Oppie Inlands

Don’t let their age and innocence deceive you. Optimist racing is mean business!

Wednesday May 15th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: United Kingdom
Over 200 taxi drivers, bankers, coaches and rules advisers will descend on Datchet Water Sailing Club this weekend. It's not a careers convention, just parental responsibility as they deliver some 260 kids to the Volvo Musto Optimist Inland Championships.

Along with the National Championship and the End of Season event, the Inland championship is one of the three key events in the Volvo Optimist calendar that counts towards national ranking points and subsequent squad selection.

After the recent European and world championship selection series, former Junior National Champion Richard Mason has proved to be the brightest of the young up-and-coming stars in the class.

The top five from the selection series earnt a place in the GB World Optimist Team to compete in Texas, USA in July this year while the next eight youngsters will travel to the European championships at Tavira in Portugal later the same month.

Richard’s proud father will be on the sidelines along with several hundred binocular clad parents, but usually the role is reversed as Richard is the son of GBR Challenge mainsheet man Chris Mason. While dad was plying his trade on the Hauraki Gulf last winter training with the British team, son Richard went sailed regularly with Kiwi kids and appears to have raised the game substantially. He won the two three-day world and European championship trial weekends in Weymouth by a staggering fifteen points overall, but was given a run for his pocket money most of the way by Welsh youngster Hannah Mills.

She will be the first British girl to compete at the world championship since 1997. Britain has never won a medal at this event and only twice has finished in the top twenty.

Andrew Conn was third placed qualifier to travel to Texas while in fourth and attending his fourth world championship is another Welsh nipper, Tom Mallindine. Twelve year old twins Tim and Ben Saxton share talent as well as looks as Tim will compete in the USA while Ben will see if he can be the first British Oppie yachtie to bring home a European championship medal since Nick Thompson won two years ago. The current British number one Josh Metcalf missed out on a place in the world championship squad, but will join the European team. All these young guns will be competing at Datchet this weekend.

The Optimist class is currently in a boom period at present, mostly due to the input of coaching and development programme put in place by the RYA in recent years, but the class association itself organised and run through parental support. "Up until 1998 we were getting two hundred entries, since then it has been getting bigger and bigger. We’ll probably pick up another ten or twenty on the day aswell," said Jenny Campbell-James of the UK Optimist Association, explaining the massive numbers that will compete this weekend.

The Optimist is credited with producing some of our top Olympic and America’s Cup sailors and with big fleets at such young ages it’s not surprising. "You have to be capable of getting off the start line pretty quickly as it’s always crowded. You have to be able to break free and get into clear air. You have to be capable of fighting back and you have to be consistent to put a series together," explained one coach, listing the attributes most weekend sailors would bend over backwards for.

madfor sailing will bring you a full round up from Datchet on Monday.

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