OK Worlds preview

Robert Deaves looks at the form and speaks to the main players

Tuesday July 21st 2009, Author: Robert Deaves, Location: United Kingdom
The 2009 OK Dinghy World Championship opens in Kalmar, Sweden this coming weekend. Despite some countries sending fewer than usual sailors, the event is almost fully subscribed with 80 entries from 10 nations entered. These include six former world champions, as well as a number of new faces.

Based on previous experience at the venue, most sailors were expecting light to moderate conditions, which would contrast to the very windy conditions at the past three world championships and should bring some new faces to the front. However at the final warm up event, the Swedish Championships, sailed in Kalmar over the weekend, the wind was anything but light, with moderate to fresh winds.

Defending champion Karl Purdie could only finish fifth in the Swedish Championship and is one of just three Kiwis attending this year, a significant drop in numbers from recent years. He said, "Unfortunately due to the high cost of competing in Sweden there are only two resident Kiwis competing this year." The third is Germany based sailmaker Greg Wilcox.

Purdie said: "Most of my fellow team mates have now done four to five consecutive overseas campaigns so are paying back loans and preparing for next year's worlds in Wellington.

"But it was important to me to defend my title as it is a prestigious title to win. This year I am chartering a new Icebreaker hull and using last year's rig. We are expecting light winds so I've lost a bit of weight, but unfortunately I have not been able to fly over the new rig I've developed for those conditions, so my rig concession has been to get Greg [Wilcox] to make me a slightly more light airs oriented sail.

"I think the main competition this year will come from Nick Craig, Thomas Hansson-Mild, Greg Wilcox, Karsten Hitz, Jørgen Lindhardtsen, and Andre Blasse. I'm sure that light airs will also throw up a few new faces as well, so consistency will be key."

Hitz is a double world champion, while Lindhardtsen won the title way back in 1978. Blasse and Hansson-Mild are regular top 10 sailors, finishing third and fifth in last year's event. In the Swedish Championship Lindhardtsen took second while Hansson-Mild came in fourth.

Last year Purdie took the world title away from three times world champion Nick Craig (GBR). Craig, who heads up the British team along with current UK National Champion Terry Curtis, agreed with Purdie's pick of sailors and added, "All these are great sailors who've proven they can perform at the worlds so I expect them all to be in the running. But it would also be nice to see some new faces at the front."

Craig has hardly raced his OK Dinghy since last year, and becoming a father of twins in May further restricted his regatta time. His only international event was the German Championship last month where he won a close series against Wilcox in a largely untested new boat, though one of proven pedigree.

He said: "I've made a couple of changes which both seemed to have worked really well. I've got a new Scoles boat which is exceptionally well built and feels very stiff and powerful in the lighter winds. Jim Hunt has sorted me out a Purple Sail, which seems to have great range, with lots of power in the light winds and the leech working very effectively in more breeze. However I'm not really sure who's going fast at the moment as with our twins arriving in early May, I've only been able to do one overseas regatta this year.

"In fact I've done less sailing this year than for many years, though my wife Emma has been very understanding and I've still managed to do a fair bit of sailing. I've also been out on my bike a lot so my fitness is good. Still, it will be good to get away for a week's sailing!"

On the technical front the class has moved on from 2008 with a range of new hulls being sailed as well as developments in the rig. Class President and 2002 World Champion Greg Wilcox said: "There have been over 40 new boats built in the last two years and a lot of them will be in Kalmar. The standard of the sailors is improving as well as the standard of the boats. There are also a lot more C-Tech masts from New Zealand being used in Europe than before. The new ones are thinner and stiffer." Purdie used one of these to win last year's worlds along with a New Zealand Icebreaker hull and a Quantum sail from Wilcox's Potsdam loft.

Wilcox has been president of the OK Dinghy International Association since 2005, and steps down during this year's Worlds. "It is my last worlds as Class President and I have to say I have enjoyed the challenge of the last four years to keep the class moving forward and ensuring it has a healthy future. I am sure my successor will do a fantastic job during his term."

In fact, Wilcox was the clear winner of the Swedish Championship with a consistency few others could match with five top-five places in the 55 boat fleet and could be the dark horse of the world championship. Sailing a new Icebreaker hull from New Zealand, this was his third major win of the year and he is clearly setting the standard to beat.

In addition to the sailors already mentioned, Wilcox rates the current European Champion Martin von Zimmermann (GER), Oliver Gronholtz (GER) and returning class legend Bo-Staffan Andersson (SWE), who placed third over the weekend and won his fourth Swedish title in the process.

Andersson is also arguably the most successful sailor ever at the OK Dinghy world championship, having won his first title in 1988 and then followed that up with three consecutive titles from 1991-1993. He is back again this year after taking a 16 year break from the class. Wilcox said of the Swede, "I think Bo-Staffan will do just fine. There is no substitute for class and that man can sail."

However, Andersson says that he hasn't done much training for this regatta.
"I have not done enough OK sailing. I got my boat in March and I have only done two regattas - one in Sweden and one in Denmark. I was a long way behind in Denmark in heavy air. In total I have not been sailing more than 12-15 times."

What attracted him back to the OK Dinghy? "Over the years I have been very sure not to take up the OK Dinghy again. However, last year I was left without a crew in the Star and didn't race anything. So this year I wanted to do some racing again and was thinking it would be interesting to try OK Dinghy again and see if I could still do it. But I'm a small guy, only about 74 kg and I very much relied on the weight jacket before.

"I would like to say I am back for the long term but I feel a lack of motivation. Sailing doesn't seem as important to me as it used to be. So I don't know how things will develop. I'm not so optimistic about my chances, though my chance could be if it is light winds but I'm not expecting anything near the top."

Wilcox concluded, "The organisation so far looks great and the Race Officer Patrik Schander seems to have it all under control."

Measurement and registration ends with the practice race on Saturday 25 July. The first race starts at 11.00 on Sunday 26 July and racing continues until Thursday 30 July. Ten races are scheduled with one discard after five have been sailed.

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