Andrea Francolini /

The next Jimmy Spithill?

Gotta Love It 7 18ft skiff ace, Seve Jarvin on the Extreme Sailing Series and being Team Australia's first signing

Thursday January 9th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

Aussie 18ft skiff star Seve Jarvin was on a 24 hour fly-by trip to London from Sydney yesterday for the 2014 Extreme Sailing Series announcement.

At 27, the new GAC Pindar skipper, who will be the youngest on the Extreme Sailing Series this season, is better known as helmsman on Gotta Love It 7, currently the most successful in the Sydney Harbour 18ft skiff fleet.

Son of America’s Cup sailor and Etchells World Champion Steve Jarvin, Seve began sailing on Sydney Harbour in Sabots, Flying 11s and 29ers. Enlisting in the CYCA’s Youth Sailing Academy program, he got on the Aussie match racing circuit and over the 2002-3 season was crowned Youth Match Racing Champion, the same year as he was also 29er National Champion.

While his contemporaries such as Torvar Mirsky and Keith Swinton continued match racing, Jarvin jumped on board the 18s. During his first two years he crewed on the Euan McNicol-steered Club Marine, winning the JJ Giltanan, the 18ft skiff’s effective World Championship, in 2005, before being bumped up to helm Gotta Love It 7 for the 2006-7 season with Sam Newton on bow and Robert Bell in the middle (since replaced by leading Moth sailor, Scott Babbage).

Despite his tender age, Jarvin is into his ninth season in the 18s, and, during his tenure, Gotta Love It 7 has won the JJ Giltinan Championship as helmsman five times (2008, 2010-13).

Team Australia

Importantly Jarvin and his crew come to the Extreme Sailing Series as the first signings for Team Australia, the Oatley family’s Challenger of Record for the 35th America’s Cup. Integral to this process has been Oatley son-in-law Troy Tindill, a match racer turned AC45 crew, who at one stage during his formative years worked on the shore crew for Mike Sanderson’s Pindar-backed IMOCA 60 campaign (hence the Pindar link).

Another connection is Iain Murray, former CEO of America’s Cup Race Management for the 34th America’s Cup, recently appointed CEO of Team Australia, who for many years has been ‘Team Principal’ of the 7 18ft skiff team. In fact the 7 18ft skiff sponsorship is probably the longest in the history of our sport. The Aussie Network 7 television station backed Murray when he won six back-to-back JJs aboard Color 7 over 1977-1982 and is enjoying no less success with Jarvin as skipper today.

So Team Australia has displaced Kiwi match racer Will Tiller’s crew that campaigned the GAC Pindar Extreme 40 during 2013. Joining Jarvin and Tindill, will be Sam Newton, who was with Oracle Team USA for AC34 and Ed Smyth, who sailed on Leigh McMillan’s winning The Wave, Muscat last season and was originally part of the Young Australia crew with Jimmy Spitihill for the 2000 Cup (before going on to OneWorld in 2003 and Oracle for 2007). While he hasn’t sailed with Smyth before, Jarvin has competed with and against Tindill on the prolific Aussie-Kiwi match racing circuit, while, according to Jarvin, he and Newton “are a team. He sails in the 18s with me. He and I we are a package.”

A fifth crew for the GAC Pindar Extreme 40 has yet to be announced, but due to the four existing crew being on the heavy side for what is expected to a relatively light wind series, Jarvin reckons that the fifth man will have to be a small girl.

So does this mean that the four Team Australia X40 sailors will end up on the ACwhatever foiling catamaran for the next Cup? “At the moment it is just a short term contract, but it is alright. They are putting people on trial. Obviously I’d love to do the Cup, but at the moment we are concentrating on this. I’ve got a lot to learn...” says Jarvin.

While the rest of his crew has considerable cat racing experience, this is an area of expertise where Jarvin is lacking at present. “I am being thrown in the deep end a little bit,” he admits. “We’ll do a lot of training when I get back, just in little cats, like F18s. There is an AC45 that they’ve bought [Team Australia] that will be back in Woolwich probably in February. So I’ll do the 18s and then pretty much start training on that, which will be good.”

Fortunately an 18ft skiff is about as near as you come on one hull to a catamaran. “I have never steered one of these boats before, but Sam said it is very similar to a skiff, with similar angles, etc. I obviously don’t have a lot of experience in cat stuff. I don’t think crew work will be an issue for us, we have very good crew, it’ll be about me learning to steer the thing.”

The Extreme Sailing Series courses could also be a bit of a eye opener for Jarvin. While the 18ft skiffs have most of Sydney Harbour as their race course, the stadium sailing format used by the Extremes is very much more confined. But Jarvin says that nonetheless the style of sailing will be very similar. “In these fast boats, with big fleets on ultra-short courses, a lot of it is about making quick decisions.”

Unfortunately with the Extreme Sailing Series kicking off in Singapore at the end of February, the teams are unlikely to be allowed more than one day of training prior to race one. “For the first event, we’ll struggle as we’ll be getting straight into it, but hopefully Ed can show us the ropes, so we can make a lot of that training session,” admits Jarvin. “Hopefully we’ll be able to get a little bit of sailing on something back home before we come over.”

Despite his lack of cat experience, it is possible Jarvin could end up driving the Aussie boat in the next Cup, as, in the tradition of Syd Fischer who put a 20-year-old Jimmy Spithill helm the wheel of Young Australia for the 2000 America’s Cup, Team Australia is also likely to be a ‘young team’ rather than having a boat full of wizened old career Cup sailors. “The Australian team is trying to get younger people, not the top end people. So it will be a cheaper budget I think,” says Jarvin.

Fortunately Australia seems to be doing a great job in creating talented young sailors at present. In the Laser for example, there are currently three Aussie sailors in the top 10, according to the latest ISAF rankings – Tom Burton, Matthew Wearn and Ashley Brunning – and this doesn’t including the London 2012 gold medallist Tom Slingsby, who has already committed to Oracle Team USA for AC35. Another possible to be Team Australia skipper, Nathan Outteridge, has dropped from the running having already signed on for another term with Artemis Racing, along with his London 2012 49er gold medal winning crew, Iain Jensen. Australia also has three in the top 13 in the Finn.

Then there are the match racers, who once upon a time Jarvin used to line up against, before he was lured away into 18ft skiff sailing. These include Keith Swinton, currently 6th in the world, or Dave Gilmour (son of the eminent former AC skipper Peter) who is now campaigning a 49er, or even the talented Torvar Mirsky (a former GAC Pindar Extreme 40 skipper himself) if he can be prised out of retirement.

Since joining up with Team Australia, Jarvin is likely to have to go full time as a professional sailor. With the 18s and the occasional match racing and Farr 40 events (he sails on Martin & Lisa Hill’s Estate Master), he has been able to hold down a job working with his father at their Nissan and Suzuki car dealership in Sydney. But in addition to the Extreme Sailing Series this year, there is the possibility that Team Australia will also be getting a position on the World Match Racing Tour this year, again thanks to their position as Challenger of Record for the 35th AC.


So how has Gotta Love It 7 come to be the most successful 18ft skiff of the last decade? “Sailing with Sam and Scott and Rob and Tom – we’ve just had a very good team,” says Jarvin. “We get along very well. Obviously Iain Murray has helped us a lot - it is almost like a hobby for him. He puts so much time into us and helps us out. He is so experienced in these boats - we have learned a lot from him.”

For this season they have a new boat. All the 18s that regularly race on Sydney Harbour are owned by the Australia 18 footers League, which replaces boats as required. This year it was the turn of the Gotta Love It 7 team and Rag & Famish Hotel, the previous 7 boat being five years old. “It is quite hard to tell when you’re out on the water, but obviously the stiffness of the new boat is better. On Sydney Harbour it is quite windy and bumpy, so they get pretty trashed,” says Jarvin.

While the 18 hulls are identical, teams are allowed to have two rigs – big and small – with three sails (main, jib and kite) for each. Otherwise these are essentially a free-for-all, only that the maximum mast height for the two rigs must be less than 10.225m and 9.2 for the big and small rigs respectively.

Jarvin says it is the sheer size of the sail plans that has changed dramatically since he joined the class. “When I started eight years ago it was 50-50 carbon and aluminium masts and obviously now they are all carbon, plus the square topped sails, we have now, were never there before. But the biggest thing is the size. Now the second rig is the same size as the big rig used to be...” This is also due to the class increasing permitted mast heights over this time.

Because of the small rig getting ever larger, a new addition has been crews being permitted to add reefs to their second rig’s mainsail. “Last year we used that. We were the first boat to do it and it works out really well.”

In terms of sails, the Gotta Love It 7 teams works with North Sails Australia, which supplies a number of the 18s. All the sails these days are typically carbon, however they have yet to make the transition to 3Di. “A lot of people were changing over, but no one has done it yet.”

Each team is allowed three new sails each year – Gotta Love It 7, for example, had two new jibs and a new kite for its smaller rig for this season. However they can’t pick and choose – the whole inventory of six sails is measured in at the start of the season and must be used for the remainder of it. “You use them all the way through, including the Worlds [JJ Giltinan Championship], which gives a bit of an advantage to the international teams, who come over and can use brand new sails. But it keeps the cost of the class down.”

The line-up in the present 18 fleet has never been stronger with the likes of Chris Nicholson returning to the class. The fleet also features a British crew on Haier Appliances, skippered by former 49er sailor Rick Peacock, with Tristan Hutt and Nick Murray in the middle and bow positions.

Around 35-40 boats are expected for this year’s JJ Giltinan to be held over 1-9 March and according to Jarvin while in the past there might have been six or seven boats capable of winning, this year there will be closer to 15. “There a lot more international boats coming. There are quite a few Americans and the Kiwi fleet is very strong at the moment with 10-11 boats and I think the whole of that fleet is going to come over.”

So, could Seve Jarvin be the next Jimmy Spithill? He certainly isn’t starting out in the America’s Cup as young as the Oracle Team USA skipper once did, but one can imagine that if his results in the Extreme Sailing Series and the Alpari World Match Racing Tour this year are good, then he will be in with a chance.

And if you are wondering about his first name and whether it’s not a spelling mistake – apparently his grandfather was also called Seve. “It is a sort of made up name. My brother and sister are Annie and Mark. I am the odd bod!”


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