Main photo: Emma, Tom and Cam after their first race on October 8. Photo by Jess Nearn

Emma Rankin, before Sunday’s Race 2 of the Spring Championship. Photo Frank Quealey

Twenty four-year-old Emma Rankin is 163cm tall and weighs just 62kg, but she showed everyone, on Sydney Harbour last Sunday week, that she is up for the challenge when she led her Shaw and Partners Financial Services 18ft skiff team into fourth place behind Australian champion Keagan York (Finport Finance), legendary JJ Giltinan World champion John ‘Woody’ Winning (Yandoo) and rising 18 footer star Henry Larkings (Balmain) in Race 1 of the 2023-24 Spring Championship. 

Even allowing for a number of national championship victories, in a variety of classes, before joining the 18s, nobody could have expected her to perform so strongly in her very first 18 footer race against the experienced Australian 18 Footers League fleet, containing many world and international champion competitors. 

In a 10-knot East-North-East breeze, Emma and her team of Cam McDonald (on the sheet) and Tom Quigley (in the bow) were either in the lead or within the top six positions throughout the entire three-lap course before completing the course in fourth place, ahead of Giltinan World champion Andoo (John Winning Jr). 

If we thought that was impressive, and we did, it was unlikely that Emma and the Shaw and Partners Financial Services team would reproduce another strong performance a week later. 

We were wrong again.  The Shaw and Partners trio were in the thick of things again as they battled against their more experienced rivals, and now after the first two races of the 2023-24 Spring Championship they find themselves in the equal lead with the most experienced team in the fleet – Yandoo’s .John ‘Woody’ Winning, Fang Warren and Josh Porebski 

Prior to joining the 18s, Emma’s record includes: 

  • 2016 and 2017 NS14 National Champion,  
  • 2018 Australian Women’s Match Racing National Champion,  
  • 2019 Governor’s Cup Youth Match Racing America (9th Place),  
  • 2022 and 2023 Formula 16 Catamaran National Champion,   
  • 2023 Hobie 16 Woman’s State and National Champion, 
  • 2023 Formula 18 Catamaran National Championship (6th place) 

Upon meeting Emma for the first time, I got the impression that she was a quietly determined competitor and, despite lacking the usual size required for an 18 footer sailor, would not be overawed by competing against the world’s top 18 footer sailors on Sydney Harbour. 

Emma acknowledged the question of size when she said, “If you told me a year ago that I would be steering an 18 foot skiff, I would look at you with disbelief as physically I’m not big and chunky and definitely not the ideal 18 footer skiff sailor.”  

“So you can imagine I was hesitant to give 18-foot skiff sailing a go.” 

“I had briefly sailed on Yandoo years ago (on a sailing experience day) and after the race, we got on board the skiff for the ride home. I don’t know if Woody remembers what he said to me then “that I was part of the next generation of 18-foot skiff sailors” but I took his advice and now I’m sailing against him (and beating him!)” 

Discussing her time at the Academy, “I’ve been under the guidance of Charlie Gundy, Cameron Gundy, and Cameron McDonald in the ways of sailing the 18-foot skiff and I really appreciate their mentoring in the short time I’ve been sailing the skiff.”  

“I’m incredibly lucky to have Cameron McDonald and Tom Quigley as crew for my first season and I appreciate Yvette Heritage who connected me with both of these experienced sailors.” 

“Due to a last-minute change Cameron and I were moved onto the Shaw and Partners/Vaikobi 18 team, which is a great opportunity to represent such committed sponsors of the 18-footer skiffs.” 

“I feel incredibly lucky to have a great crew, a good boat, and the support of the 18-footer League.”   

“I’ve had lots of advice from everyone, which I really appreciate, but after two capsizes in my first race, the most important advice came from Andrew ‘Bucko’ Buckland – “Rule number 1, keep the black stick pointing upwards”  

Confirming my initial observation, Emma says, “I’m a competitive sailor and I’m looking forward to competing against the other teams throughout the season.” 

Her team mates Cam and Tom were both supportive of her ability.  Cam probably summed it up best when he said “our original plan was to just sail safe, but soon we forgot about that idea and said let’s go racing.”  Tom simply said, “She was better than I thought” and they both laughed.

The manner in which Emma Rankin has begun her 18 footer career is a fantastic reward for her obvious talent, but it is also a remarkable tribute to the efforts, skill and determination of the team at the Australian 18 Footers League Academy which has brought her to this level of success. 

18 footer skipper Yvette Heritage is a driving force behind bringing female talent into the Australian 18 Footers League’s Academy this year, but points out, “the initiative of the 18 Footers Academy was born by Commodore Simon Nearn and is now successfully running for its third year, with sailing manager Jessica Crisp delivering the program.” 

Yvette added, “I’m not the driving force behind the Academy, Nearny and Jess are involved.  I’m the driving force behind getting female talent into the 18s.” 

To facilitate the program, two highly experienced and talented 18 footer sailors, Charlie Gundy and Cam McDonald were recruited for coaching, with assistance from other experienced and talented sailors, Yvette Heritage, John Walton, Cam Gundy, Fang Warren and Lewis Brake. 

It was a formula guaranteed for success. 

According to Yvette, “The key outcome of this academy was the opportunity for talented women sailors to be involved in weekly training throughout the offseason to learn and improve upon their on and off water skills on the 18ft skiffs.” 

“An article back in June put out a call to those women who have the skills and commitment to sail 18s, resulting in 9 women being selected to attend the 18 Footers Academy training sessions.” 

“The training academy included off water training in rigging, boat maintenance, boat handling and footwork skills, and on water training across all the roles of skipper, sheethand and bow, to understand the importance of each role on the 18.” 

“The training was conducted across varying wind strengths with a rib following to rotate through crew and provide off boat coaching. By having a training group, coaching was provided both on the skiff and on the rib while watching the others.” 

“As the successful female skipper from the Winter Academy training program, Emma Rankin, with the support of the 18 Footers League and Shaw and Partners, was allocated a highly competitive boat and crew, and full race support for her rookie year.” 

“Emma is skippering Shaw and Partners Financial Services with experienced 18 footer campaigners Cam McDonald and Tom Quigley during the 2023-24 season.” 

“The success of the program has also provided further opportunity to Andrea Davey and Bec Hancock, two skippers who will share the steering of Noakes Red.  Academy sailors Caitlin Mulquiney and Heidi Ferguson will also rotate as sheethands within the Noakes Red crew.” 

Yvette added, “Some of the women who attended the training academy were not able to commit for the 2023-24 season, due to year 12 and work commitments, however they are keen to be involved again in future years.” 

Yvette certainly is devoted to the club’s program and it wasn’t surprising when she told me, “It’s been a passion of mine to see more females into the 18s, so it’s very exciting to see it come to fruition!” 

It’s not going to stop any time soon, as Yvette explains, “Having female competitors in the 18 footers League is a long term initiative, with recognition that female involvement, training and racing should grow female interest in the years to come.” 

“Some of the women who attended the training Academy were not able to commit for the 2023-24 season, due to year 12 and work commitments, however we are keen to have them involved again in future years.” 

The 18 Footers Academy is an initiative run by the Australian 18 Footers League to improve the accessibility of the 18 footers to all sailors.  Talented sailors who would like to sail the 18 footers should contact the club ( to be involved in the Academy. 

Yvette summarises, “The Academy provides access into the 18 footers community, opportunity for those who are keen to join the fleet, coaching for those who are in their first year or two of the 18 footers competition and all round support in boat rigging and tuning.  Providing talented sailors access to the 18 footers League will no doubt ensure a successful, high quality competition for years to come.” 

“A highlight of the 18 Footers Academy is that coaching is primarily provided by current 18 footer sailors which provides both currency of coaching advice, whilst also fostering relationships within the 18 footers community.” 

Finally, Yvette says, “It’s great to see the current 18 footer sailors giving back to the future of the 18 footers.” 

Progress points, after the first two races of the six-race Spring Championship are: 

10           Shaw and Partners Financial Services (Emma Rankin), Yandoo (John Winning) 

11           Smeg (Nathan McNamara) 

12           Finport Finance (Keagan York) 

13           The Kitchen Maker (Lachlan Steel) 

14           The Oak Double Bay-4 Pines (Jacob Narks), Fisher & Paykel (Jordan Girdis) 

15           Sixt (Nathan Edwards), Andoo (John Winning Jr) 

16           Balmain (Henry Larkings) 

17           Lazarus (Tom Cunich) 

18           Burrawang-Young Henrys (Simon Nearn) 

25           Marine Outlet (John Cooley), 18 Footers Bar & Restaurant (Hugo Stoner) 

30           Rag & Famish (Harry Price), Your Name Here (Kirk Mitchell) 

32           Noakes Red (Bec Hancock/Andrea Davey) 

Race 1 of the Club Championship will be sailed next Sunday, October 22, with Race 3 of the Spring Championship and Race 3 of the Season Point Score being held in conjunction with the Club Championship.   

Don’t forget, you can join the Australian 18 Footers League’s ‘Alternative Ferry in the League’s clubhouse and enjoy all the racing action LIVE on the massive screen broadcasting the SailMedia Livestream camera cat coverage of the racing, and there will be special drinks and food offers for those attending who wish to support their favourite team.    

It’s a really unique way to celebrate the great racing we have seen at the start of the 2023-24 season and all 18 footer supporters are welcome to come down to the clubhouse ‘Alternative’ Ferry.    

If you can’t get out onto Sydney Harbour to see the action-packed racing, or come to the club’s ‘Alternative’ Ferry’, you can catch it LIVE by clicking on the image below 

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.