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Interview with OK Dinghy European Junior Champion Will Heritage

by Karen Robertson 15 Nov 2018 23:21 PST
Will Heritage during the International OK Dinghy UK Nationals at Brixham © Gareth Fudge /

Will Heritage, a teenage boat building apprentice from the Isle of Wight has surprised and delighted many in the OK fleet after bursting onto the scene in a boat he largely built himself and taking fourth at the OK Nationals in his first event in the class and then 15th at the OK Europeans where he also won the European Junior crown. Will is leading a group of new youngsters that are coming into the OK and making their presence felt at a time where international competition is hotting up with such notables as Freddy Loof, Mats Caap and Rod Davis returning to the OK to enjoy their sailing in a more sociable, but still deeply competitive fleet. In this interview Karen Robertson talks to Will about his sailing, why he chose the OK and his successes this year.

Karen Robertson - Hi Will and thanks for taking the time to talk with me. You've had a fantastic first year in the OK getting fourth at the Nationals, 13th at the Europeans recently and winning the Junior European trophy. You must be very happy with your results after such a short time in the class.

Will Heritage - Thank you very much! I'm am extremely happy with how the Europeans went, especially as it was my first international event in the boat mixing with the big boys and the best in Europe. To be crowned Junior European Champion was the icing on the cake after a very fun week of hard work and great sailing.

KR - Do you have any highlights from the Europeans? Sailing in the South of France late in the season sounds like an excellent plan.

WH - My highlight of the Europeans has to be getting a top 10 in the last race crossing the World Champion with the last tack of the race to get inside the top 10. It was the penultimate race of the regatta, I needed a good race to stay in the top 15 and thankfully I did just that. To be honest couldn't stop smiling as I'd had all top 25 results but nothing in the top ten. to get one in the top ten result was hard fought in such a good fleet.

KR – Oh that's fantastic and I can imagine you would be smiling after to get it on the last tack of the race to get I too. Apart from the existing wealth of talent already in the OK class there's been an influx of some very notable sailors such as Olympian Freddy Loof and America's Cup notable Rod Davis into the OK class worldwide recently. It must have been nice to sail alongside such famous sailors.

WH - I have been watching Freddy Loof compete in the Olympics or the Star Sailors League for as long as I can remember, so to sail against him was amazing! Sailing is great because you get to compete against the best in the world and legends of the sport like Rod Davis regularly. I personally find it incredibly useful to sail against them to watch how they work the boat and sail it differently to how I do. In trying to catch up on the experience that have and by watching them I can catch up that little bit faster. but most of all they're extremely nice people and lovely to talk to, they'll answer any questions about the boat that they can to help you on your way.

KR – That's so true and I agree it is one of the things that makes sailing special. I've never had the pleasure to meet Rod but have met Freddy many times over the decades and he's always been such a nice and genuinely helpful guy. To be even up near them in your first OK International Championship shows that while you're new to the OK you're obviously a very talented sailor. What boats did you grow up sailing and have you had any other big successes before?

WH - I started sailing when I was about eight sailing Optimists, I soon took to it and was off around the county doing the extremely competitive circuit they had, being selected for the National squads soon after. It helped me no end to get my head round 100+ boats on a start line which helps me with every start I do. At the age of 12 I moved into the Laser 4.7 where I spent the next few years, winning a few national ranking events and the Inland Championships before moving into the Radial until 2016.

By this stage I had started to do some keelboat sailing in the Dragon Class which I still sail today - sailing with Graham and Julia Bailey who I've known since I was born. They've helped my sailing more than I could imagine, the highly competitive fleet mixed with the experience and intelligent sailing of the Baileys has taught me so much that I can take into my own sailing. We have won four Edinburgh Cups (National Championships) 2014,15,17 and 2018. So far...

KR – Yes, the Baileys certainly have an enviable reputation. What else have you sailed?

WH - I really enjoy sailing with family my dad (who took me and my sister all over Europe) and we have a Flying Fifteen we race in Cowes together, have won our class in Cowes Week a few times and hope to do more in the years to come. it's nice to sail together as I grew up watching him sail then he took me around for years so to sail together is great. I've also been sailing catamarans between the Laser and the OK with my sister Sophie. It was great fun and coming second in the Youth Nationals was a bonus.

I then went onto sail the Nacra 15 coming top 10 at the Europeans in 2017-18 I have also been sailing Etchells with Lawrie Smith though out this year which I have enjoyed and learnt lots about the boat, winning the nationals was their highlight in the class. I help build the Etchells as I am an apprentice for my Dad (David Heritage) so building them helps me to understand the boat and I'll hopefully do more next year.

KR – That might answer my next question as I understand you built the boat you've been sailing from a bare shell so was that part of the reason?

WH - From when I was a very small boy I had dreams of being a 6'3" brute of a Finn sailor but unfortunately I haven't even got close to six foot meaning I am a touch small for a Finn. But after talking to a few people an OK seemed a great road to go down as its similar to a Finn but still a fantastic boat. I had finished with my youth sailing and was at a crossroads of what to do. I started as an apprentice boat builder for my Dad building race boats so we decided to buy a hull with no deck on and go from there. the hull went to Andy Rushworth to get a deck put on it and I started on it in late January, finishing early July. that was my way into the class, it's one of if not my favourite boat to sail.

KR – The modern OK really is one of the most underrated boats there is but it's also got a reputation for being tricky to get up to speed in. Indeed, five-time OK world Champion Nick Craig has said that he finds the OK one of the hardest boats to get back up to speed in after time away but you seem to have found your feet quite quickly. Did you have any help setting the boat up and getting up to speed initially?

WH - I had some help of course. everyone was extremely helpful and generous with their knowledge. While building the boat Andy Rushworth put the deck on for me and gave me some mast rake and deck level numbers to work with for a Synergy hull, this meant I could get in the boat and race it rather than struggle as my mast wasn't in the correct position.

Jim Hunt (HD Sails) and Charlie Cumbley (North Sails) have been extremely helpful with mast numbers and sails as I wasn't quite sure what numbers I needed for the mast as I'd never sailed an OK before building my one. Jim provided me with a flatter sail for the big winds as I'm quite small. I recently got a North Sail which I predominantly used at the Europeans due to the fact it was quite choppy. The whole fleet has been extremely welcoming and helpful to me and helped a great deal.

KR - Has your initial success given you further ambitions in the class in the next few years? The OK World Championships are coming to the UK in 2022 so is that a long-term goal?

WH - I hope to go to a few more events in Europe alongside the events in the UK. Basically, I want to sail the boat as much as I can and improve on what I have learnt so far in the short time I've been sailing the OK. Hopefully I'll be going to the worlds in 2020 and 2021, I have been to Lake Garda before and will train had to do the best I can there. 2020 in Sweden will be my first worlds in the OK so doing that before the 2021 or 2022 worlds will give me a good idea of what it's about. But to do well in Lyme Regis 2022 will be amazing. but until then I'll keep learning and sailing whenever and whatever I can.

KR - Would you recommend the OK for other young sailors and those not of Finn sailor size? It's perhaps a good option for those that like the idea of sailing in an international fleet but do not want to or cannot go the route of the Olympic classes (Laser / Finn).

WH - The OK for me was a very natural progression as I don't fit into any of the Olympic classes but still was high quality racing against the best in the world. the OK is perfect for this. They're a great boat for youths because you learn about sailing with an unstayed rig and sails due to the fact you don't have to have a certain sail (like a Laser) you can change the boat to suit you as I've done with my boat - by adapting the side deck size and sail shape it means you can be different sizes and weights and still be competitive. I'm on the smaller side and still like to think I'm competitive.

KR – You certainly are giving the old guard a run for their money so far and there's a few other youths like ex-Cadet World Champ Jamie Harris coming into the class too I see. This year (2018) the class sponsored an entry and use of the class demo boat at the Nationals to either a female or youth sailor which was well received. Is this something that should be run again?

WH - Definitely! I think it's a great idea that people get to try the boat and race it!

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