An unprecedented entry of 116 OK Dinghies have registered for the 2014 European Championships, which is due to start this weekend at Steinhude in Germany.
The OK Dinghy European Championship is only traditionally held when the World Championship is outside Europe. The 2014 World Championship is is Melbourne, Australia, this December, so for many sailors unable to travel down under the Europeans is the main focus of their season. The very large entry is testament to the recent growth in many nations, with a lot of sailors attending their first international championship.
The sailing will take place on Steinhuder Meer, a 30 square km lake in the Lower Saxony region of Germany, approximately 30 km north-west of Hanover. At about 6 km long and 4 km wide, it is the largest lake in north-western Germany, but also very shallow. It is at the heart of the Steinhuder Meer Nature Park, a popular tourism and recreational area. The lake has two small islands, both artificial, one of which, Wilhelmstein, was built in the 18th century as a military fortress. There is a mid-week sailors trip to explore Wilhelmstein Island.
The championship is hosted by two clubs on the lake's southern shore. Segler-Verein Großenheidorn and Yachtclub Steinhuder Meer are both experienced in organising large events. The majority of the sailors are expected to camp in the club grounds, which is providing breakfast, dinner and some beer as part of the entry fee.
In total there are sailors from 11 nations entered, including Australia, New Zealand and Ukraine, a new nation for the class. OK Dinghies were very popular in Eastern European countries in the 1960s and 1970s, mainly as a training class for the Finn, and in recent years there has been some interest again in the region.
With so many boats attending, predicting the form guide is always going to be a gamble. There are five former world champions in the fleet and three former European Champions, including the defending champion Bo Petersen (DEN), who has shown some form this year already with a win at Kiel Week in light winds. From the current World Ranking 14 out of the top 20 European sailors are competing, including eight out of the top 10. The world No 1 is Greg Wilcox (NZL), who recently dominated Warnemünde Week, but in very different conditions.
Ten years ago Jim Hunt (GBR) was the first British sailor to win the OK Dinghy World Championship. He's back for his first major OK Dinghy event since then, having won the Spring Cup in Medemblik earlier this year. A multiple champion across many classes he is one of the main favourites next week.
The largest entry is, unsurprisingly, from Germany. Perhaps more than any other nation they excel at light wind lake sailing so there is a whole raft of sailors capable of picking up race wins, though the 2012 World Champion Andre Budzien (GER) will be hard to beat.
A betting man would most likley bet on Petersen, Wilcox, Hunt or Budzien to lift the title, based on form this year. But throw in the vagaries of a German lake in summer, and the reality could be very different. The long range weather forecast for the region is for very high temperatures over the weekend, leading to 25-28 degrees next week with 8-12 knots of wind most days. Not trying to tempt fate, but if that prediction is correct, it is going to be fabulous sailing conditions.
A warm up regatta is being held over the weekend of 19-20 July, before measurement and registration start. Ten races are scheduled for the European Championship from Tuesday 22 July to Saturday 26 July. If the confirmed entry is more than 100 boats then the fleet will be split into two separate starts sailing on the same course. The fleets will be split based on the latest OK Dinghy World Ranking list, released this week, and adjusted each day based on the overall positions at the end of each day. On the fourth and fifth days, the fleet will be split into gold and silver fleets.