13s ALL CLASS AS NUMBERS SURGE
James Hopkins can remember a time when Manly’s 13ft fleet could be counted on one hand, with a finger or two to spare.
Even though the class has been around since the early 2000s, numbers rose and dropped over two decades to the point where its long-term future was not assured. Now, that uncertainty has been replaced by pure optimism. A record eighteen 13ft skiffs are lining up each Saturday afternoon at Manly, with the fleet size expected to increase as more resources are poured into the 16s sailors of tomorrow. Hopkins, who teamed with sister Jemma to win last year’s Australian 13ft Championship at Manly, can’t quite believe the transformation.
“I joined the 13s at a point where there were only around three boats racing every weekend,” he said. “Now we are beginning to struggle to fit all of the new boats in the shed. “It is super cool to see how many teams are racing every weekend now, including some father-son and father-daughter combinations.
“This has added so much diversity to the fleet in terms of experience and makes the racing every weekend super competitive throughout the fleet.” “A couple of years ago the racing felt a bit stale as it didn’t really change week to week, but now it is much more exciting.
“The 13 is such a fun skiff but also a really good competition boat, so it has all of the characteristics that foster a strong and great sailing community. “It will be super exciting to see where it goes in the next couple of years.”
Rob Napper is another true believer, although it did take him a while to come around. The celebrated 16s sailor, who has two kids with 13s experience and works in the class at state and national level, said: “I probably wasn’t convinced when the class first started. I thought they were probably a bit too powerful.
“The fleet’s still quite green and it’s a big growth phase from where they’ve come from. “But I think the parents are now seeing the benefit of bringing kids through into the 13s for their boat handling and race experience. “And we’ve got a few kids and parents racing together – I think there’s four or five of them – which is really good.”
So, does he still harbor any of those initial concerns? “Not so much. I can see the kids are learning how to handle them and the numbers speak for themselves,” Napper continued.
“Something like 30 of our current 16ft sailors have come through the 13s. “And for a class that’s relatively immature, that’s a massive number. “It shows all our of our pathway classes are working.”
Zara Coates is a good case in point. The 16-year-old joined Manly from Lane Cove this season, traveling from Longueville each weekend to compete alongside fellow rookie Abigail Rolfe on Waterborn Magic Marine.
It’s the pair’s first venture into the 13s – and they plan to use it as a springboard to the 16s once they’ve served their apprenticeship.
“Abi and I were both in the Flying 11s and were looking to move out of the fleet so she bought a 13 and asked me to sail with her,” Zara explained. “The results are not as we would have hoped so far but we are learning a lot, which is good.
“The balance (of the boat compared to F11s) and kite runs have been the big challenges but Matt Stenta (from the 16s) has been helping us out as have others in the fleet. “We’re still taking a few swims but come up smiling.”
And isn’t that what it’s all about? Smiles on kids’ faces?