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Expert coverage for 73rd JJ Giltinan

Published on February 22nd, 2023

The evolution of the 18ft Skiff Class has had massive impact on the global sport, yet the competition remains mainly in Sydney, Australia. Each year, the summer schedule culminates with the JJ Giltinan Championship, the unofficial World Championship for this triple-handed speedster.

Since 1938, the JJ Giltinan has attracted 21 countries to prove they are the best, with the storied history of this event to gain another chapter in 2023 when the 73rd edition is held March 4-12 in Sydney Harbor. Sharing the action will be Sail Media livestream coverage with the insightful comments of Andrew Buckland (above, center) who once upon a time was sharpening the pointy end of the class.

Buckland not only ‘talks-the-talk’ on the livestream coverage, he definitely ‘walked-the-walk’ on his way to winning seven JJ Giltinan 18ft Skiff Championships as well as numerous other national and international 18ft Skiff events in Australasia, USA, and the United Kingdom.

It was the legendary 18-footer champion Iain Murray who obviously first saw Bucklands’s talent when he recruited him to join the Color 7 racing team for the 1977-78 season.

Together with skipper Murray and for’ard hand Don Buckley, sheet hand ‘Bucko’ formed an incredible team in the famous Color 7 skiffs, and the trio were unbeatable as they won every major championship regatta between 1977-78 and 1981-82, inclusive, when the team disbanded upon Murray’s retirement from the 18s.

During the five seasons the Color 7 team were together, the three members were responsible for the design, construction, and development of all aspects of the boats, as well as ‘packaging’ of many 18ft skiffs for their rival competitors and sponsors.

The 1975 JJ Giltinan World Champion David Porter, considered one of the greatest 18 Footer sailors in the sport’s history, noted Buckland’s sailmaking skills. “It seems to be the cut in these mainsails more than the quality of the cloth. Everyone is copying these sails, but no one seems to have discovered the clue to their power and drive.”

Peter Sorensen, who had been one of the team’s main challengers over the entire five seasons, like Porter, saw the value of Buckland’s overall 18 footer knowledge, as well as his obvious skill as a competitor, and quickly signed him as sheet hand on Tia Maria for the 1982-83 season.

The return to Sorensen was instant and gave ‘Soro’ the first of his two World 18 footer titles in 1983. When Tia Maria won the worlds again in 1984 it gave Buckland his seventh World 18 footer championship, which was the most by any 18 footer sailor until Seve Jarvin passed that mark, when he won his eighth title in 2015.

During Buckland’s ‘period of influence’, there was an incredible amount of change in the class – more than at any other period in the 131-year 18 footer history, to 2023.

It began with the virtual termination of the use of timber in hull construction in 1977-78 and continued with the introduction of a sliding frame to increase leverage, which was immediately superseded by the ‘wings’ style which are still used on the hulls of today.

Sliding and fixed spinnaker poles, two-handed 18ft skiffs and ‘pencil’ hulls, which followed and, by the end of the 1980s, a whole new type of hull began to emerge.

Aside from Buckland’s sail design superiority throughout the dominant Color 7 era, and beyond, he was also a student of everything that could make an 18 footer go even faster.

In 1983, Buckland re-designed the rig on the 18s to eliminate spinnaker poles altogether.

According to Buckland, “It came to me while sailing on Peter Sorensen’s Tia Maria in 1982-83. While watching the pole almost on the forestay all the time, I began to realize that the pole wasn’t necessary at all.”

He replaced it and its weight, and complicated rigging, with a bowsprit.

For running, an asymmetrical single-luff spinnaker was flown with the leach about 1m shorter and the luff about 1m longer than the previous double-luff spinnaker.

Julian Bethwaite adopted Buckland’s pole-less spinnaker and used a 3m aluminum bowsprit permanently attached and stayed to the bow of his 2-handed Prime Computer skiff in 1983-84.

Bethwaite’s 2-handed skiff, built from a core of planked balsa wood, sandwiched in S-Glass and saturated with WEST System epoxy resin, performed well against the traditional 3-handers and won a heat of the 1984 worlds on Sydney Harbor.

Buckland saw what the 2-handed Prime Computer achieved and rationalized that two pairs of hands were never enough to race an 18, but the lighter displacement of the 2-hander concept was certainly an advantage.

Consequently, in collaboration with Murray, he designed a new style 3-hander, which was built with a strip-planked balsa core, and using WEST System materials and techniques. They were often referred to as ‘wooden pencils’.

Three-time Giltinan champion Rob Brown, one of Bucko’s main rival throughout his 18s career, has nothing but praise for his former rival, “Andrew Buckland stands out as one of the trail blazers in 18ft skiff history. His innovative and scientific thinking has left an indelible mark on the class, with such innovations as the asymmetric spinnaker set from the retracting spinnaker pole in the 80s.

“As a sailor, his uncanny tactics and read of the weather, teamed up with the great Iain Murray and Don Buckley all molded into the Color 7 dominance of the late 70s and early 80s.

“I had the pleasure of sailing against Andrew and Color 7, albeit often being the bridesmaid in most regattas. It wasn’t until many years after he retired from 18′ that I sailed a number of yacht races with Andrew, and more years later on the Historic Skiffs where we had a great time trying to tame the beast!

“In all, Andrew has contributed so much to what the class is today and he continues to express his theories across the livestreaming world with Sail Media, and doing a great job at that as well.”


SailMedia Commentators, from left, Jim Bury, Andrew Buckland, Peter Shipway.

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