Youth Sailor wins OK Dinghy Australian Championship.
After a two-year hiatus and the effects of cancellations and postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NB SailSports International OK Dinghy Australian Championship finally got underway in March 2022. Much to the delight of the competitors gathering at Woollahra Sailing Club boat park over the weekend leading up to the event, to catch up and share stories after some long absences.
Despite individual absences from the ongoing impacts of COVID, a strong fleet of 33 competitors from New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and a sole representative from the growing Western Australian fleet, gathered at Woollahra SC to contest the championship and enjoy the special class camaraderie sorely missed over the past 2 years.
Racing conditions throughout the week were mostly light and variable and PRO Graham Biehl was challenged throughout the regatta – facing regular difficulties to get racing under way on most days. After abandoning 2 races on the first day due to light and unpredictable winds directions, all racing was abandoned for the day and the competitors headed for shore to enjoy some of our generous sponsors product (much thanks to Akasha Brewery). With the forecast for the rest of the week looking similar, the pressure was on the PRO and regatta organisers.
Image courtesy of Clancy Dwyer
However, day 2 delivered and after 3 races, including a catch-up race held in glamorous sunny conditions with an 8-10kts SSE breeze and in the lovely swell of “The Sound” of Sydney Harbour, the sailors and regatta organisers were starting to feel more confident.
Despite holding the sailors onshore under an AP flag on most days until a reliable breeze settled in, Biehl, with very efficient and effective race management, managed to get away 8 races out of a maximum of 10 over the week – to the delight of the sailors.
Competition throughout the fleet was tight, and mistakes or the slightest slip-up proved costly, particularly at the top, where each of the top 4 sailors finished with at least 5 podium finishes a piece from the 8 heats that were sailed.
beginning to post some top results in the ILCA 7 class despite his still relatively light weight (75kg), raced in the event courtesy of the Clive Roberts Trust which provides funding and support for junior sailors to compete in the International OK Dinghy class at local and international events. Prior to the regatta Bijkerk had only sailed the OK Dinghy on one occasion – an introductory sail on the Friday evening immediately prior to the regatta.
With the quality and experience present throughout, and especially at the top of the Australian OK Dinghy fleet, this was a standout performance from the young Bijkerk and highlighted to all competitors the benefits that come from spending most days of the week on the water training and competing.
Former Etchells National Champion, David Clark (AUS 15), who trailed Bijkerk by 1 point heading into the final race and has a wealth of top fleet-racing in highly competitive classes, found out to his expense that when it comes to the pointy end of a regatta, the sharpness and confidence that come from spending many training and racing hours on the water – most days each week – can be hard to counter.
Bijkerk, knowing he had to only beat Clark and finish reasonably well in the last race to take the regatta, made sure he started near Clark and in a controlling position and match raced him until he was able to break clear and sail his own race to finish the final heat in 2nd place and take the championship win.
Clark, after a successful week of podium finishes (1, (10), 3, 2, 1, 2, 4) ultimately placed 12th in the final race, letting Tim Davies (AUS 791) who won the final race, to sneak past Clark on a countback into overall 2nd place and as a result also claiming the Bill Tyler Trophy for the top Masters competitor. David Clark finished in 3rd place, a bitter pill for Clark to swallow, who up to that point had sailed an excellent regatta in light and variable winds, against the much lighter Bijkerk.
Clark, while disappointed, was philosophical about the result and commented that “despite the disappointment of the last race and the overall outcome, it is great to see some young blood in the class and doing well – it can only lift the level of the entire fleet.”
Places 4th to 6th were filled by John Condie (AUS 779), Mark (Freddie) Phillips (AUS 808), also in his first OK Dinghy Nationals regatta, and Brent Williams (AUS 775) in 6th place.
Bijkerk’s outstanding performance to win the national championship at his first try, has shades of the results posted over a decade ago by a young Tom Burton, who won the NSW OK Dinghy State Championship in 2007/08 at the young age of 17, in a high quality and experienced field, before concentrating on the Laser class and ultimately going on to win Gold for Australia in the Laser at the Rio Olympics.
As well as some great racing, a highlight of the week was the presence of a mob of “Old Boys” – former OK Dinghy competitors from the early years of the class in Australia – who gathered from around the country and chartered the MV JBW to follow the racing on the water, while socialising and passing critical judgement about the skill and tactics of the current day racers.
At the Old Boy’s function in the clubrooms afterwards, immaculately dressed spokesman Peter Alexander (AKA Pierre Le Grande) commented that, “the most noticeable difference between ‘then and now’ was that the dress standards of the competitors had declined significantly” – in reference to the rather casual t-shirt and shorts uniform now worn by most competitors. While much has in-fact changed in the International OK Dinghy class over the intervening years, including the introduction of carbon masts, the international class organisation OKDIA has done well over many decades to preserve the essence of a class that embodies pure dinghy racing in a well-designed and beautiful-to-sail competitive boat. Top international sailors, including Olympic medallists and numerous World champions from other classes, continue to be attracted to the class all around the world. At the same time competitive club racers can compete in local and international regattas with some of the world’s top sailors.
The popularity of the class continues to grow – down-under in Australia and New Zealand and in Europe and the USA. With World Championships in Marstrand (Sweden) 2022, Lyme Regis (UK) 2023, Brisbane (Australia) 2024 and Lake Garda (Italy) in 2025, there is plenty to like.
Much thanks to our generous sponsors:
NB SailSports, Akasha, Boat Ropes, Turtle Sails, North Sails, MEB Sail Design, Harken, B&G, Dinghy Sports, Gottifredi Maffioli.
By Grant Wakefield, International OK Association of NSW
Full results from the regatta can be found at: https://www.woollahrasailingclub.org.au/series/5065
For more information on the International OK Dinghy Class in Australia https://www.ok.org.au/home/