cm tall and weighing 55kg, sailor named Bec Hancock is going to have a good career as a skipper in the Australian 18 Footers League fleet for many seasons to come.

Bec came through the League's Academy in 2023 and is having her rookie season in the 18s as the skipper of Noakes, the latest in a long line of young sailing talent supported, for the past 17 years, by Sean Langman, the Managing Director of Noakes Group.

She is the third young female champion to benefit from Noakes' support. Jacqui Bonnitche was the first in 2006-07, then Yvette Heritage sailed for three seasons, from 2019-20 to 2021-22, inclusive.

It was a rocky start for Bec as the original plan was for her to 'share' the skippering duties with another young skipper and the boat was scheduled to race as a four-hander - in a fleet which races as three-handers.

Immediately, it was obvious that this was not a realistic option and changes had to be made ASAP.

Naturally, results were far from good and it had the obvious effect on her ability to secure a regular crew in the high-performance fleet on Sydney Harbour.

The meaning of the word 'adversity' comes to mind and this is when we began to watch the strength and the commitment of a young sailing talent determined to overcome everything that had been thrown at her and she is coming out the other end with great credit to her character.

Bec recalls, "At the beginning of this season both myself and another young female skipper, Andrea Davey, were sharing skippering duties. Each week we would rotate steering so we would both have equal opportunities to learn and improve."

"Unfortunately, this meant two things: #1 neither of us were able to steer consistently, and #2, as neither of us wanted to give up time on the boat, the logical conclusion was to try sailing with four crew members as opposed to the normal three."

"On paper, this solved a few issues we were facing, including being around 20kg lighter than almost all the other skippers in the boat park."

"However, in reality, having the 4th person proved to be more detrimental than helpful, and without consistent steering we were both left struggling."

"Although the boats seem huge in the boat park, I can confirm they become quite squishy with four people onboard. Not to mention the trouble I have had convincing experienced sailors to not only take a chance on a small, inexperienced female skipper, but on a crew of four. Even after swapping to a team of three and taking on skippering the boat myself, the first half of my season became more focused on people management than sailing. I often found myself walking into the boat park exhausted from simply trying to organise a team through the week."

"This season has definitely not gone according to plan, however I knew going into this experience that the 18ft skiff was going to be my biggest challenge yet. I remember looking up to the 18 sailors as a young girl and dreaming one day I might be able to be one of them, I refuse to let a few setbacks crush my dreams."

"So for me this has never been a short term goal ending after my debut season, I fully intend to continue in the class."

Bec began sailing as a 10-year-old and was quickly accepted onto the NSW Youth Sailing team and won her first state championship, in a Flying 11, as an 11-year-old, then placed 3rd at the nationals. Her success continued in the Flying 11s, winning the all-girls state championships then placing 2nd at the national all-girls as a 16-year-old in 2017.

She moved onto steering a 420 on the NSW Youth Sailing team and competed at her first world championships, in Freemantle, as a 16-year-old. She then again placed 2nd at the all-girls national championships in 2018.

According to Bec, "I started crewing, with skipper Will Cooley, on a Nacra 15 with a scholarship from the NSW Institute of Sport. We were undefeated in the Nacra 15, winning the NSW and two national championships, and we qualified to represent Australia at the Youth World Championships in Poland 2019, at 17-years-old."

"Will and I fought to sail consistently and managed to secure the gold medal before the medal race on the final day of the world championships, topping off our world championship experience by winning the final race."

"Representing Australia on the world stage was truly an unforgettable experience, there are no words to describe how it felt standing on the podium with a gold medal after having worked so hard on and off the water."

"After our World Championship win, Will and I were awarded Australian Youth Sailor of the Year awards and NSW Youth Athlete of the Year in 2019 before I moved into the Nacra 17."

"I launched my Nacra 17 journey by competing at a world championships one month after moving into the Olympic class, then decided to split from the Olympic pathway, focusing instead on my university commitments and building a career outside of sailing."

"I continued to sail in a large assortment of boats, winning both the MG14 and Tasar NSW State Championships in 2021 and eventually sailed on Noakes Blue, skippered by Yvette Heritage in the 2022 annual Queen of the Harbour race."

"Having spent my entire youth looking up to the class and the incredible sailors, the Queen of the Harbour race kicked off my journey into the 18ft skiffs. I have been trying to break into the class since then and this year, with the help and support of the club, I've managed to start my first season in the 18s."

Yvette Heritage, a driving force behind getting female talent into the 18s, recently commented on Bec's challenging start to the season, and points out that the new stability of a regular and more experienced crew has resulted in a better recent performance for Noakes during the early races of the Australian Championship.

Attitude is a critical area for success in any high level sport and 18ft skiff racing on Sydney Harbour is no different. As someone who frequents the Double Bay rigging area on each race day, I can assure everyone that Bec Hancock is 100% hands-on with boat preparation for every race - regardless of the problems she has faced so far.

Racing continues for the 17-boat fleet next Sunday (4 February) when the Australian 18 Footers League conducts Shaw and Partners Race 4 of the Australian Championship. If the early weather forecast comes true, and an 18knot North-East wind prevails, then the action will come thick, fast and furious for the fleet, and spectators will be the big winners.

After the first three races, Yandoo, which has had three different skippers due to the injury of John Winning, leads the points table with a total of four points, following her two wins and one second placing. Rag & Famish Hotel has shown the benefit from the return of her regular skipper, Harry Price, and is in second place with a total of nine points, just one ahead of Andoo, John Winning Jr.

The consistent Vaikobi (Kirk Mitchell) is fourth on 12 points, followed by Smeg (Nathan McNamara) on 20, Balmain (Henry Larkings) 21, The Kitchen Maker (Lachlan Steel) 25, defending champion Finport Finance (Keagan York) 26, The Oak Double Bay-4 Pines (Jacob Marks) 27 and Marine Outlet (John Cooley) on 28 points rounding out the top ten placings - pre discard.

The League's spectator ferry will follow the action, leaving Double Bay Public Wharf at 2.15pm. Tickets are available 18footers.com/18-footer-racing/spectator-ferry

If you can't get out onto Sydney Harbour, you can still watch the SailMedia Livestream camera cat coverage of all the racing action here:

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