Rop Greenhalgh and crew sailing RMW Marine have a 5-point clear lead in the JJ Giltinan 18 Foot Skiff International Trophy Championship

A poor start and extremely severe wind conditions yesterday blew away any slim hopes that defending champion Howie Hamlin and crew Mike Martin and Andy Zinn on WEST MARINE may have had of snatching a placing in the 2004 JJ Giltinan 18 Foot Skiff International Trophy Championships on Sydney Harbour. Instead the British team headed by Rob Greenhalgh on RMW MARINE showed what they are made of and clinched yet another win which gives them a 5-point clear lead.

After a general recall, the fleet was hit with a strong gust right at the starter’s gun which unsettled at least half the fleet, capsizing one boat, leaving the fortunate off and running and virtually splitting the fleet into two groups from the start. The Californians were mid field in the second fleet with 5 times champion, Australian Trevor Barnabas on OMEGA SMEG getting out in front early and setting up a race-long battle with series leader, UK’s Rob Greenhalgh on RMW MARINE.

‘Extremely variable’, is an understatement to describe conditions with the westerly varying from around 10-15 to 20-27 knots and gusting well over 30 knots with conditions too strong in patches for crews to risk setting a spinnaker and skiffs running pretty much out of control on the downwind legs, with the fleet spread from the bottom mark near the Sydney Harbour Bridge right up to the top mark/start line in Rose Bay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

After the initial problems, WEST MARINE settled in around 8th place until further bad luck hit them at the first leeward mark.

With wind conditions pushing the upper limits of these high performance skiffs, they also had to contend with other obstacles with a wayward yacht also battling the blustery conditions coming straight across the course during a downwind run and almost causing a collision with Barnabas’ OMEGA SMEG and then a few minutes later with John Winning’s YANDOO. The incident caused Barnabas to drop back to 4th but soon after made up the deficit to set up a thrilling run to the line with RMW MARINE. With the British in front, the wily Barnabas set a better course to the line and was set for a win when just 100 metres from the finish their halyard caught on a mainsail batten, twisting the spinnaker and virtually stalling the boat. As the Australian spectators tried to ‘will’ them across the line just metres ahead, the Brits closed the gap and finally crossed for their third heat win of the series with Barnabas finally falling across the line 43 seconds behind with 2000 Giltinan champion John Winning’s YANDOO crossing in 3rd.

For the luckless American crew on WEST MARINE, the variable conditions reflected their entire series so far with heat results of 11,12,6,2,13 placing them 10th overall on net points and well out of touch with the top groups.

“It was just impossible to sail a consistent tactical race today as the wind so variable, the gusts impossible to read because as close as two boat lengths away the conditions were totally different”, Andy Zinn said.

As for the Australians, they just lost the prestigious Rugby World Cup to England and at barring catastophes, it looks like another of their prized sporting trophies – the J.J GIltinan – is headed to the northern hemisphere again this year. Tim Robinson’s team was the first English crew to win the title when they upset the record books 1999 and then along came Howie Hamlin’s US team to take the title to the US in 2002 and 2003. With RMW MARINE on 5 points (net) the English have a strong lead this year with Australian crews – ASKO APPLIANCES on 15, COMPUTER ASSOCIATES 16 and YANDOO 17 following.

With a layday today the WEST MARINE crew have a day to make further adjustments to their boat and are still hopeful that they can put together a good performance in the final two heats to be sailed Saturday and Sunday Sydney time.