'RMW Marine' skippered by Rob Greenhalgh blitzed the field in the invititational race on Sydney Harbour, Australia today

Optimism started to fade on US skipper Howie Hamlin’s defence of his 2002 and 2003 J.J Giltinan 18 Foot Skiff Trophy title when UK form team, ‘RMW Marine’ skippered by Rob Greenhalgh blitzed the field in the invititational race on Sydney Harbour, Australia today. In choppy conditions with 25 knot plus breezes, Greenhalgh got out in front on the first leg and led for the entire race to win by nearly four minutes, leaving Hamlin and the other Australian favourites to wonder what they will have to do to beat the Brits. Howie said: “The UK team has been the form team on both the European circuit and at the San Francisco series in 2003, so we knew they were going to put up stiff competition this year after we narrowly beat them for the title last year.” Hamlin’s ‘West Marine’ skiff (pictured left) was boxed in at a very crowded start with 22 boats from six nations vying for the title, but managed to break free and maintain position at around 6th place for most of the race, until the the rough conditions created mayhem and carnage for others and good fortune for the US team in the dramatic final minutes of the race. With the leader well out in front, all attention was focussed on the battle for minor placings amongst a pack which included Asko, Rag & Famish, Maytag, Yandoo and Hamlin’s West Marine . As the pack rounded rocky Shark Island for the final time, disaster struck with 2nd-placed Asko capsizing close to the rocks, Rag & Famish snapping their spinnaker pole in a strong gust leaving West Marine and Tony Hannan’s Maytag in a full spinnaker drag race for the final 400 metres to the line, with Maytag just pipping Hamlin by eight seconds. Hamlin commented: “This was a great hit out for us and the best conditions ever for skiff racing. Every sailor should have this amazing experience of racing an 18 on Sydney Harbour with gusts over 30 knots – it’s sailing heaven.”

Although the invitational race is not a pointscore race for the series, it gives crews the best dress rehearsal they can get and the perfect opportunity to test their form against the fleet The rough conditions caused carnage and havoc with the fleet while Hamlin was sporting a number of nasty grazes on his face, another US sailor was not so lucky, taken from the water in an emergency boat to a waiting ambulance.

Paul Allan, crewman on Aristocrat, sustained a broken tooth and mouth injuries in a nasty capsize and was taken to hospital for precautionary checks for concussion. The relatively inexperienced Patrick Whitmarsh, his skipper and fellow crewman Chad Freitas, better known as 49er sailors, did an amazing job to steer their stricken craft back to shore with a man down in the very strong wind and rough waters. Safely on shore, Whitmarsh said he expected Allan out of hospital later in the evening and back on the water tomorrow. The Australians were not left unscathed, with veteran Trevor Barnabas’ Omega Smeg breaking a boom early in the race and hot favourite John Harris’ RAg & Famish snapping their spinnaker pole off. The J.J Giltinan 18 Foot Skiff International Trophy Series, the sport’s equivalent of a world championship, gets underway in earnest tomorrow with Heat 1 – Sat 3 Jan AEDST (Australian Eastern Daylight Saving Time). Continuing strong breezes are expected and Hamlin and his crew are hoping to pull out something special as they take on the Brits and the Aussies having only just pipped Greenhalgh for the title last year, they hope history will repeat itself.