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OK Dinghy goes from strength to strength

by Robert Deaves 27 Jun 2018 20:19 BST
OK Dinghy fleet © Robert Deaves

After several years of growth the OK Dinghy continues to go from strength to strength. A number of highly successful early season events has created further interest in the class, with the fleet now attracting more top sailors looking for traditional one-design racing in a tactical, and affordable boat, and in a highly competitive and accessible fleet. This has led to a near record entry at this year's world championship in Warnemünde, Germany, perhaps one of the most popular venues for the class, which starts in just under two weeks.

The June 2018 release of the World Ranking List was timed to coincide with the world championship, as it is being used to split the huge 140 boat fleet into smaller groups for the opening series.

Greg Wilcox, the most successful sailor in the history of the ranking list, stays in the No. 1 slot for the fourth consecutive time, and for the 14th time in total. Second and third placed Henrik Kofoed Larsen and Tomasz Gaj, switch places from the previous release.

Other than double European Champion Bo Petersen moving back into the top 10, very little else has changed at the top.

Busy season

The international season started with the Spring Cup in Medemblik, in typical Dutch spring weather. Charlie Cumbley, topped the all-British podium, to win again from double world champion, Jim Hunt and UK National champion, Luke Gower.

Next up was the Mediterranean Championships in Bandol, the venue for this year's European Championship in September. It was a largely local fleet with a few northern European visitors. Peter Zeiler, from Denmark took the win ahead of last year's winner Julien Dejugnat. Timothe Petetin was the only local sailor on the podium in third.

Dejugnat then went on to win the Northern French Championship, at Lac du Der, from Petetin and Jean Christophe Morin.

By now the season was beginning to gain some momentum. The Nordic Championships at Gottskär pulled in a large entry and was the first event back in the class for Fredrik Lööf since he was 17 years old. He took an easy win from Petersen and Wilcox.

And finally, there was Kieler Woche, with the biggest entry for decades. Many used the event for training and warm up ahead of the world championship.

Despite a UFD in one race, former Finn Junior World Champion, Jan Kurfeld, from Germany, took a narrow victory from Petersen, with another former Finn sailor, Mads Bendix, also from Denmark, in third.

Growth

OK Dinghy sailing is not just growing; it is growing at a phenomenal rate. When this ranking list was started in 2005, there were 287 sailors taking part in qualifying events. Now there are 540. That's a growth rate of nearly 90 per cent.

The growth rate since 2014 is most pronounced (see the graph above). It was at that time OKDIA introduced a 10-year strategic plan to grow the class and put it on a more professional footing. Drawing direct connections is never easy but over that time, what is clear is that more boats are doing more events, while there has been about a five per cent growth in overall membership.

While much of the strategy was based around reforming and professionalising the day to day running of the class, two of the more ambitious stated aims of the strategic plan were to "To become the natural choice for non-Olympic single-handed sailors," and also, "To stage attractive global events that are well attended and competitive."

At this stage, both have been realised at different levels. Last year's Europeans attracted 130 entries, while this year's world championship in Warnemünde, has attracted around 140. And that is without the Kiwis travelling in any great numbers. The largest OK Dinghy World Championship of all time was 2012 in Vallensbæk, Denmark with 145 entries.

Future events are already booked in at Bandol, Auckland, Kiel, Garda and Marstrand and combine traditional OK Dinghy venues alongside shiny new venues that could and should bolster local fleet growth and satisfy those in the class with itchy feet looking for new experiences. In recent years the class has ventured to Thailand and Barbados, and further 'exotic' and new locations of the class are being sought.

In 2019, the world championship is being held at Wakatere Boating Club, in Auckland, and already there are signs that this could be nearly as big as this year with 62 entries already confirmed. With at five or six containers expected from Europe the event will, at the very least, almost certainly be the largest OK Dinghy world championship ever held outside Europe.

Boat production is also at its highest rate for 40 years. The graph below shows the number of new boats registered each year since the class became international in 1975. In 2017 more boats were registered than at any time since 1980. Already this year 48 new boats have been registered and the upward trend continues, with sailors of the calibre of Lööf and Kurfeld investing time and money into OK Dinghy racing.

There has never been a better time to get into OK Dinghy sailing, with more quality builders producing better looking boats than ever before, more well attended events, with more racing, more people and more fun.

OK Dinghy World Ranking List - June 2018
Top 20 from 540 sailors (best five events over a two year cycle)

Full list can be downloaded here

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