9 minute read

The OKWiken story

Pontus Gäbel talks about the fastest growing OK Dinghy fleet in sweden

During my childhood, I admired a great number of iconic Swedish athletes including the tennis legend Björn Borg, groundbreaking slalom skier Ingemar Stenmark and the most inspiring of all for me personally, Pelle Petterson, whose many merits include winning the San Diego Star worlds in 1969 and building the 12 Metre ‘Sverige’ to sail for the America’s Cup in 1977 and 1980.

During the late 1970s, most Swedish children adored the football players and had to be dragged away from the luscious green football pitch whilst I was drawn to a different world - one of the great never ending blue waves and a constant salty breeze.

The Swedish west coast had caught my attention and I was hooked on youth sailing. Just as today, the traditional way to get into sailing was through the Optimist dinghy in the local yacht club. Most of the Optimist dinghies at that time were built by a relative in a garage and handed down from one sibling to the next. As I outgrew the Optimist, I began to envy the older boys who were practicing and racing in all conditions, come rain or shine.

The OK Dinghies looked like real boats with their wave piercing bows. I bought my first OK Dinghy in 1978. It was a Henriksen with a white GRP hull and a wooden deck. It came with a wooden mast, which I quickly replaced with black LJ spar and a matching set of sails. At that time the upgrade looked very high tech and made all the difference in boat handling. After a few years of sailing the OK, I was persuaded to crew on a Snipe, which widened my horizon and opened up international racing. The OK class had come under fierce competition from the Laser dinghy which captivated the next generation of one design dinghy sailors with its brutal simplicity.

COMING HOME

Fast forward to the spring of 2019. Throughout my adult life, I had sailed a wide variety of exciting boats, each with its own unique challenges, the last serious one being a Star, which I co-owned with a dear friend. But I was itching to get back into a oneman dinghy. They have a unique selling point that intrigued me and suited my current situation, namely their easy way to get sailing without organising a crew and close engaging competitions.

From left to right: Göran örtegren,

Fredrik Ottermo, Per Lindvall, benjamin Hammerö, Peter Klingberg, Claes Thomasson, Pontus Gäbel, Jonas Langner

On Easter weekend, I happened to run into an old friend in the quaint village of Viken where we both had our vacation homes. Benjamin Hammerö told me that he had sold his Laser, which he had successfully toured with on the master circuit, and had ordered a new Ovington from Båths in Gothenburg with expected delivery in June. I was intrigued by his decision to switch, and I kick started my research, eventually localising all available boats within a two hour radius of Viken.

After careful consideration I bought the best boat I could find whilst still allowing me to hit water the same season and get ready for the Worlds in Marstrand around the corner; a Delfs hull from Vejle, and Jørgen Holm from Green helped with a lightly used mast and matching sail. Ironically, I took delivery of my new OK Dinghy a few days before Benjamin got his and I enjoyed his coaching when I first set out to sail. From the first tack in my new boat, it felt like coming home. I realised how much I had missed the freedom of being able to sail anytime conditions allowed; my first summer back in the OK class was a mix of pure joy and excitement trying to stay upright on the downwind legs.

The upgraded mast and a few other tweaks had made it a truly lovely one-design dinghy. During the summer of 2019 you could see two boats on the water outside Viken almost every day. The new OK fleet was a fact although still small. Every day when we launched or pulled up the boats someone came by and talked of fond memories from their own youth spent in an OK Dinghy or other similar boats. The word spread quickly.

GROWTH

By Christmas 2019 the two original boats had been joined by two new sailors. Tomas Franzén and Pelle Weimenhög were happy owners of used OK Dinghies. Our ice-breaker Christmas day sailing was the talk of the village. “Those sailors are absolutely mad, they must be frozen solid!” If you have ever been to Sweden around Christmas you know there is little daylight and you need to strategically choose your sailing days to enjoy temperatures above freezing. By the summer of 2020 the fleet had grown and on a good day you could spot 7-8 boats on a late spring evening.

Unfortunately the Covid pandemic had taken its harsh grip on the world of sailing, even in our serene part of southern Sweden. With most regattas cancelled we were forced to make the most of the situation. The OK sailors of Viken were not discouraged, but instead more motivated, subsequently training harder than ever before, constantly battling the shifting weather, winds and current in the sound between

QUICK QUESTIONS

What is the dynamics of club sailing in Sweden?

One design racing has been on the decline for some time. Boats have gotten bigger and fewer race them. The big boats require big crews and it’s difficult to get the full crew together to do some serious practice. I hope that one design dinghy racing will make a comeback. It’s easy to get out on the water and with only a few boats it’s possible to arrange a couple quick races and the adrenaline rush is never far away.

Explain the success of the growth in Viken?

We have an absolutely wonderful location. From when you get down to the harbour until you are on the ‘race course’ is 15 minutes maximum. Two hours is enough for a couple races filled with tight competition and exhilarating sailing. Even if you only have a few hours to spare in our hectic lives there is always time to improve and have fun.

The OK class has something to offer all sailors of varying levels of skill and financial means. You can always start with an older boat, allowing for learning as you go and get back on the water quickly. We have been able to create a great and inclusive community with tight and invigorating racing, a cold beer and a good chat of what actually happened on the water. The latest count is 24 boats, and growing.

What is the OK class offering the wider sailing community?

Good camaraderie, tight racing and many local events. If it was not for the Covid-19 pandemic we would have many great races close by. In addition to the Swedish circuit we are close to Denmark and northern Germany is only a few hours drive away. Whomever from the class you meet you always get good ideas on how to improve your boat or your on the water technique.

Sweden and Denmark. To combat the regatta drought, we arranged our own - WM, aka Wiken Worlds. A few sailors from Gothenburg joined and we had 11 boats on the starting line, including the No. 1 ranked Tomas Hansson-Mild, who finished first. The racing was, as always in the OK class, tight and everyone found their own battles thus continuously motivating all the sailors.

Three sailors with OKWiken.se as their home fleet signed up for the postponed Kieler Woche and made the cut of 50 boats. The regatta took place in September with professional Covid restrictions in place. This was the defining moment in my new OK dinghy career, back on classic sailing water that I had visited in so many classes, now in my OK Dinghy. It was also a true test of grit with winds hitting 30 knots and we were sailing on the course furthest away from the regatta base, as always. Sailors from OKWiken had successfully completed the first international regatta and the fleet was officially inaugurated.

Follow the fleet at OKWiken.se

MORE QUICK QUESTIONS

What brings people to the class and how do you make it interesting?

The key to our success lies with the simplicity of the set up; we use a simple social media app and a home page to share our schedule and drum up enough interest to go out. Sometimes only two or three boats and sometimes more than ten on a week night.

Each week, everyone usually gets an opportunity to do at least one session with a couple of friends, keeping the motivation and interest up. Once on the water we try to run short races, two loops with gate starts that take no more than 20 minutes. The third boat to finish gets to be the gate boat in the next race. The race mode makes the learning much more intense, simple and super fun.

What is the OK class offering the wider sailing community?

Good camaraderie, tight racing and many local events. If it was not for the Covid-19 pandemic we would have many great races close by. In addition to the Swedish circuit we are close to Denmark and northern Germany is only a few hours drive away. Whomever from the class you meet you always get good ideas on how to improve your boat or your on the water technique.

What challenges do you see for the class?

From the OKWiken.se fleet perspective the challenge is to attract younger sailors to get the base to grow. The average age will only increase if we cannot attract younger sailors and potentially also women. The supply of used boats is drying up and the cost of new boats will be prohibitive for many sailors wanting to step into the class without knowing if they will like it.

What do you want to see from OKDIA in the future?

Keep developing the boat and the class, in a gentle way. Whatever the development is, there always needs to be a way to make older boats adapt to the innovations. Of course good marketing and good events will be a must. I’m sure that many sailors will find that the OK class has a lot to offer.

Any last words?

Simplicity and no fuss will attract many sailors to join, the more the merrier. You are always welcome to Viken as a destination for your trip or whenever you are passing by.