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Back when the USA was fast

Published on March 4th, 2022

In the absence of an official world championship, the JJ Giltinan Championship is the highest honor for the 18-foot skiff class. The 2022 edition on March 5-13 brings together 25 teams on Sydney Harbor to make their mark in the 84-year history of the world’s premier 18-Footer championship.

It’s rare for the winner’s circle to extend beyond the Southern Hemisphere, and it has been some time since US sailor Howard ‘Howie’ Hamlin was a regular competitor at the JJ Giltinan. But for 21 consecutive years between 1996 and 2017, Hamlin led teams to become one of only three Northern Hemisphere skippers to win the coveted trophy.

With the other wins coming from the United Kingdom, Hamlin was the only one of the three to become a multiple champion when he won back-to-back in 2002 and 2003 with his GE-US Challenge skiff beneath her ‘stars-and-stripes’ spinnaker.

After six previous attempts in locally chartered, since his first in 1996, Hamlin and his team of Mike Martin and Trevor Baylis broke through in their GE-US Challenge skiff to narrowly win the 2002 JJ Giltinan Championship by two points from defending champion John Harris’ Rag & Famish Hotel.

The regatta was very ‘open’ with five different race winners and only two teams winning twice. In the end, it all came down to the final leg of the course in the final race. Hamlin had to beat Rag & Famish Hotel by two places to take his first 18 footer ‘world’ title.

After an epic struggle with Tony Hannan’s Bell Partners, Hamlin managed to put Bell Partners between his GE-US Challenge and The Rag and became the 2002 champion.

The following year, Hamlin with Mike Martin and Rod Howell won the title in the same GE-US Challenge skiff, and this time it was even closer than the 2002 victory.

Following one of the closest regattas in the long history of the championship, Hamlin didn’t realize that he had won but his team had defeated Rob Greenhalgh’s RMW Marine by just 0.35 of a point.

During the regatta, three of the seven races were won by just 1 second. Going into the final race Hamlin’s team would have to win or finish second and series leader, RMW Marine would need to have her worst race finish of the regatta.

It became a thrilling and dramatic final race. As the fleet rounded the final mark and headed on the last, short windward leg to the finish, Hamlin’s GE-US Challenge was in second place, behind Tony Hannan’s Total Recall, which had led for most of the race.

RMW Marine was in fourth place, which was enough to give Greenhalgh’s team victory in the championship, but a disappointing last leg saw RMW Marine being passed by Hugh Stodart’s Express Post and Michael Coxon’s Casio Seapathfinder. GE-US retained her second position and RMWs likely victory was gone.

Howie Hamlin

During his 18 footer career, Hamlin won a total of 15 major championships in Australia, USA and Europe. His victories were:

JJ Giltinan 18 Footers Championship
2002 GE-US Challenge, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trevor Baylis
2003 GE-US Challenge, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Rod Howell

Mark Foy Trophy
2015 Harken, Howard Hamlin, Scott Babbage, Peter Harris

San Francisco International
2002 General Electric, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Andy Zinn
2005 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trent Barnabas
2006 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trent Barnabas
2007 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Paul Allen
2009 Harken, Howard Hamlin, Matt Noble, Paul Allen
2011 CST, Howard Hamlin, Matt Noble, Paul Allen

European Championship
2000 US Challenge, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Andy Zinn
2005 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trent Barnabas
2006 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trent Barnabas
2007 Pegasus, Howard Hamlin, Mike Martin, Trent Barnabas
2013 CST, Howard Hamlin, Scott Babbage, Peter Harris
2015 Harken, Howard Hamlin, Scott Babbage, Peter Harris

Aside from his marvelous 18 footer achievements in a wonderful career, Hamlin is a world class sailor and considered to be one of the best high performance dinghy and skiff sailors.

His record in the 5O5 class is outstanding. Hamlin won the 1999 5O5 world championship at Quiberon, France and was also runner-up eight times. We was also eight times 5O5 North American champion, and in 2006 was both world and North American International 14 champion.

Hamlin is quick to point out that he was very fortunate to have the services of Mike Martin for the majority of championship his 18 footer career and three-times JJ Giltinan world 18 footer champion Euan McNicol in his International 14.

Hamlin’s presence, performance and professionalism are now missed each year at the Giltinan world Championship but, hopefully, it won’t be too long before there is another US representative in the world’s most prized 18ft Skiff championship.

Whenever it happens, it will take a mighty performance for that individual to surpass the great Howie Hamlin.

The 2022 JJ Giltinan Championship will be sailed on Sydney Harbour, from March 5-13.

Race dates are:
March 5 – Race 1, George Calligeros Trophy
March 6 – Race 2, Cliff Monkhouse Memorial Trophy
March 8 – Race 3, Alan Cole Memorial Trophy
March 9 – Races 4 & 5, A.J. Reynolds Trophy
March 10 – Races 6 & 7, Bill Miller Memorial Trophy
March 12 – Race 8, Big Kite Memorial Trophy
March 13 – Race 9

Source: Frank Quealey, Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.

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