The original 18 foot Skiff was designed by Mark Foy, a local businessman in Sydney. To start with the boats raced over a 12-mile course under complicated handicap system which meant that the winner could not be determined until a while after the race. Not surprisingly this type of racing was not popular as a spectator sport. In order try to attract more interest from the public Foy decided to make the boats faster, more colourful and to ensure that the race winner was the fist boat over the finishing line.

The major problem with Foy's plan was producing a faster racer, but he solved this with the first of the 18-footers, which was an open, centreboard boat with a very light hull, an 8-foot (2.4m) beam and only 30 inches (76cm) amidships. It carried a crew of 14 (compared to the previous boats with 25 crew) and had a huge spread of sail which gave it a sensational aquaplaning speed downwind. Each boat to have a colourful emblem on its mainsail - a tradition which continues to this day, although the colourful emblem is now almost exclusively the logo of a corporate sponsor.

 

Foy introduced a regatta for the boats and this proved that the changes he has made to the class did successfullly attract pubilc attention. It was held over a triangular three mile course along the lines of a pursuit race so that the slowest boats started first to bunch the fleet for a spectacular, downwind run to the finish at Clark Island. At the finish there were a dozen boats racing for the line in a bow-to-bow finish. Foy had demonstrated that 18-footer racing was the most exciting sport ever seen on Sydney Harbour - a status that has never been seriously challenged.

 

This first era in the history of the 18-footers was known as the "Big Boat Era". The boats carried crews of 18-25 crewmen and had enormously heavy spars and gear. The 18-footers, introduced by Foy in an attempt to make the boats fater, has an 8ft beam, were dinghy type boats and carried a mainsail, ballooner, ringtail, topsail, topsail head spinnaker and (at times) watersails and were much less costly to build and maintain. They were manned by a reduced crew of 10-15 men but carried not much less sail area than the bigger boats. The class was put onto a much firmer basis when the first official Australian Championship was held in Sydney during the 1912-13 season.

 

Radical experiments had begun as designers began to apply the principles of aerodynamics to boat building. Arguments developed over the merits and otherwise of a new 7-foot beam conventional 18-footer named SCOT. A Queensland owner named Frederick Hart was one of its few supporters and in Brisbane he worked out rough plans and specifications which he passed on to boat builder H.P. Whereats to finalise.

The result was ABERDARE, built in 1932. She was a no heel skiff with a 7 foot beam and depth of 2 foot. She carried a crew of 7-8 men - less than half that of the conventional 18-footers. Off the wind with her enormous spread of sail she gathered great speed with mainsail, reaching jib, ringtail and peak head spinnaker and was so fast that she was soon christened "the Queensland Miracle" or "the Galloping Ghost". ABERDARE won four consecutive Australian Championships and when she retired was able to boast 23 title victories from 31 starts.

 

The success of this new concept was the beginning of the end for the 'big boats' and in January 1935 a group of sailors wanting these smaller boats formed the N.S.W. 18-footers Sailing League (now known as the Australian 18-footers League).

The new club's first race was the first heat of the 1935 Australian Championship and by the 1938-39 Season there were 21 boats racing with the 'League'. During these 'heady' times there were seven ferries following the race every Sunday. Each carried a commentator, manager, and other officials - one of whom was stationed in the wheel house of each steamer to help the captain decide where to go to get the best possible view for the people on board.

The initial success of the club continues today. It is the world leader in the promotion and development of the class into a truly international sport. In 1937 Mr. James J. Giltinan (Secretary of the N.S.W. 18-footers Sailing League) planned a World's Championship for 18-foot open boats on Sydney Harbour to coincide with Sydney 's 150th Anniversary in January 1938. Although only the New Zealanders were able to compete due to the unsettled atmosphere in Europe , the carnival was a great success with more than 10,000 spectators.

 

In 1946, Queensland delegates approached the League to accept the new 6-foot beam concept 18-footers so that the Australian Championship competition could continue. League boat owners and members had to decline as they had considerable money invested in their 7-foot beam boats and to change so drastically would be far too costly. Queensland turned to the Sydney Flying Squadron to continue the Australian Championship with the 6-foot beam boats while the League continued to race the 7-foot beamers for another 5 years.
 

2005 marks the 70th anniversary of the Australian 18-footers League. As such the JJ Giltinan World Championship in February is a special edition. The 21st century Skiff's hull beam remains at 6-foot and whilst the crew has reduced to 3 the righting moment is maintained by 14ft wings and trapezes. Modern construction materials and the recent upgrade to carbon masts and wings enable a sailing weight of a mere 170kg.

One thing remains and looks set to continue. 18-footer racing remains the most exciting sport ever seen on Sydney Harbour 100 years on from Foy's original vision. Modern fleets are now also established in the UK , Europe and America .