It will be on for young and old, literally, when the upcoming Australian 16ft Skiff & 13ft Skiff Championships get underway at Port Stephens from January 4.
The stage was set for an intriguing, rivalry-tinged tussle after last year’s national titles, where the veteran Manly 16ft Skiff Sailing Club crew of Dave O’Connor, Trent Barnabas and Rob Napper prevailed by a narrow margin over up-and-coming clubmates Felix Grech, Tom Potter and Paul Darmanin.
Also firmly in the hunt, finishing third overall, was 22-year-old skipper Henry Makin from Belmont 16-Footers.
Grech showed remarkable consistency in the previous nationals, missing the podium only once in seven races, and he’s itching to go one better aboard Koreman Marine Composites.
“We really want to get the win as we came incredibly close last time,” the 25-year-old helmsman said. “The class is super competitive and there’s an interesting tussle between the younger sailors and the older guys, some of whom are almost semi-professional.
“It definitely brings out the competitive nature in all of us.”Ironically his skiff qualifies for the title of evergreen, having been built 15 years ago by Brett Van Munster.
“It was really cheap [$12,000] and rundown when we bought it five years ago, but we’ve invested a massive amount of time to bring it back to racing condition,” Grech adds. “We stripped the hull to bare carbon and repainted it, swapped the old alloy rigs for carbon and added some new TruFlo sails.
“We’ve generally done the development work ourselves because we like to trust in our own abilities. I think we’re as quick as anything going around in most conditions.”
Trent Barnabas, the 40-year-old sheethand aboard IMEI, has assembled a brand-new boat for his charge at a consecutive title, also roping in former Olympic gold medallist Nathan Wilmot as helm and long-time bowman Rob Napper.
“Felix pushed us to the limit last time and will be hard to beat again but, honestly, the goal is to win. Nathan is really keen, as he’s never won one, and we’ll certainly be doing our best while we still can,” Barnabas says.
“The young guys are definitely getting better with all the junior training programs that are available to them. They spend a lot of time on the water with top coaches, so they’re race-hardened, but we’ll try to outsmart them if we can.”