Winds reaching 35kts made for extremely exciting racing for Heat 2 of the J.J Giltinan International 18 Foot Skiff Trophy series on Sydney Harbour yesterday

On one of the wildest days ever seen in skiff racing, US team, West Marine, showed sensational form early in Heat 2 of the J.J Giltinan International 18 Foot Skiff Trophy series on Sydney Harbour yesterday, before gear problems put an end to their charge.

A ‘black’ north-easterly swept across Sydney Harbour with winds clocked at 30 knots, gusting to well over 35 knots, as the 22-strong fleet took the starter’s gun.

Howie Hamlin, Mike Martin and Andy Zinn manoeuvred West Marine to a great start and headed up the first windward leg just behind series leader, Great Britan’s RMW Marine and Australia’s Jack Young on Computer Associates. West Marine rounded the first mark in 3rd place, but well in touch with the leader and headed back down the harbour on one of the wildest and most spectacular spinnaker runs ever seen.

The skiffs were literally airborne, with only the smallest section of carbon fibre still in touch with the water and the complete centreboard above water as they pounded the choppy waters with crews using all their strength and skill to maintain control and steer their high powered craft with gusts in excess of 35 knots.

In a skilful manoeuvre approaching the bottom mark, Hamlin and his crew overtook Computer Associates to put themselves in a strong 2nd place at the end of the 1st lap. After a tough, hardworking windward leg, West Marine, once again rounded the top mark in 3rd and headed back for another punishing but exhilarating spinnaker run as hundreds of spectators packed onto all types of spectator boats cheered the fleet on.

But the tough conditions were taking their toll on the fleet, with at least four boats already retired with damage and as West Marine neared the bottom mark, they too became another victim.

“We broke the dolphin striker which is the spreader for the spinnaker”, sheet hand Mike Martin explained, “so we went into the water to assess damage and retrieve the spinnaker and by then we were midfield. But we were lucky not to break the entire spinnaker pole, the force was so strong.”

Without a spinnaker it was slower going, but at least West Marine finished the race, albeit in 12th position, on a day when just finishing was a great achievement. Six boats failed to finish and at least four others limped to the line with some damage leaving crews with plenty of repair work on the Monday ‘layday’.

Howie Hamlin enthused:”Conditions today were probably close to the limit for these skiffs and it was the ultimate ride. We were happy with how the boat handled it and our early form.”

Britain’s Rob Greenhalgh skippered RMW to 1st place to further extend his lead in the series but with 5 heats still to race, Club President and 2000 Champion John Winning reminded everyone that there’s still a long way to go.

One of the outstanding performance of the day came from the much younger and much less experienced US crew of Patrick Whitmarsh, Paul Allan, and Chad Freitas who finished a creditable 7th. They completed the course without a capsize and with Allan sporting stitches in his lip and two cracked teeth following a nasty incident in Friday’s race.

Following a well-needed layday, racing continues with Heat 3 on Tues 6 January (Australian time) with crews hoping for equally exciting but less punishing conditions.