The 2022-23 Nationals Preview
If you want to know what it takes to win an Australian 16ft Skiff Championship, why not go to the bloke who’s won more of them than anyone? Lee Knapton lifted the famous old shield eight times, winning his first in 1999/2000 and his last in 2015/16.
He was untouchable between 2012-16, winning four straight en-route to etching his name in skiff history as the most successful skipper in the event’s 114-year history. So, what’s it take to win one? “I don’t think there is much of a secret to it but obviously you need a good boat and crew and then it comes down to consistency,” Knapton said. “It’s not all about bullets (winning) each race. Sometimes it’s not your day for a variety of reasons and you’ve got to accept that and play the long game. “Every time we went out the goal was more about a top five finish than winning. “Winning was a nice bonus but if you’re in the top boats most races, chances are you’re in with a good chance (of winning the championship).”
A long delayed overseas trip to Tahiti will prevent “Knappo” from competing in the 2023 nationals at Manly, but he will be back for the final two heats to cheer his St George team aboard the Dave O’Connor-skippered Noakes. He expects Noakes and defending champion Nathan Wilmot, on Typhoon, to lead the charge but also likes what Red Pumps Red (Tyler Dransfield) produced in winning the NSW 16ft Championships.
Consistent Manly boat and 2019/20 national champion Daniel Turner (Moonen Yachts) cannot be discounted, while IMEI (Sarah Lee) and Sail Racing (Felix Grech) are primed for success on home waters.
And then there is Belmont, which is expected to send a strong contingent south. Having sailed out of Manly for several years, Knapton predicted the home-town advantage will come into play. He said: “Obviously if you’ve spent a lot of time sailing down there, it’s going to help. “It’s not only the conditions you have to get used to but it’s also quite busy out on the track. “There’s a lot of traffic – pleasure craft, the spectator fleet, ferries and other regattas – and you need to have eyes going in all directions.” And if you’re standing on the top step of the podium when all is said and done? “No better feeling. To win against such a quality fleet is something special but it’s also about the people you sail with and against,” Knappo said. “It’s such a fun class full of really good people. It’s a great week – they all go hard on the water and off it!”
Wilmot, who again lines up with Malcolm Page and Brett Davis, knows how tough national titles are to win. He had eight attempts before landing the silverware the ninth time around – and this is a bloke who has an Olympic gold medal in his socks and undies draw! “They’re hard to win but really rewarding if you manage it,” Wilmot said. “We will have our work cut out because there will be a quality fleet coming after us. “There’s not just one threat – there are multiple threats. “Whoever wins it will have really earned it.”
Australian Skiff Sailing Association (ASSA) president Nathan Edwards said: “This year will be a real highlight, building on a fantastic nationals at Belmont last year. “Manly obviously has a long and proud association with skiff sailing, so to be able to hold the regatta there in the club’s 100th year is extra special. “The conditions will be vastly different from last year so I expect different boats to be filling that top 10 consistently throughout the event. “Home advantage will certainly come into play but I wouldn’t discount any of the visitors. “There is quality throughout the fleet.”
The 13s’ fleet is also building nicely and pleasingly features a host of up-and-coming female sailors. Reigning NSW champion Ebix (Jemma and James Hopkins) looms as the boat to beat. The 2023 Australian 13ft and 16ft Championships will be staged at Manly from January 6-14. Check out manly16s.com.au or www.skiffs.org.au for further information.