Sydney 18-footers have raced on Sydney Harbour for over 120 years. They evolved from heavy wooden boats with a crew of 15 to the 3 person carbon fibre speed machines of today. The peak of their popularity was in the early 1920s and 1930s when thousands came out to watch the racing. It was as big as cricket or football is today.
Those boats took a unique set of skills to manage. They carried ridiculous amounts of sail. Crew were ballast constantly working to keep the boat upright. One stray puff, or rogue wave, or miscalculation and it was all over for the afternoon.
Like most of the past, you would expect it to only exist in museums and books. In this case, it is different. A fleet of boats have been built over the last 20 years that are based on the designs of those boats. Famous 18-footers built between 1900 and 1950. Each has been the subject of research through drawings, photographs, and prodding the memory of the few remaining who sailed the original. People like Billy Barnett who turned 100 in 2015 and is still going strong in 2016. Billy Barnett was both boat builder and skipper who won many championships in his boats.
Sailors from all around the world travel to Australia to sail on one of these boats. It is a key item on their “bucket list”. The way they are rigged and sailed is a whole new world for even the most seasoned sailors. Watching the fleet steaming down the harbour under spinnakers is like going back in time.
Sailing on one of these unique craft is like no other. The current fleet sails with somewhere between 6 and 12 people. Imagine that many people in the confined space of an 18-footer and you get some idea of the teamwork involved.
Sydney Flying Squadron wants as many people as possible to join our boats or volunteers who follow the boats. We are always looking to provide opportunities for people to join us. Many are first timers to sailing but there are plenty of old hands to teach you.
If you want to be a volunteer on one of the support boats, or just with social events, there are lots of opportunities to get involved. Our sailors and volunteers range from teenagers to 80 year olds. Boats have a range of male and female crew. Everyone is welcome.
One good way to get started is to come out on the spectator ferry and follow the boats around the course. Cost is only $25 for two and a half hours on the harbour. Much cheaper than any other tour of Sydney Harbour.