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12 foot Skiffs in NZ - history.

by Alex Vallings, C-Tech Ltd

The Flying Twelves
In the 1951-52 winter season at the Glendowie Boating Club, Auckland, Dave Marks sailing his very successful "Pennant" Class boat "Pathetic" convinced some of the locals that increased sail area and big extras really gave racing a thrill. Ken Rushbrook in "Vanita", Peter Nelson in "Futile", Ian McRobbie in "Echo" and John Sharps in "Ada" quickly endorsed his view - so the nucleus of the "Q" Class was formed, or, as they were then known, the Flying Twelves.

These 12-footers carried large sail areas - some up to 220 sq ft - but, although giving the crews really exhilarating rides and the spectators some fantastic thrills, proved unstable during a season's racing.


Early hull design
Being an unrestricted class it gave the amateur designer plenty of scope to work upon, and in a very short time the "Qs" were an established class in Auckland. In the 1955-56 season the "Q" Class Owners' Association was formed with racing beginning at Tamaki Yacht Club.

Various hull designs were tried: moulded, hard-chine, double-chine and clinker ply, and such things as banana masts were tried. In 1958 catamarans were introduced to the "Q" class by John Peet and Ken Shaw. These became so successful that they broke away and formed a flourishing multihull class.

Most successful boats of this period were moulded boats carrying big sail areas, such as Brian Wood's "Elfin", Ken Rushbrook's "Vague", Bill Hearld's "Fluff" and Peter Nelson's "Oracle".  Sail area gradually decreased until the first of the really successful stem-head designs appeared in 1961 - Bernie Skinner's "Magic" and Robert Brooke's "Fugitive".  These boats carried big genoa jibs from the stem, small mains and, being flat-floored, were much less extreme to sail.

Other successful boats following these were "Witchcraft" (Dave Kean), "Troglodyte" (Roger Cadness) and "Beverly" (Eric Williams).  At the same time, Waiuku yachtsman Frank Blackburn introduced his skimmer design "Tempo" - fantastically fast in a blow.

Development in the 70's
Development moved towards taller masts and more powerful hulls, largely in fibreglass or foam and fibreglass, in an effort to reduce their weight. Outstanding boats in these years were Don Lidgard's "Query", Russell Bowler's "Jennifer Julian" and Bruce Farr's "Beazley Homes" - all interesting designs sailed by champions.

Australian domination
Australia dominated the Interdominion contest from the early 70's onwards with developments such as stitch and glue plywood hulls and further design innovations from Iain Murray, Michael Coxon and other noted Australian yachtsmen.
The Australian dominance was broken in 1985 by Tim Bartlett in "Dimension Polyant Sailcloth".  This was the springboard for the NZ re-emergence of skiff racing competitiveness.  Graeme Laurie in "Bayferrox" won the contest in Auckland (1992), but just as important, NZ filled five of the top ten placings and came very close to winning the Don Brooke teams trophy which had eluded them for so long.

New Zealand's turn
New Zealand's run of success began with Academy Interprint (Phil Airey and John Schultz) winning the contest in Auckland 1994 and Brisbane 1995. This came about primarily through the Kiwis experimenting with rig development in areas such as sail profiles, flexible mast tips and correspondingly different rig configurations.

While historical wins for NZ were largely due to individual brilliance the NZ 12 foot Skiff fleet has been gaining depth.  Brief performance glimpses were shown in the contests of 94 and 95, and the best ever performance came on Auckland Harbour in 1996.  NZ won the Don Brooke Teams Trophy for the first time in 30 years with a comprehensive win over Australia overall. 

NZ gained the top 3 individual placings:
- Dimension Polyant Sail Cloth: Tim Bartlett and Alex Vallings (1st)
- NZ Geographic: Graham Catley and Grant Griffiths (2nd)
- Design Source: Paul Macintosh and Ken Fyfe (3rd)
and had 6 boats in the top 10 finishers.  The 1996 contest was undoubtedly a magnificent performance for NZ sailing, with development at this stage focusing on use of carbon fibre in construction of rigs, prods and hulls.

1997 saw the contest sailed at Abbotsford, Sydney - the first time an Interdominion has been held at a river club.  NZ were again dominant with Dimension Polyant Sailcloth winning and all contestants enjoying the very fast, flat water rides and challenges of a tight, winding course.  However, on their home waters the Australians claimed back the Teams Trophy.

The contest returned to Auckland in 1998 and was sailed in a new championship format.  This year the competition was extended from 7 to 10 heats raced 2 per afternoon.  The courses were changed to a combination of laid buoy courses and the longer harbour courses.  Australia arrived with a strong team lead by a new hull - the "Woof" shape, designed and sailed by Jim Walsh.

"Woof" showed excellent speed but succumbed to pressure from the NZ team and was placed 3rd overall.  Tim Bartlett, teaming up with Brett Gray, won the contest through consistent sailing, rather than blinding speed, followed by Brent Metson and Adam Millar in "Eta Ripples Racing", also from New Zealand. Once again, New Zealand won the Teams Trophy.

In 1999 the contest was sailed on Waterloo Bay in Brisbane.  Once again, the NZ crews dominated.  NZ rookie crew Alex Vallings and Andy Meiklejohn sailed a new "Woof" hull and were exceptionally good.  For the first time in several years Tim Bartlett was under pressure, but Vallings and Meiklejohn were beaten for the winners trophy on a count back.  NZ filled the first 4 places and won the teams trophy for the first time on Australian waters.

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