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Symonite OK Worlds lift class onto a new level for future

by Richard Gladwell, 17 Feb 00:54 PST 17 February 2019
Dan Slater - 2019 World OK Dinghy Champion © Richard Gladwell

Three times Olympian, and now a top sailing coach, Dan Slater stepped into the OK Dinghy for the 2019 Symonite World Championships, and never dropped out of the top two places overall during the five-day regatta.

He was expected to have the world title won by the penultimate race, counting his then worst place, a 4th in Race 7. But it was not to be.

"In the first race, I just got it wrong. I got a crap start and was at the wrong end [of the start line] in no wind.

"The guys to windward were laying the top mark and they were gone, off the start and that was it. It was just playing catch-up. The wind was anywhere between 120 and 210 degrees. I don't know if you would call that a significant wind shift, I probably would have, and blown the race up.

"On the first reach, I gybed onto port on a triangular course. As soon as I rounded the top mark, I sailed the first half of the first reach on port gybe!"

He went on to finish 24th - and what had seemed a certain World title - his first in open competition - was maybe slipping away.

"In the second race, I got a great start, and had control of both side of the fleet - but was sailing towards the wrong top mark.

"Freddy [Loof] was with me, and he was the only one who could beat me - as long as we were together it didn't matter where we finished on the fleet. Even if we were last and second to last - I still won."

"I wasn't stressed about it all. I thought "I just have to stick to him like glue", and we just sailed like a truck and trailer unit.

" In the end, I just got him out to the starboard layline, so that when we tacked, we were reaching for the finish and there was nothing that he could do.

"I did get a piece of him [reduced his lead] but I couldn't quite get him high enough to block him out at the finish, but it didn't really matter."

They finished 19th and 21st, which was enough for Slater to win the World Championship by 4pts.

Sailing in his first OK Worlds, after an Olympic career that spanned 12 years and included competing in the 49er (2000) and Finn in (2008 and 2012), Slater was pleased with the Symonite sponsored world championships.

"It has been great - and great for the New Zealand fleet. Not just because we had good results. We now have 60 OK's in New Zealand that are all of a high standard and our Nationals and all the traveller series are going to have 35-40 boats plus at every single event. Before we were getting 20-25 which is still great. Even at Wakatere [host for the Worlds], we have 40 boats now, and on any Sunday there will be 18-20 sailing. There's not a class in the country that someone aged between 18-70 plus can go sailing in a fleet like that - except maybe the Zephyrs.

"Having the Worlds here has been brilliant for the class and New Zealand. The guys are already talking about what they are going to do in the next few weeks. For sure there will be a few who don't do much between now and the winter series.

"Come next Sunday, there will be 15 boats out sailing here - it's what you do!"

"Everyone here loves sailing. They are not out here because it is part of their job. And that is the difference."

"The Worlds has given everyone a big boost, and long may it continue."

The Auckland event attracted an entry of 112 boats - the biggest fleet ever outside Europe. The previous Worlds at Warnemünder, Germany had 120 boats competing. The 2020 Worlds will be in Marstrand, Sweden.

World Youth Champion Josh Armit won the final race of the regatta, finishing third overall, after being tied for the lead early in the regatta dropping back to fourth and then finishing on a high note in third overall.

"It's been great learning a lot against a very experienced fleet," he says, "and having some fun, which is really cool."

"The OK is a real fun boat to sail, you get some good rides, and the technical side of it is cool. There's more rig controls than the Laser, which is nice."

"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can," he adds as he embarks on a Laser campaign focussed on the 2020 Olympics, and an uncertain future beyond that regatta in less than 18 months time

Olympic Gold and twice Bronze medal winner, Freddie Loof (SWE) started his international sailing career in the OK Dinghy, before moving onto the Finn and then the Star class - where he won the Gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in Weymouth.

Now he has gone the full cycle, and is back in the OK class where he will continue to compete as well as in the blossoming Star Sailors League.

This is not his first trip to New Zealand.

"I was sailing here many years ago with Dean Barker, and I came into Auckland with Grant Dalton in the Volvo OR in Amer Sports One - I haven't spent much time in New Zealand over the last 15-20 years, so it has been great to be back with the Kiwis."

He's happy with second place in the 112 boat Symonite sponsored world championship, the largest OK fleet assembled outside Europe. He doesn't mention that he sailed the regatta with an injured right hand, which was too painful for him to shake hands from the beginning of the regatta to the end.

"I was trying to push for the first place, but when I arrived here I was shocked at how all the Kiwis had been taking it so seriously. I thought it would have been a bit more laid back."

"As I said to Dan, this feels like how the Finn used to be in the old days. For me, that was 20 years ago. For Dan only seven or eight years ago. It is really good racing."

Staying away from the vexed issue of the Finn in the Olympics, Loof thinks the OK has a bright future.

"We don't need to speak about the Finn, but I think it is a fantastic boat. I think classes like the OK will grow. In some ways it is more easy than the Finn. It is a lighter boat, it is cheaper boat, and for me it suits my style a little more. It's more twitchy, and you can drive the boat a little harder," says the three-time Finn Gold Cup winner.

"The OK is physically more demanding upwind than the Finn. If you have a good rig in the Finn and you hike and work hard, it is fine. In the OK you really have to push the boat a bit more, because it has the hard-chine, and it is a really tricky boat downwind, because it is so unstable. The Finn is quite easy."

Sweden is the spiritual home of the OK, despite being designed in neighbouring Denmark in 1957. The 2020 World Championships will be held in Marstrand, Sweden.

"We had 50 boats at the last Nationals, including a couple of Danish boats. The OK is really growing. I now live in Norway, and have sold my current boat to a friend in the club.

"I will be staying with the OK. I like the OK, it is like a big family.

"It is like The Mob - once you are in you can't get out!"

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