Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Yesterday my cousin Stephen Smith loaned me his OK Dinghy for the last races of the Onerahi Yacht Clubs Tuesday evening 'Twilight Series'. I raced in three back to back races and enjoyed myself immensely. I was the only OK dinghy sailor on the water and raced with others within the Laser fleet.

The wind was not as strong as last weeks series where I capsized 3 times sailing my Starling and didn't finish any races. This week, I completed all the races mainly because I found this bigger boat more suited to my size. It's a boat for someone of adult size and I found it more stable and easy to move around in. I found my weight suits this size; any movement within the cockpit doesn't alter the trim of the boat to the extent it does to the Starling.

I found the Ok Dinghy fast, relatively docile compared to the Starling and very forgiving in its manners. Despite its much bigger sail area, the rig can be easily tuned when sailing to suit the wind conditions. I found the hiking position much easier on my legs than on the Starling. This was a surprise to me as I thought that stacking out to windward for any length of time would be the deal breaker, but it wasn't nearly as difficult as I had imagined and I was able to stack out comfortably for lengthy periods of time.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Auckland and had a look at a couple of OK Dinghies for sale. Whether I purchase one is a question I will have to think very carefully about. Certainly the result of yesterdays sail has proved to myself that I am still capable of coping with one of these bigger boats.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I think you already know the answer... :o)

Alden Smith said...

Yes, and you know that I know that you know that I know - So I guess that settles it! LOL.

Ben said...

You could build, restore all the classes from P class up to Finn for you and your offspring.

Alden Smith said...

Ben, you shouldn't encourage people who are very suggestible, they have a habit of 'picking up the ball and running with it' LOL.

Dan Gurney said...

In 1963, when I was 12 years old, my parents got me a book I still treasure called Expert Dinghy Racing by Paul Elvstrom, translated to English by Richard Creagh-Osborne. Elvstrom, a Danish sailor, was arguably the best dinghy sailor of his era, winning the Olympics in his Finn. His book opens by profiling several boats popular fifty years ago in international dinghy sailing competitions, the Moth, Optimist, OK Dinghy, the 505, the Flying Dutchman and others.

The OK Dinghy was designed by Danish boatbuilder and yacht designer Knud Olsen (hence the name, OK). About it, Elvstrom wrote, "The OK Dinghy is very light on the helm and easy to handle for a trained dinghy sailor, who is soon able to become familiar with its feel. In the beginning you think that the dinghy is going to take charge of you, but after some hard work and thought you realise that you are able to control the boat. The OK Dinghy is a real racing boat which needs to have a quick reacting helmsman who will take advantage of the qualities of a light and lively planing dinghy." Remember, Elvstrom wrote this more than 52 years ago—before planing dinghies were the norm.

I thought then, as I do now, that the OK Dinghy is among the best single-handed dinghies ever designed. It simply looks right. So pleasing to the eye. Better than the Laser (the boat I sailed mostly) better than the Sunfish, better than the Finn. I've always admired the boat even though I've never actually sailed one.

Unfortunately for me, the OK Dinghy never gained a foothold on the West Coast of the US. They were, in fact, rarely even seen in the San Francisco area. So I've never owned one.

You did a beautiful job on the Starling and the P boat. I am hoping you find an OK Dinghy to restore. You'll bring it back to life, and, I think, the boat would return the favor fully. If you do decide to do it, I hope you'll fully document the project on Stream of Consciousness so that I can enjoy the journey vicariously.

Alden Smith said...

Dan, it is an interesting coincidence that you mention Elvstroms book, I also obtained a copy at the same age and have kept it all these years. Also I have actually been reading it this week, mainly the chapter on racing tactics and looking at the very familiar photographs of OK Dinghies.

I think Paul Elvstrom is an Olympian who should perhaps be more widely known for his extraordinary sailing abilities and successes. He has won four gold medals at the Olympic Games and won world championships eleven times in eight different types of boat, including Snipe, Soling, Star, Flying Dutchman and Finn. He competed in eight Olympic Games from 1948 to 1988, being one of only four people ever to win four consecutive gold medals (1948, 52, 56 and 1960), (the others are sailor Ben Ainslie and athletes Carl Lewis in the long jump and Al Oerter in the discus).

Along with reading Elvstroms book I have been reading what is the contemporary bible of the OK Dinghy. It's called 'COMPLETELY OK - The History, Techniques and Sailors of the OK Dinghy' Edited by Robert Deaves and Published for the OK Dinghy International Association. (First Edition 2008). It has a very comprehensive historical record of the OK Dinghy and contains a large section on sailing and tuning an OK Dinghy.

I agree with your assessment of the good looks of the OK Dinghy and personally would put it alongside the Finn in this department. I am not quite sure what is says about me but there is a lot of good sailing competition at the local yacht club in Lasers, but I just can't bring myself to buy one because I simply don't like the look of them, or more to the point, the depth of them - the low freeboard, shallow hull doesn't appeal at all. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and they have introduced thousands of people to sailing which is great.

Thank you for your kind remarks regarding my boat restorations, I have certainly enjoyed them and obtained a lot of satisfaction in getting the boats back sailing..... but at this stage I don't think I will be restoring an OK, I am more interested in sailing one ASAP...... in fact today I have made an offer on a very nice OK Dinghy for sale in Auckland and are awaiting a reply. If my offer is accepted I will be up and going when racing resumes on the 19th of January next year which will be a regular sailing break from all the marlarky I am going to endure with Mariners diesel engine restoration.

Dan Gurney said...

I had not been aware of COMPLETELY OK. I may just get that book.

I agree completely about Laser. I also never found the look of the Laser attractive because of its woeful lack of freeboard. Worse, low freeboard meant that it was WAY wetter to sail that it should have been. The only advantage of its design, I suppose, it that it was probably a bit lighter—but still awfully heavy—to lift on the roof of a car. I ended up trailering it anyway, so that point was moot. I prefer a boat that offers a bit more protection from the tops of waves splashing on me. The OK Dinghy looked absolutely ideal. I sailed the Laser because it was the biggest one-design singlehanded boat around here and I strongly preferred racing in one design fleets than in the handicapped division.

These days, though, sailboat racing fleets around here have shrunken so much that racing just isn't attractive to me anymore.

I'm actually glad to hear that you've found a nice boat to sail for sale. Is it made of wood? I hope they accept your offer and that you blog prolifically about sailing that boat.

Alden Smith said...

The attraction of the Laser is that it there are 3 rig options - A small 'Junior' mast and sail with a sail area of 4.7 square meters - A 'Radial' rig of 5.7 sq mtrs and a 'Senior' rig of 7.0 sq mtrs.

This means that a young person can move to a Laser from a junior sailing class to a big hull and change rigs as they grow and increase in weight. This is cheaper than purchasing an intermediate class like a Starling (or whatever the equivalent is in other countries) and then later on changing again to a third yacht.

In the Laser fleet here in Whangarei some of the lighter sailors sail a Laser with the smaller Radial rig and are competitive sailing against the bigger rig. The Senior rig is sailed by heavier sailors who need the extra sail area because of their weight. The result is that light weight and smaller rig is competitive with heavy weight and big rig.

My experience is that all centerboard yachts are wet going to windward especially in strong winds and any sort of seaway and very, very wet when planing downwind. The only centerboard yacht that I have heard of that is relatively dry is the two handed 505 dinghy with its very big flare in the bow area.

OK Dinghies weigh in at about 72 kgs (158 pounds)which rules out putting them on a car roof single handed (but I have seen some precarious photographs taken by sailors who transport their Oks this way). Most of the local Laser sailors tow them on a trailer which I think is safer and a lot easier to do.

The yacht I have made an offer on has a wooden deck and a fiberglass hull and comes with a good selection of gear - we will see how we go.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

"The attraction of the Laser is that it there are 3 rig options".. but the bigger attraction is the sheer number of them on the water.. as Dan says, buy a Laser round here (south coat UK) and you're never short of competition.. it's almost a circular argument.. "I'm buying a Laser because I want to race locally, and everyone round here is racing Lasers", etc. The boats that are making inroads round herein the race fleets (and I'm no expert) seem to be the RS family of boats Feva etc I wonder if the clue to the success of a dinghy class is whether it's in the Olympics or not, more than anything else...

Alden Smith said...

Steve, you make some very pertinent points regarding the popularity of various classes, and yes, the sheer numbers of Lasers brings with it a critical mass that is hard to counter by old buggers like me who love the OK Dinghy for sentimental, romantic and aesthetic reasons. I think you are correct that the success of a dinghy class is whether it's in the Olympics but I suspect its even more complex than this.

Todays parents have a big say in yacht purchasing. In New Zealand we have an excellent junior training yacht - the seven foot 'P' Class yacht. The P Class is a complex little beast that when mastered produces excellent sailors - BUT the P Class is being superseded by the International Optimist Dinghy which in my opinion is a bloody whimp of a boat compared to the P Class - But huge fleets especially in Auckland are developing - Why??? - because the holy grail is now international competition and children are able to be selected to represent NZ in overseas regattas...... Now!!! - the childrens choice is actually the P Class but they are over ruled by ambitious parents who live vicariously through their kids. I was told that in Auckland nearly every Optimist dinghy when racing has a "Support Boat" (RIB with outboard) crewed by parents who regale and advise their children before, during and after the racing. I was told a story where some poor kid who broke some of his gear and without said support boat was yelled at by a race official after one of the races with "Don't ask me - Where's your support boat?"..... I think this situation and all that it implies is appalling.

In NZ in the 1960s when the Dragon keel boat was an Olympic class several boats were built in wood, but after it's rejection as an Olympic class no more were built. In the late 1990s my late cousin Alan Smith a very experienced commercial boat builder became enamored with the Dragon class, built a mold and became an officially registered Dragon builder. He sold one boat. (Yet the Dragon does thrive around the world, so the reasons are as I said - complex).

But! - The Finn Class which has always been an Olympic class dinghy - struggles here in New Zealand - there are no big fleets - but a flurry of activity for selection for the Olympics every four years - Why? - Well, a new competitive Finn costs NZ$50,000! that might have something to do with it.

A brand new OK Dinghy costs NZ$27,000
A brand new Starling Dinghy costs NZ$10,000

Currently the situation is mixed. It seems in NZ to be developing into two levels.

The first level is the highly competitive almost professional level which includes the Olympics and World Championships.

The second level is made up of fleets with a lot of older sailors returning to sailing (In NZ this is evident within the OK Dinghy fleets and the NZ Zephyr fleets). The older sailors are still highly competitive and will sail in National and World champs if so inclined but their motivation is the love of sailing, having fun and the great camaraderie found especially in the NZ OK Dinghy and Zephyr fleets. Because winning at all costs is not the prime motivation us old buggers are prepared to restore and renovation boats for reasonable prices just for the fun and camaraderie. The fact that both these fleets are made up mainly of older sailors says something about both the huge costs of new boats and the no fun / winning at all costs mentality that I think are barriers for younger skippers.

Dan Gurney said...

Hi Alden,

I would like to hear your opinion of the RS Aero. It's very attractive to me because of its simplicity, sophistication and light weight.


Alden Smith said...

Dan, the RS Aero is an attractive proposition.


- The hull has a broad stern which makes it stable and pretty vice - less at high downhill speeds.

- The RS is a 'set up and go kit' - no mucking around - rig it and sail it, it's a highly developed metaphor for 'plug and go technology'.

- The claimed hull weight is less than an optimist dinghy - this is hugely attractive for older sailors - when I sailed my cousins OK Dinghy last week I could hardly get it up the launching ramp without help (A third wheel on the beach trolley similar to the jockey wheel on the road trailer would help here.). At 30kgs it would be possible to transport on a car roof rack.

- Again, in terms of the weight, I have seen a photo of a guy carrying an RS out of the water on its side holding onto the hull and mast - pretty impressive - you can't do that with an OK or Finn.

- The hull is deeper than a Laser but shallower than an OK Dinghy and other boats of the OKs era - deep enough to have what looks like a false floor enabling the exit of water from the cockpit right out through the stern (no venturi self bailers to muck around with)

- The sail is simple to set up (Not unlike the Laser) and with its gaff rig type top batten and huge roach the mains'l packs a powerful punch for its mast height.

- The uTube videos I have watched of its performance show that it gives a thrilling ride and pretty sensational performance.

- It seems, like the Laser, to be a very successful class that is growing in popularity around the world ensuring good competition (There is a dealer in RS here in Auckland NZ).

- Like the Laser with its variable rigs - the RS has other options - the single handed RS 700 comes with a hiking platform, trapeze and an easily hoisted and doused spinnaker; this 700 versions sailing performance looks spectacular.

- At 64 years of age let me affirm yet again the weight factor - at 30kgs the RS Aero is a very attractive proposition.

SUBJECTIVELY SPEAKING ( From a highly opinionated 64 year old curmudgeon and self proclaimed sailing aficionado )

- I like the look of the RS better than I like the Laser, but I absolutely LOVE the full Scandanavian beauty of the OK Dinghy, the OK embraces you, sailing becomes something you do With her, not Too her.

- Performance is pretty straight forward in the RS Aero - she goes like a bat out of hell. With an OK performance is not guaranteed, you have to tune the boat, coax the best out of her, some people (me) like this extra challenge.

- There is nothing wrong with a simple plug-in and go rig - but for some who like the OK and the Finn - the more complicated rig with its capacity for altering cunningham, boom vang, outhaul, inhaul and the fine tuning available with the pivot centre board as opposed to the dagger board is more appealing.

- Anyone can build an OK Dinghy (I have a set of plans myself). I don't think this democratic option is available with the RS fleet.

- My cousin Stephen (A professional boat builder) who loaned me his OK Dinghy last week has said to me a couple of times, "I like my plywood OK, if I put a hole in it, I can fix it myself". As a boat builder of sorts myself I completely understand this sentiment.

- The appearance of aluminum and carbon fiber masts has meant that a much wider range of personal weights have become competitive in the OK and Finn classes, but this has to be earned by correct mast selection and sail tuning.

I realize that my subjective assessment hasn't really anything to do with an assessment of the RS Aero - it's just another rant about my favourite centerboard yacht - the OK Dinghy LOL LOL.

The RS Aero is a good looking, very light weight high performance sailing dinghy. As a complete sailing package it is a pretty attractive proposition. In the absence of an OK Dinghy fleet if there was a fleet of RS's racing locally I would be very tempted to buy one.

Dan Gurney said...

Thanks for those observations, Alden. I, too, find the RS Aero a very attractive package. If I were to buy another sailboat, I think The Aero would be my choice, largely because of its light weight. I'm also attracted to the "plug and play" aspect of the boat because I've always enjoyed sailing boats more than tinkering and tuning (though that's fun, too).

That said, if I lived in a place where others were sailing OK Dinghies, it would be a much tougher choice because, as you say, the OK embraces the skipper. To achieve its light weight the Aero must be something you ride on, not in.

These little boats are now almost 10X as many dollars as they were when I was buying my first boats in my early twenties.

Was your offer on the OK accepted?

Alden Smith said...

Dan, I enjoyed doing a bit of research on the RS and seeing just how fast they are. I guess the fun of them is based on similiar physics to a sports car - it's all about the power to weight ratio and the RS certainly has this in spades.

Because they are so light they would take a fair bit of concentration to sail well competitively - they would be highly sensitive to body weight placement and react to every nuance of rudder and sail adjustment.

Yes the offer on the OK Dinghy was accepted..... but on sleeping on it I withdrew the offer for a couple of reasons, one being that the boat is not a wooden boat, it has a fiberglass hull and plywood deck ...... and I guess I had to be completely honest with myself and go with the fact that I am a wooden boat kind of guy.

I felt very guilty withdrawing at the eleventh hour and certainly feel for the vendor, but it's no good going ahead with something if it doesn't feel / sit right ... for myself boats are very much a matter of the heart .... and changing ones mind is a mans prerogative ..... and as my boat building second cousin Stephen says... "I like my plywood OK Dinghy, if I ever put a hole in it, I know for sure I can fix it," which is my sentiment entirely.

Soooooooo.... I will be looking for a good second hand wooden boat... OR ... I just may build one ... I have a set of plans, I'm retired and have the time and I love building boats .... But we will see how it all pans out. It's early days, I do have a little Starling to sail and a big Keeler to repair the motor on and sail, so it's not as though I am deprived of options!