OK Dinghy: Old but better than ever

Published on September 12th, 2022

The origin of the 13-foot OK Dinghy Class boat began in 1957 when Axel Dangaard Olsen of Seattle, WA asked Danish yacht designer Knud Olsen to prepare drawings for a light and fast single-handed sailing dinghy based on conventional plywood construction.

The resulting design was named the O.K., using Knud Olsen’s initials in reverse, with the intention for the boat to be a step toward the Olympic Finn. Since then it has become one of the most popular singlehanded dinghies in the world with more than 15,000 boats built in more than 40 countries worldwide.

The esteemed Paul Elvstrom: “It is much harder to build a strong and vibrant International Class Association than design a new boat.” While new and improved might be nice to sail, the O.K. Class has the kind of history and roots that give boats value and provide a meaningful sailing experience.

While the class does not have much of a footprint in North America, it is on a roll elsewhere, with more OK Dinghies built in each of the last three years than in any year dating back to 1980. This was highlighted by the 109 boat entry for the 2022 World Championship in Marstrand, Sweden.

Notably, attendance came from 11 nations, though several of the larger member nations had uncharacteristically low attendance, so it is not hard to imagine events with more than 150 OKs in the near future, perhaps even 200. There are certainly the numbers and enthusiasm to achieve this.

The prospect of good competition has attracted a lot of top sailors into the class, including many former Finn sailors, and this, combined with the class’s unparalleled social element is a huge draw for many. At the end of September, the European Championship returns to the ever-popular resort of Bandol on the French Mediterranean coast with 87 boats signed up so far.

Class health is connected to quality suppliers, and there is a number of high profile companies building boats and offering products for the OK Dinghy. However, the OK Dinghy class was built on self-reliance, with the class established on home built boats and rigs.

Today there is the best of both worlds with very high quality off the shelf production boats as well as the home build option, made easier by the availability of CNC cut files for jigs and parts, with more boats being assembled in garages worldwide over the last 10 years, than perhaps since the 1960s. Home building is certainly a growing trend again.

• Gear used by top ten at World Championship: https://www.sailingscuttlebutt.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/worlds.jpg
• Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/okdia/page1

There were hulls from 24 builders at the World Championship. While this reflects the longevity of some hulls, it also highlights the diversity of ideas and interest in building the boats.

Despite the low UK entry, it’s interesting to note that the over 60 per cent of the boats used were actually built in Britain. Whether this trend continues given the increasing costs and logistics to export from the UK after Brexit remains to be seen, but the UK’s two main builders Ovington and Synergy Marine are still exporting more boats into the EU than they are building for the domestic market and both have set up sales channels within the EU.

For much of the history of the class, the British builders always struggled to produce championship winning designs, but that is now long past and British built OKs are in big demand. Some UK builders are also exploring moving production outside the UK to both circumvent the aforementioned cost and export issues and ensure continued supply.

The majority of the hulls were less than five years old and no particular hull was dominant on the water, with a number of home-builds using the Leech CNC kitset package. The largest number of hulls was from Ovingtons, but given their dealers across Europe and build capacity, this is no surprise. The next three – Synergy, Strandberg, and Idol – are smaller operations in comparison, but produce high quality, fast boats.

The big three of Green, North, and Turtle as usual dominated numerically, while UK Sails from Denmark is making inroads into the market. It’s interesting, that unlike hulls, popular British made sails such as the HD did not make it to Sweden, except North, which again has a distribution network.

While Green sails are very popular across northern Europe, and North and Turtle have a strong following, there are a huge number of other sailmakers not reflected here, producing sails, often with local lofts working with sailors. The chart will look very different in 2023 with the World Championship being held in the UK.

There are much fewer mast builders in the class, though perhaps due to the location of the Worlds, Ceilidh dominated numerically in Marstrand. However, both Ceilidh and the C-Tech masts were equally spread through the fleet. The Paragon masts – developed by Dan Slater to win the 2019 World Championship – are made in New Zealand and also sold through Ovington in the UK, though these have not yet made much impression.

Booms have never been particularly interesting, but in recent years there has been something of a market takeover by New Zealand based Art of Racing, which also supplied most of the Finn fleet at the Tokyo Olympics. It’s debatable whether a boom makes much of a difference in terms of stiffness, though what is more important is fit out and reliability.

Needlespar used to be the go-to manufacturer, but AoR have turned booms into an art form and now dominate the fleet. Allen meanwhile has since developed a very similar looking boom to sell alongside its much cheaper base model.

As always it’s all about personal choice. Any equipment can look fast in the right hands and the right conditions and it’s fair to say that anyone in the top ten would almost certainly still be there whatever equipment they used.

A few years ago, New Zealand made Icebreakers were in vogue and dominated international fleets, then Synergy Marine won several World Championships, and now it’s the turn of Ovington, which has sold heavily into Sweden and Germany, so it’s only natural that the boats would figure well.

The class is in a really healthy state with a wide choice of good builders and styles to suit many sailors’ tastes. Any class that has such an extensive choice of equipment suppliers while still having older boats that remain competitive is very fortunate and this bodes well for the future of the class.

Source: Robert Deaves, OK Dinghy Class

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