World Champions and Rookies contest Wakatere OK Dinghy Invitational

Dean Coleman wins the day - 2012 Wakatere OK Dinghy Invitational
Alistair Deaves

On Sunday one of New Zealand’s leading OK Dinghy strongholds, Wakatere Boating Club held its inaugural OK Dinghy Invitational, where a number of former and prospective OK sailors were invited to compete in two races (in conjunction with normal Wakatere Sunday afternoon club racing) in OK Dinghies provided by current Wakatere OK sailors, who manned patrol boats and provided on-the-water support to their guests.

As usual, Auckland turned on a cracking day with blue skies and a 10 knot sea breeze, which built to around 12 knots during the afternoon.

Drawn by the reputation of the famous OK, an impressive line-up donned hiking pants and prepared to do battle. They included (along with several others) 1977 world OK Dinghy champion Peter Lester, who had not stepped into an OK since the last race of the 1977 worlds; 1984 World Laser champion Oscar Paulich, who has been regularly thrashing the other Wakatere Laser sailors and needs more of a challenge; and Wakatere stalwart and former Commodore Dean Coleman, usually seen folded up like a paper clip in a Sunburst these days but with an impressive yachting history to his name. Dean’s son Chis was there too, bravely taking on a man’s boat at just 13 years of age and 64kg.

Lester leads Race 1 from Paulich and Coleman - 2012 Wakatere OK Dinghy Invitational
Alistair Deaves
Race 1 was underway in around 8-10 knots of NE breeze, and with a strengthening incoming tide the locals headed left, hugging the shoreline – none more so than big Dean Coleman, and it paid off handsomely when he crossed in front of Lester and Paulich to lead around the first mark.

However, the two former world champions didn’t come here to lie down, and both are known for their downwind prowess. Lester, in particular, was famous for it in his OK glory days and the old skill was still apparent as he quickly reeled Coleman in to claim buoy room at the wing mark and slide away to a nice lead by the bottom. Paulich, meanwhile, made his move early in the second beat, picking up a couple of nice shifts to take the lead halfway up – Lester kept a cool head though and was back in yellow jersey country at the top, extending down the run and the next windward-leeward to eventually take the race victory. 36 years since his last race and he’s still got it! Meanwhile, Coleman was fighting back, steaming in from the left to pip Paulich by about half an inch on the finish line and take silver.

For Race 2 the breeze built to a lovely 10-12 knots, there were a few 'sheep in the paddock' and the OK Invitation turned into a battle royale as a handful of tough competitors warmed to this wonderful boat and the challenge of racing it. Paulich set the scene 30 seconds from the start, coming up under Lester and luffing hard, looking to take the ’77 champ out of the game early. Lester responded, sliding around Paulich’s bow and escaping, but hitting the pin early and being forced to throw in two quick tacks (which were perhaps marginally slower than they had been in ’77).

1984 World Laser Champion Oscar Paulich - 2012 Wakatere OK Dinghy Invitational
Alistair Deaves
Coleman, meanwhile, having benefited from some tuning tips from his boat’s owner between races, started mid-line at pace and shot out into an early lead, turning on the afterburners and straight-lining it for the left hand corner. Lester followed close behind, while Paulich was forced right and out into the ripping tide off the start, eventually rounding the top mark in fifth. Young Chris Coleman had his boat moving and was in fourth, with several others starting to get their boats really moving and competing strongly. Once again Lester’s downwind pace saved him and he passed Coleman to lead around the bottom mark. Paulich, meanwhile, was back into third.

With slightly more breeze, Coleman stretched out the long frame and powered past Lester upwind, only to be caught on the run and passed on the inside around the bottom mark – and the second windward-leeward followed exactly the same pattern. On the beat to the finish, it was hand-to-hand combat all the way, with Coleman once more showing superior upwind pace to take the race win. Meanwhile, Paulich finally found top gear and some good pressure on the right to steal second from Lester right on the line.

This meant that Coleman, with a 2-1 scorecard, won the day over two former world champions and took the glory!

Having completed two races, the guest fleet headed for shore, to be greeted with ice cold beers and their boats washed and de-rigged for them.

A great day all round, and a great initiative by the Wakatere BC fleet. With the OK Worlds scheduled to be held at Wakatere in 2018, this fleet is on the rise. Wakatere sailors totally dominated the NZ OK scene this summer, with Wakatere’s cabinet boasting the OK Dinghy NZ national title (Russell Page-Wood), Interdominion title (Ben Morrison), 2012-13 NZ tour title (Ben Morrison) and nearly every other regional trophy in the class. And numbers continue to grow.

1977 OK World Champion Peter Lester - 2012 Wakatere OK Dinghy Invitational
Alistair Deaves
The Wakatere OK Invitational follows the recent 2012 Sail Auckland regatta, a Grade 1 ISAF contest in which several non-Olympic classes participated for the first time, with the OK Dinghy fleet being the biggest. This quote from Rod Davis, one of Team OK Wakatere’s latest recruits, made as part of one of his Emirates Team New Zealand blogs, describes the OK Dinghy’s special niche perfectly:

'On the surface it seems strange that a non-Olympic class can attract more sailors than an Olympic class. However, the Olympic classes are an expensive proposition where, to be remotely competitive, you need to be a full-time sailor. That means lots more money, time and pressure and a lot less fun.
That is not to say the non-Olympic classes are easy pickings for ex-Olympians. Tom Dodson and I have the experience of six Games to call on. We tied mid-fleet in the OK Dinghy class. The same is true in all the classes…. the level of racing is high. First or last you would never want it any other way.
It’s great to see so many 'real' people racing their boats and having fun doing it. Without that, the top end of the sport, the Olympics, round the world racing, even the America’s Cup would just wither, die and then blow away.' - Rod Davis

The Wakatere OK Invitational is sure to become an annual event – any good sailors who want to try NZ’s most prestigious non-Olympic single-handed dinghy should come along. Watch this space!

For more information and NZOKDA contact details, see www.okdinghy.co.nz.