Victorian team at the 2024 JJs

Race 8 windward leg (SailMedia)

Reflecting on the “bucket list experience”


Just six months ago, November 2023, Scott Cunningham and Brody Riley came to Sydney and picked up the former Noakes Blue 18ft skiff from the Australian 18 Footers League.  In March 2024 they returned to Sydney with the boat (now racing as Team Vic) and Scott’s brother David to contest the Winnings 2024 JJ Giltinan Championship, on Sydney Harbour.


For three young sailors, with almost no previous 18 footer experience, it was going to be a difficult task, particularly as they were on their own in Victoria with no other 18 footer team for training.


Team Vic’s crew was Scott Cunningham (skipper), Brody Riley (main) and David Cunningham (bow).


There have been probably only two Victorian entries into one of the previous 74 JJ Giltinan World Championship regattas so It was a big challenge for this rookie Victorian team, despite their past sailing experience and enthusiasm.


Scott began sailing in B14’s, which he did for 10 years and competed in four world titles, finished second in two of them and won a Youth World title. He also competed in multiple national titles, of which he won one and had four second placings. 


After a short stint in 49ers, he moved into the I14’s, and competed in the class for the past ten years, including four world titles in the 14 with three top-10 finishes; the best being a fourth in Weymouth, England.  His best result at an I14 Nationals was a second overall.


Brody is a former Australian Laser 4.7 and Laser Radial champion who has sailed in a number of classes, including Lasers, 49ers, 470s, I14s and B14s


After COVID, he began coaching with the Victorian Institute of Sport and has coached at several Laser nationals.  He was Victorian Coach of Year in 2023.  He was also ILCA 6 Youth Worlds Coach, Texas USA, 2022 and ILCA 7 Australian Sailing Team Future’s Coach, 2023 (coaching in Europe at Palma and Hyeres).


His reason for wanting to join the 18s, “The high calibre of sailors the class attracts is one of the cards that draws me to the 18s; it is an opportunity to race head to head with the best skiff sailors in Australia.”


“Perhaps the biggest factor that brought me to 18s is the thrill of being on one – there is nothing else like it.  The high speeds and heart stopping moments hooked me in instantly. (I will never get over the sheer size and scale of the hull and rig.).”


“I love the feeling of the boat jumping downwind in a breeze, when everything goes silent for a split second as the boat flies through the air.  There is simply nothing else like sailing an 18.”


David Cunningham started sailing B14 skiffs at 15 years old, with his father Ian, coming third in the world twice.  He progressed to the 49er for a short stint with Scott, before moving to the I14 and 49er with Ian.


Regardless, lining up against 26 experienced teams from five countries, on unfamiliar Sydney Harbour courses, was going to be a huge test but one that Scott says was “an absolute bucket list experience that we can’t wait to do again.  My first JJ’s was an incredible experience and certainly one I won’t forget.”


“The 18s certainly know how to put on world-class racing and push you to your limits.”


“There were moments, particularly on the southerly course, when I don’t think I have ever been more physically exhausted during a yacht race – but that’s what makes this class so great; it’s always demanding your best performance.”


Brody recalls, “Our first port-tack cross in race 1 was a heart-stopper.  We had only been training on our own in the lead up to the event so we didn’t have our eye in for the approach speeds.”


“We were sailing at a wall of three starboard tackers and had to split the gap between two of them to stay in the race.  I remember calling the cross and then holding my breath until we had made it through.  We all let out a big exhale and just laughed together – it was a real “welcome to the JJs” moment for our team and from that point onwards our confidence grew and grew.”


Scott added, “The long format races are awesome.  They add an extra flavour to the standard windward-leeward courses.”


“We certainly struggled with rounding the islands in the first few days.  We have a much greater appreciation for the leading crews who make it look so effortless, because we can promise you that’s not the case.”


“It takes all three sailors to be in sync with each other to get around the course, and often your reactions have to be so instinctual because there isn’t the time to discuss how to react to pressure changes.”


Brody was quick to acknowledge his teammates, “It’s a credit to both Scott and Dave and their past experience racing skiffs that we were able to get up to speed so quickly”


Scott’s final words, “I loved every single moment – can’t wait to come back in 2025 and go again.”


It’s hardly surprising that they want to return.  Team Victoria performed much better than could have been expected with such a limited preparation for the demanding contest, and finished 16th in the 27-boat fleet.  Two top-10 results from the nine races was incredible.


Video coverage of all the racing action from the Winnings 2024 JJ Giltinan Championship and all the club’s racing throughout the entire Australian 18 Footers League’s 2023-24 season is available on the following link:

Frank Quealey
Australian 18 Footers League Ltd.