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Volvo stars step into OK Dinghies - 7. July 2006

Ever wondered what Volvo sailors do after the race is over?

by Robert Deaves [1,008 words]

What do you do after stepping off a Volvo Open 70 at the end of a gruelling round the world yacht race? Take a shower? Have a good meal? Or maybe catch up on some sleep? Perhaps the last thing you’d want to do is go sailing.

However, for three Kiwi watch captains from the race just finished, their solution is to take up OK Dinghy sailing. Stu Bannatyne from Movistar, Scott Beavis from ABN AMRO TWO and race winner Brad Jackson from ABN AMRO ONE have all purchased OK Dinghies ready for the coming season in New Zealand. Also returning will be Matt Stechmann after a 20-month break from the class while working shore-side for the race winning ABN Team.

Matt Stechmann said, “We are all looking forward to getting ready for the OK summer ranking series, the Interdominions and the Nationals, which will all be held at venues throughout North Island. Another couple of Volvo lads are also in the hunt for boats. One is planning to be ready for the summer series, while the other is trying to fit in some sailing around America’s Cup commitments.”

The OK Dinghy is a 4 metre singlehanded dinghy that is raced competitively across the world. It has large followings in Europe and the Antipodes as well as smaller fleets in the Far East and the USA. Designed in 1957 by the Dane, Knud Olsen, one of the OK Dinghy’s greatest assets is the friendly worldwide competition and the camaraderie of the international fleet.

The OK Dinghy class in New Zealand is perhaps one of the strongest in the world. In a country of relatively few mainstream classes – at least compared with Europe – the OK Dinghy has tuned the skills of many future world class yachtsmen. The New Zealand OK sailors are mainly based on the North Island in Auckland, Napier and Wellington with races nearly every weekend.

New Zealand first won the OK Worlds back in 1973 when Clive Roberts took the title in Falmouth, UK. In later years, Peter Lester, Richard Dodson, Leith Armit and Greg Wilcox have also won titles, with Armit’s four titles equalling the record set by Bo-Staffan Anderson of Sweden.

OKs may seem a strange choice to many, but not according to Brad Jackson. Jackson has done four ‘round the world’ races stretching back to New Zealand Endeavour, has held the 24-hour and Atlantic records and sailed aboard Tag Heuer in the 1995 cup. His interest in the OK class started when he heard of fellow Endeavour and Mari Cha sailor Stu Bannatyne’s purchase.

After a little investigation Jackson decided the OK was worth a look, “I’d been thinking of doing some dinghy sailing for a while and had always thought I’d get a Laser but after hearing about Stu getting an OK and finding out a little more about the class, it just seemed like a good thing to have a crack at. For starters the boats are cheaper and more durable than a Laser. After a little work, the carbon rig allows everyone to be competitive in any breeze, regardless of size; there’s an organised schedule of events around the country and the standard of the racing appears pretty competitive. From what I hear, the guys that sail them are a pretty relaxed and social bunch as well, so what more could you ask.”

Joe Porebski, Vice President of OKDIA, the world association and long time OK sailor said, “Having these three join the OK fleet here in New Zealand has created a lot of excitement for the coming year within the class. It’s not everyday that the average club sailor in New Zealand gets to compete with guys of this standard – we are used to watching them on the TV or the internet. It’s the same as having a first string of All Blacks turn up for a game and a social beer on a Saturday afternoon.”

Porebski goes on to point out that the OK has seen some of New Zealand’s finest sailors pass through its ranks, naming Rick and Tom Dobson, Peter Lester, David Barnes, Tony Mutter, Graham Woodroffe, Barry Thom and Leith Armit. He continues, “Although class numbers are not as high as those of the 70s and 80s, the OK has survived pretty well in the last decade with a solid core of long time sailors, who have kept the class alive and well, both domestically and abroad.”

Returning OK Dinghy sailor Matt Stechmann reiterates the point, “Interest has started to pick up again in the last couple of years with quite a few additions to the fleet, some new and some returning. The rising cost of the Laser, coupled with its inclusion in the Olympics has turned into more of an elitist fleet for those pursuing Olympic selection, so the days of a 40-hour working week, training after work and expecting to turn up and be competitive are long gone.”

He continued, “Meanwhile, the OK association are promoting just that, a reasonable priced craft and good local competition, both here and with fellow sailors from Australia. In addition you get the chance to sail in an 80 boat fleet at the Worlds – if you manage to win a spot – as at present the New Zealand fleet’s strength is not matched by any other OK sailing nation. And what’s more, while you’re at it, bring the wife and kids as many of the sailors do. How many classes still offer that?”

After the 2006/7 New Zealand summer season has concluded, the team will have completed a qualification series for next year’s world championships, which are being held in the seaside resort of Leba in Poland – where the class will also be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Whether or not this influx of new talent will make a big impact on the water remains to be seen, but it’s certainly going to be interesting to watch the OK Dinghy scene over the coming year to see what these experienced hands can bring to the class in its 50th year.

© Robert Deaves, OKDIA
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