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Optimist 70th Anniversary Champion of Champions Race

by Paula Irish on 2 Aug 29 July - 4 August 2017

More than 40 past and present champions took part in a special race to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Optimist dinghy at the 2017 Volvo Gill British National and Open Championships.

Competitors for the invitational race included former Optimist national champions, current top sailors in the fleet, parents with national and world titles and international coaches – plus five lucky Optimist sailors racing at this week's nationals who were given a golden ticket to take part!

All were competing in borrowed boats generously loaned by sailors taking part in the nationals – who were keeping fingers crossed that their Optimists would come back in good shape for the rest of the championship!

The startline in the marina at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy gave arena spectating for those gathered to cheer on their favourites – the crowds then ran onto the pontoons and back to watch the fleet as the race took competitors around five cans in the harbour and back into the marina.

The hotly contested two-lap race saw a general recall on the first start! The black flag went up and the fleet got away at the second time of asking, with current Optimist sailor Will Pank taking a clear lead until realising he'd earned a BFD.

2012 Optimist national champion Martin Wrigley (now 470 Olympic class sailing for GBR) was then first, holding off 420 sailor Adele Young (Optimist Senior Girls Champion 2015), with Finley Dickenson (2016 RS Feva world champion) third.

Martin, who won the prize of a new Moatt sail for the owner of his borrowed boat, Lucia Espi Blat, said: "It was quite hectic, certainly off the startline and around the first couple of marks!" And he had this advice for this week's sailors: "Figure out the bias end, get off the line clean and hike as hard as you can because it's going to be a pretty windy week!"

Older competitors jumping back into Optimists had great fun although for some it proved a little challenging. There was one capsize and international race officer Peter Saxton had told competitors during the briefing that if this happened, it was probably a signal to retire. He also said beats had been kept to a minimum in case anyone struggled to get under the boom.

On stage later talking about his race, outgoing Optimist national coach Alan Williams, who earned a special cheer in recognition of all his work with the many sailors who have come through the class over the years, said: "I did a practise start and beat to the first mark and nearly didn't get back in time because I was so slow!" He had executed his plan for the race, however, which was simply: "Enjoy it!"

BAR America's Cup sailor Paul Campbell-James (Optimist champion '95 and'97) was among the competitors and went on stage to present the prizes and answer questions from today's young Optimist sailors in the crowd.

He said afterwards: "I came about 25th so I was absolutely useless! I was kind of slowly going backwards through the fleet the whole time but it was great fun and good to see a lot of old faces. To celebrate 70 years of Optimists is pretty special."

Paul was the 1990s winner of the race; the 2000s decade winner was Johanna Asplund (first senior girl 2009); Ant Clay (who is now encouraging his own daughter to sail in the Oppie he learnt to sail in over 30 years ago!) was the 1980s winner; 470 Seoul Olympian Jason Belben (just back from the Moth worlds at Garda) was the 1970s winner; Lindy Simpson (first senior girl in 1978) was the fleet's oldest champion; and Ella Lance (girl's junior champion 2016) was the first placed current Optimist sailor.

More than 380 Optimist sailors from home and abroad are competing at the 2017 Volvo Gill Optimist British National and Open Championships.

After 10 races so far, Wednesday was designated a lay day due to high winds, with racing scheduled to then resume for the final two days.

Follow all the latest news from the UK International Optimist Class Association on Facebook @iocauk and from the championship on Twitter @oppinationals.

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