Few knowledgeable sailing individuals would question the opinion that modern or 1950s 18 footers are one of the world’s most demanding boats to race.  So how does a 69-year-old manage to skipper one of the modern 18s each Sunday for 36 seasons and a Historical 18, each Saturday, since 2001?

Just ask John ‘Woody’ Winning and he may be able to explain, but you had better not take too much of his time as he is presently preparing a brand new skiff for the coming modern 2021-22 season at the Australian 18 Footers League, of which he has been the President since 2003.

And if you think that ‘Woody’ might just be an older man out there to make-up-the-numbers, then forget about it.  The Yandoo team of John Winning, Mike Kennedy and Fang Warren were on the pace throughout the entire 2020-21 season.  The team even finished second behind championship-winner, Smeg, in race four of the 2021 JJ Giltinan Championship, and were placed 9th in the regatta.

Earlier in the season the Yandoo team also took out the club’s seven-race 2020 Spring Championship on Sydney Harbour, finished fifth in the NSW and seventh in the Australian Championships, and won the club’s Season Point Score which was based on results from every club race during the season.

It’s not surprising that ‘Woody’ has a great love for sailing.  He was born into an extremely successful sailing family which already had a record which included an Australian championship win in the 18s.

His father, also named John, and his uncle Dick Winning were a champion 12ft skiff team during the 1940s and, in 1947, were selected by Queensland skipper Bill Stanley to join his crew of Australia for the 1946-47 Australian Championship, which the team won.

John began his career in a Sabot at the Vaucluse Amateur 12ft Sailing Club, then moved on to the VJ, Flying Eleven, Flying Ant and VS before going into the 12ft Skiffs, where he won the 1971-72 Australian Championship and the 1974-75 Inter-dominion Championship.  The latter victory was in a skiff sponsored by the Travelodge motel company.

Alan Greenway, who was the Chairman and Managing Director of Travelodge, was building an international motel chain at the time and saw the 18ft Skiffs as an excellent vehicle to promote his business.  He had already won the Giltinan world Championship with Bob Holmes as skipper and saw John Winning as the ideal replacement when Holmes retired.

John’s long career in the 18s began in the 1975-76 season, but it was split into two specific periods.  The first part of his career was successful, but clashed head-on with the career of Iain Murray and the incredibly successful Color 7 team.

Greenway continued to sponsor John under the Travelodge name in 1976-77 then switched to Pacific Harbour Fiji, which was the name of a new resort that the company had established as part of its international expansion.

Under the Pacific Harbour sponsor name, John was runner-up to the Color 7 team at the 1979-80 Australian Championship, in Perth, and the 1980 Giltinan world Championship, in Auckland.  It was the beginning of a very unlucky run.

Over the next two seasons, 1980-81 and 1981-82, John had to be content with being runner-up to the Color 7 team. Unsponsored, he finished behind Color 7 in both the Australian and Giltinan world championships in Yandoo, then runner-up behind the same team at the 1981-82 nationals in the Patrick Corrigan-sponsored, Mitchell Cotts.

Stage one of John’s 18 footer career came to an end after the 1985-86 season when he took time off to look after his family business commitments as well as a young family; wife Kerrie, and new-born children John Jr and Jamie.

As the children became involved in their own sport (John was sailing a 29er) and Jamie (equstrrian), John got the bug to come back into the 18s in 1995 and finally got the reward he so richly deserved after what had transpired back in the three seasons between 1979 and 1982.  

With sponsorship from AMP Centrepoint, ‘Woody’, Euan McNicol and Anthony (Jack) Young, in 2000, won the ‘triple crown’ JJ Giltinan world Championship, the Australian Championship and the NSW Championship.

Sailing self-sponsored Yandoo skiffs since 2003-04, John was a regular top five-top ten finisher in the annual Giltinan world championship regattas and has always been in the top half of the fleet.

With a brand new Yandoo skiff ready for the 2021-22 season and the same skilful team of Mike and Fang, ‘Woody’ is as enthusiastic as ever to get back on the water.  “This is shaping up as a great season for the club.  There are new boats and new teams ready for the challenge and our team is confident that we can be competitive at every level.”

“Last season we won the coveted Season Point Score, which is contested over every race.  It clearly shows how competitive we are in all conditions and we are aiming to go back-to-back and win it once again in 21-22.”

The Australian 18 Footer League’s new season is set to begin on Sunday, October 10.

Frank Quealey

Australian 18 Footers League