The 2017 OK Dinghy National Championship was this year hosted by the Worser Bay Boating Club in Wellington and as usual, early on Day 1 the boat park was a hive of activity and banter, prior to the day’s racing. Wild predictions (of what the wind gods would hand out) were thrown back and forth, but it wasn’t a long wait for a clear signal from above that typical Worser bay conditions would prevail and the AP was up and rippling in a stiff 30 knot northerly. The banter continued, with the usual heavy-air specialists of the class showing quiet excitement at the prospect of racing at the upper limit, while others displayed symptoms commonly seen pre-race at Worser Bay, including trembling, sweating, wild staring, crying and praying. One particular boat was even packed up and towed at pace away from Wellington, without even getting wet.
Not satisfied with waiting around and having run out of banter topics, one of the larger sailors decided to put to sea to test the conditions. After a handful of gybes, a brief swim and some fun-looking reaches it was clear the conditions had moderated enough to start racing, so the decision to drop the AP was made and the banter quickly turned to focus as the fleet prepared for the first race.
The early practice had clearly given Russell “Mudsey” Wood an edge in Race 1 as he led the fleet around the top mark for the first time, having sailed in from the favored left hand side. The reduced course length (to allow for 3-4 races, given the horrendous forecast for the next 2 days) meant that Wood was immediately under pressure on the first reach from the trailing fleet. The charge was lead by Ben “Counsellor” Morrison who, in a truly visionary move, in recent times had made an effort to gain weight and join the one-ton club specifically for the event. Following close behind was Mark “Granny” Perrow, Steve “Lead Dwarf” McDowell, Daniel “Bushy” Bush and Paul “Gouch” Rhodes to complete the heavyweight division. Unfortunately for them Luke “Colt” O’Connell, one of the fastest reaching OK sailors on the planet, was also in the mix and had no trouble taking the lead by the bottom mark. The pressure was then put back on Colt as the fleet made it’s way up the second beat. Once again Wood found his way to the front around the top mark, followed closely by Morrison, with a small gap back to Colt who was around in 3rd place. With the race now on to the downwind finish, positions remain unchanged until late in the final leg, when Morrison caught a puff down the inside of the run taking him past Wood for the lead. Not to be outdone, Colt came in hot from well below the rhumb line to sneak into 2nd, right on the tail of Morrison who claimed the first race by a couple of lengths. Wood crossed in 3rd followed soon after by McDowell and then Perrow.
Race 2 started soon after the tail of the fleet had finished Race 1. This time the breeze was back up to a solid 20 – 25 knots. Bushy cleared out early, leading the fleet to the top mark and down the first reach in his favoured conditions. Close behind were Morrison and the Colt who were both pushing for the lead, while not far off the pace were Wood, Perrow and McDowell who were in a battle for the minor places. By the bottom mark, Colt had established a comfortable lead over Morrison and Wood who was now running in 3rd. Colt managed to hold off the big fellas up the final beat to clear out for a victory in race 2, followed by Morrison in 2nd and then Perrow who had slipped past Wood on the final run to claim 3rd.
As it turned out, Race 3 was to be the final race of the day. Sailed in champagne conditions of 18-20 knots, Morrison took an early advantage to lead around the first mark and down the first reach. Following closely were Bushy, then Wood who managed to take the top mark with him as he set off on the reach. Next in order were Perrow, McDowell and Rod “Coach” Davis, now finding his rhythm in the strong conditions. Further back Colt was beginning to make his move to the top of the order. Morrison kept the pace up into the bottom mark and again to the top as he established a dominant lead on the trailing pack. McDowell was second around followed closely by Wood, who had recovered from a penalty turn, and had leveraged a left hand shift to reach in at pace. Colt rounded in 4th and was looking menacing down the run as he swept past Wood and McDowell to immediately apply the pressure to Morrison. Closing into the finish it was all on between Morrison and Colt, that was until the Lead Dwarf entered the frame, from deep to leeward, where he managed to slip past Morrison and Colt to claim victory and the sacred Tiki. Morrison then Colt followed, with Perrow and Wood rounding out the top 5.
After racing on day one, Morrison held a slim lead over the Colt with McDowell in 3rd, and Wood and Perrow 4th equal on points. Normal proceedings followed with a BBQ for hungry competitors, followed by a few rounds of loudmouth soup for some.
The call was made for an early start for the second day of racing, with conditions forecast to start out fresh, and deteriorate throughout the day. As the fleet launched at 8.30am for a 9am start the breeze was already a solid Worser bay northerly of 20-25 real knots and it was obvious it was going to be a tough day on the water. One or two competitors who had (controversially) over-indulged the previous evening would pay a heavy price for their lack of discipline.
Bushy launched himself from the boat end for the start of race 4, rolling over the fleet with immense power and pace, to lead the pack at the top mark. Morrison and Colt followed, only to pass Bush and clear out from the field by the bottom mark. By now it was clear the battle for the National title was between these two, who had shown a clear speed edge in these conditions all weekend. Rounding the bottom mark with a narrow lead over Morrison, Colt managed to hold on up the beat, and then sail away for victory with Morrison crossing close behind in 2nd and Paul Rhodes regaining some form to finish some distance back in 3rd.
Points were equal between Morrison and Colt going into race 5, which unknown to them was to be the last of the series. Backing up his form from the previous race, Gouch led at the first mark in race 5, but was immediately under pressure from his old Worser Bay mate Joe Porebski, who had taken a huge flyer out on the extreme right-hand side of the track up the first beat to break into the leading bunch for the first time in the series. Morrison was next around followed by Bushy and Wood, with the Colt suffering from a bad start and poor first beat. Rhodes held on to the lead going into the bottom mark and up the first part of the beat, though the leading bunch were now well compressed and it was neck and neck coming into the top mark. With Morrison approaching the mark on starboard, Rhodes came in on port and, desperate to keep the lead, pushed his luck by tacking in front of Morrison inside the three-length circle. With Rhodes being forced to do penalties, his infringement handed the lead to Morrison who was now on his way down the run and heading for the finish, unaware of the Colt who had knifed through the fleet and was fast approaching from behind.
It came right down to the wire between these two, as Morrison managed to snag one last wave within meters of the finish to surge ahead for a win in race 5. This would ultimately hand Morrison the series victory and his 3rd National title with all remaining races being abandoned. 2nd across the line was Colt who came within 1 point of claiming his 4th title in a row. 3rd in race 5 was McDowell followed by Wood in 4th which reflected the final top four placings for the event.
All competitors had enjoyed the windy series and close racing at Worser bay with a lot of lessons learned ahead of the up and coming worlds at Barbados later this year.