Nearly one hundred OK Dinghies from ten countries are descending on Kiel for the 2019 OK Dinghy European Championship, which is being sailed as part of the 125th Kieler Woche. It will one of the biggest fleets in Kiel and the biggest European OK Dinghy event of the year.
This year the competition will be even tougher than usual with one of the deepest fleets the class has seen for some time. With the odd exception, virtually all top European based sailors are competing. As well as the familiar faces there are also a lot of exciting new additions to the fleet, which will make the racing unpredictable. Many have never lined up against each other in the OK Dinghy before, so it should be an exciting title fight.
After the World Championship was sailed in New Zealand in February, the Europeans is the main focus for the class in the Northern hemisphere, with most of the leading Europeans from the worlds taking part in Kiel. Chief among them is Fredrik Lööf, from Sweden, now in his second year back in the class and defending the title he won in Bandol, France, last year.
The accumulation of former and current Finn sailors joining the class continues. In addition to Lööf, the fleet includes Mads Bendix, from Denmark, who impressed in last year's Kiel Week, and Valérian Lebrun, from France, who is sailing his first regatta in his newly acquired boat, after learning the ropes in a chartered hull last year in Bandol. Also, in his first major championship in the class, Stefan de Vries, from The Netherlands, has joined the fleet, attracted by the great events and strong competition.
Then there is Germany's Jan Kurfeld, winner in Kiel last year, and three-time world champion, Andre Budzien. The 2017 European Champion, Lars Johan Brodtkorb, from Norway, is also back.
More familiar faces likely to figure at the front include former world champions, Thomas Hansson-Mild, from Sweden, and Greg Wilcox, from New Zealand. Both have performed well of late. Hansson-Mild won the Nordic title in Vallensbaek last weekend against a very competitive fleet, which included double European Champion, Bo Petersen, from Denmark, and top Polish sailor Tomasz Gaj, both of whom will be in Kiel. The list of former champions is rounded off with 2006 European Champion, Martin von Zimmermann, from Germany.
While the class seems to be highly attractive at the moment to middle aged sailors looking for great competition, it has always been a magnet for youth sailors who don't fancy the regime of the Laser and are not big enough for the Finn. So it is with great interest that former Cadet World Champion, Jamie Harris, from Britain, is taking part. We will watch his career with great interest. Also new to the class is former Europe World Champion, Tobias Hemdorff, from Denmark.
The OK Dinghy has been growing in many countries for several years, so it is especially satisfying to see seven boats from France and five from The Netherlands taking part, the highest number at any championship from these countries for at least a generation. OK Dinghy growth in France is rampant, and is becoming a national phenomenon with a number of top Finn sailors buying boats. The enthusiasm seems to be rather contagious.
Racing in Kiel begins on Saturday, with a 10 race series scheduled over the four days.