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Symonite OK Worlds: Practice race in the beautiful seabreeze

by Richard Gladwell, 9 Feb 2019 04:38 PST 10 February 2019
Dan Slater - 2019 Symonite Int OK Dinghy World Championships, February 2019 © Robert Deaves

The 111 boat fleet assembled for the 2019 Symonite World Championships had a final practice race today in champagne sailing conditions, off Takapuna Beach.

Half of the fleet pulled out after the first triangle and headed for the beach.

After two days of measuring, without any apparent drama, the competitors attended the opening ceremony and dinner at Wakatere Boating Club.

The big fleet for the single-handed class - designed initially as a trainer for the Olympic Finn - comes at a time when World Sailing has turned its back on single-handed sailing. The point was not lost on the sailors at the opening ceremony with references to the fact that the 2024 Olympic Regatta will contain only one singlehanded class - and one that most competitors at this World Championship would be too heavy to sail.

Ironically the OK has attracted a fleet of 111 at these Worlds, the Finn had 380 entries for the 2018 Masters Worlds, and had a full house on limited entry fleet of 90 places at the 2019 Finn World Championships.

The competitors cover a range of ages from teens to seventy plus, and from multiple Olympic medalists and four-time America's Cup champions to club racing regulars.

It's an eclectic group.

This is the first world championship ever staged at Wakatere Boating Club, which was founded in 1926, by a group of sailors designing and building sailing canoes. Wakatere is Maori for "fast canoe".

The first world championship for the class was held in 1970 off Takapuna and won by Swede Kent Carlsson. That was the first ever world championship sailed in New Zealand.

The regatta was also the launchpad for Peter Montgomery's broadcasting career when he covered the series live for radio. He went on to completely reshape the way yachting was commentated and reported, turn the sport into a compelling broadcast be it radio or TV.

The championships returned to Takapuna in 1977 as a memorial to 1973 World Champion, Clive Roberts - who had become unbeatable in New Zealand and was the dominant figure in the class an indeed New Zealand yachting. Roberts was sadly killed in a car crash in May 2005.

That world championship was won by New Zealand's Peter Lester, and was the Kiwis' first world championship win in home waters.

Two competitors in that World Championship, Bill Bell (AUS) and Dick Batt (GBR) have returned to Auckland serving on the International Jury and as Measurer for the 2019 World Championships.

The 1977 Worlds were also notable for the development of the class measuring jig by Alf Lock, which both speeded up the hull measurement process considerably, and found out several boats which did not conform to the strict class measurements, but which had been passed in their own country.

A beautiful varnished OK belonging to Jim Ley (Australia) was picked up in the measurement jig and rejected by the measurers, triggering a diplomatic incident with the Australian Ambassador being called on to intervene.

The 1970 World OK Dinghy Championships were a first for New Zealand with big fleets of OK Dinghies being sailed at various clubs, requiring the selection of a New Zealand to contain numbers within manageable bounds. Once selected the team trained together with a beach work out session before sailing.

One member of that squad is competing in the 2019 World Championships.

Olympic Finn class representative, Jonty Farmer was the top placed New Zealander finishing third overall. However, the regatta highlighted how New Zealand had to lift its standard through a changed more thinking approach, and by sailors working together and information sharing through a development program.

Clive Roberts became the first New Zealander to win an OK World Championship in 1973 at Falmouth, England sailing a hull designed by Alf Lock and built by Bruce Farr, who was working as a boatbuilder in Devonport the time.

Since then New Zealand sailors have won another 12 World OK titles - it is New Zealand's most successful sailing class. The class was also the first to send teams away regularly each year to compete in Europe and Scandinavia

As Clive Roberts noted in a piece he penned in 1974: "in 10 years 400 boats have been built, and a total of $60,000 raised [at a time when a house and land cost $25,000] which has enabled 250 positions for NZ OK sailors to compete in international yachting."

Although the 2019 Symonite World Championship is based at Wakatere BC, the racing will be held off Takapuna starting at 1300hrs on Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (1100hrs start).

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