Main photo: Two all-girl teams at the Giltinan Championship in 2013. Photo by Frank Quealey photo

The League’s search is on for 2023-24 season 

Female participation in sport in 2023 is reaching very high levels of achievement and spectator approval as the girls show their skills against each other and at times in competition against male opposition. 

18ft skiff racing is usually regarded as a male-dominated sport by nature of the ‘beast’ machines, but several talented female skippers and crews have proved that they can take on the males and tame the ‘beasts’ without fear or favour. 

Now, for the upcoming 2023-24 season, the Australian 18 Footers League is looking to recruit new female talent to ensure opportunities are continued to be provided for female sailors in the 18s.  

Yvette in 30knots, plus, and she didn’t capsize (Frank Quealey photo)

Who better to promote the search than Yvette Heritage, who after four seasons in the worlds best 18 footer fleet is on a sailing break after having her first child.  While keen to get back into the 18s shortly, Yvette is driven to ensure competitive female participation continues in the 18s fleet for years to come. 

The Australian 18 Footers League is keen to hear from female sailors who have the skills and drive to sail competitively in the 18ft skiffs.   

According to Yvette, “Experience in skiff or high-performance trapezing boats, such as 16ft skiffs, 49ers and Nacras are a must, in addition to adequate strength and fitness to manage the weight and loads of the 18ft skiffs (180kg rigged weight).” 

The search for the 2023/24 season female sailors is underway, and consideration for the 2024-25 is also being made.  The Australian 18 Footers League also has a sailing academy for sailors wanting a pathway into the 18 Footers. This academy provides training and potential fill in opportunities to gain initial 18 foot skiff experience. 

If you are a female sailor who meets the prerequisites and is interested in leading an 18ft skiff team on Sydney Harbour, please contact the Sailing Administrator, Jess, at

Despite the perception about the 18s, the class has been fortunate to have had some amazingly talented female competitors within its ranks and the League is looking to give other young females the opportunity to show their talent. 

Whoever becomes the latest female 18 footer skipper certainly has some wonderful role models to follow. 

Vanessa Dudley and her all-girl team with the original Nutri-Metics Cosmopolitan Magazine skiff (Frank Quealey photo)

The first real female competition came in the 1985-86 season when Vanessa Dudley led an all-girl 18ft skiff team under the joint sponsorship of Nutri-Metics and Cosmopolitan magazine. 

Vanessa, who is a real icon in women’s sailing, has achieved an enormous amount of success in both small boat sailing and offshore racing. 

As well as her national titles, Vanessa is also a Laser Grand Masters World champion, who has competed in more than 20 Sydney-Hobart races and has an ocean racing career which includes multiple transatlantic crossings. 

Vanessa once described the 18ft skiffs as “very fast, very thrilling and very scary” but she handled her skiff with the same skill she has shown in every other class with a good performance in the 25-boat fleet at the 1987 World Championship on the Swan River, Perth, which was won by Trevor Barnabas’ Chesty Bond. 

Adrienne Cahalan (Frank Quealey photo)

Incredibly just two seasons later, another icon in women’s sailing, Adrienne Cahalan joined the Sydney 18 footer ranks with the support of the Australian franchise of the French skin care brand, Ella Bache, with a Julian Bethwaite-designed skiff for the 1988-89 season. 

Adrienne also competed with the Grand Prix Sailing organisation then later returned for a short stint on Elle Racing in the 1996-97 season. 

Her ocean racing record is enormous.  She holds world speed records, was tactician on Wild Oats for line honours victories, was the first female to sail 30 Sydney Hobart races, and has contested Round-the-World, Admirals Cup and Transatlantic events. 

In 2019 Adrienne was inducted to the Australian Sailing Hall of Fame and was awarded Medal of the Order of Australia, and is now Adrienne Cahalan OAM. 

The introduction of the new one hull design in the 1990s brought more international competition into the 18s and a wider ‘catch’ of Olympians as well as, world, international and national champions from classes previously not common to the 18s. 

Jacqui Bonnitcha, 2007 (Frank Quealey photo)

First female to take on the increased level of competition in the class was Jacqui Bonnitcha, who sailed the 2007 Giltinan Championship, as Noakes Youth, with the support of Sean Langman’s Noakes Group.  Her team finished ahead of eight teams, including four from Australia. 

Jacqui won the 29er World Championship at San Francisco in 2005 before joining the 18s.  In the 2005 event she defeated fellow Australian competitors Scott Babbage and James Dorron, who went on to win Giltinan and Australian 18 footer championships. 

The momentum for female competition in the 18s went up to another level in 2013 when the all-girl Australian Lomax Financial Group team of Alexandra South, Lizzi Rountree and Saskia Tidey took on the USA’s all-girl Chad’s Angels team of Katie Love, Christine Neville and C.C. Childers in a 33-boat fleet at the J.J. Giltinan Championship on Sydney Harbour.  The Australian team winning a closely fought contest. 

Alexandra had another season in the Sydney fleet before moving on while Katie returned to Australia in 2018 and sailed a full season in the Australian 18 Footers League as competing for the USA at the 2019 JJs. 

In fact, at this time, Katie is the last American to contest the Giltinan Championship. 

Yvette Heritage, the most recent competitor, came into the 18s, from the 16ft skiffs, in 2018 and sailed four complete seasons with a no-holds-barred attitude each week against the world’s best male skiff sailors. 

With support from Noakes Group, Yvette skippered Noakes Blue with great skill and had best results of 12th (2021) and 14th (2020) in the Giltinan championship. 

Now, that’s something of an achievement and an excellent role model for any female to follow in the future. 

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.