Michael Nissen on his return to the class and building a boat
In ‘The best OK Dinghy sailors of all time’ chapter in Completely OK, Michael Nissen is number 34. He sailed the OK Dinghy from 1966 to 1977, picking up bronze medals at the 1976 Worlds in Nykøping, Denmark, and the 1977 Worlds in Takapuna, New Zealand. Now, after a 44-year break from the class he is back with a home built Dan Leach Mk 4.
He hadn’t really followed the class in the intervening years, but “My interest started again with using Youtube and watching videos.”
“I looked at every photo or video (some New Zealanders make good videos) so I could get an impression of what had happened in the class since 1977. Before I started, I drove to Potsdam and had a four-hour discussion with Greg Wilcox about everything I should do and not do. (Incredible willingness to help others by the way.) But nevertheless it was a jump into cold water. Not surprisingly many things have changed.”
“I think the main reason [I came back] was the possibility to build it myself relatively easily from CNC cut parts.” “IN 1966 I started to sail OK Dinghy and stopped in 1977 when I moved to the Finn. Before that I sailed Flying Junior together with my elder brother, a boat similar to a 420. But I wanted to sail alone and at first looked at the Europe. But when the first OK Dinghies started to show up in our sailing club (north of Kiel), and in the neighbourhood, the decision for this boat was as clear as a 15 year old can get.”
“We were a group of young men in Hamburg – where I started and finished my studies – all sailing OK Dinghies. During that time we managed our boats and our travels to races with very simple and cost effective means, working together as friends. The fun of racing and travelling is one part of the memories of those days.”
“I had some nice results in OK Worlds and Europeans. But I never won a big event and when you come close and fail this is not the nicest thing to remember.”
“My best result therefore was winning the Pater Noster Race in Marstrand in the spring of 1972 with approximately 105 boats participating. It was the first big international regatta that I won.”
“Without the chance of sailing and racing a relatively cheap boat within a group of friends, a sailing career would have been financially impossible for me.”
But in 1977, “I felt very old at 26 years and thought I should completely move to an Olympic class. So I started to sail the Finn, weighing about 80 kg. Those were the days of hiking vests and pants.”
He had sailed the Finn occasionally from 1971 and stayed in the class up until 1984.
“At that time I was the sparring partner of Thomas Jungblut in his Finn campaign for the Olympics in 1972. I learned a lot in those days and was in good shape. As I started to work for North Sails in 1977 I also sailed other classes and races including the Admiral’s Cup in 1983 and 1985 and the Three Quarter Ton Cup in 1984.”
From 1984 to 1992 he sailed the Star, where he achieved his biggest accomplishment.
“Overall in my life I value the win in the Europeans in the Star in 1990 as my highest achievement. When I quit North Sails in 1988 the Star gradually became too expensive and was converted into the heating system of our new home in Tutzing.”
Then from 1993 to 2002, “We part owned a Dragon, but I found out I was lacking the maturity and patience to race such a style of boat. From 2002 to 2003 I sailed as a
Dragon crew with a friend of mine and sometimes as Star boat crew.”
“Since 1966 I have never stopped racing and have sailed about 20 to 40 events each and every year, with the exception of last year though.”
Since 2004 he has also sailed the Laser before deciding to get back into the OK Dinghy.
buIlDIng An OK
In the beginning he considered borrowing a boat and sailing one regatta.
“But then I know I am ambitious and rather technical minded and want my boats as easy working and as close to what I believe is best as possible.”
Also, “In general, I am a mean guy and want to spend as little money as possible.”
The next step was that he read an article by Thorsten Schmidt on the German OK website – ‘Cold reason should never prevail’.
“In that article Torsten wrote about all the possibilities to obtain a new OK including building one yourself with the help of a CNC cut. CNC cuts of OKs were new to me at that time. My first OK Dinghy was home built by my father and myself, when I was 16 years old. That was also a building kit but it was more a collection of materials than a construction kit with almost all the bevels. So I light-heartedly thought this would be an experience. The third thought was that a composite structure with pre-cut panels, without stringers but only epoxy joints covered with woven fibreglass should be manageable. (Even though I had never done this before.)”
“There was room enough in the garage when everything else was removed. The boatyard was close by. That was the point when I started to make lists of tools I needed, where to buy and where to borrow. What fittings I needed, where to purchase and how much are they...trailer, sail and mast suppliers…mast bending characteristics – the list of questions that I wanted to ask Greg. In the end it was not a decision; everything was ready to start. I am not really spontaneous.”
As he started the project, it was a bit ‘wobbly’.
“For some reason I could not find a carpenter whose CNC cutter was able to work with the files delivered. I guess the reason is that European carpenters use cutters with much less computer power and therefore cannot handle the size of data.
Above: Star and Finn sailing • G 124 at the Worlds in bendor 1969 • G 171 at the Worlds in Kiel 1971 • below: G 329 at the Worlds in Takapuna 1977 (with Peter Lester) • Opposite top and next page: Launching GER 852 in 2021 • Far left: G 59 was his first OK. Homebuilt in 1966
In the end I found one and from thereon the ball was rolling.”
“In hindsight it all went very well. During the process I had my moments of doubt and pain. For two and a half months I was completely separated from housework and spent all my time in the workshop being sometimes completely exhausted and sometimes totally unnerved. That needs a wife with a lot of love and understanding.”
“Sometimes I had a little help from my friends. Without them the boat would not be so good, would not be ready in the same time but would be finished somehow too.”
“One reason why it is challenging is the lack of a construction manual. What you get are files for a CNC cutter and a lot of photos of an OK Dinghy under construction (and they are of an older design boat with lot more reinforcements). Maybe the OK Dinghy class should overcome that. It is sometimes guesswork to find out which parts belong together. Also a warning guideline
would be good: here the boat is at minimum, do not go lower. Or: the boat is at maximum length, do not lengthen it by overlapping the woven glass coat too often around the bow”
The boat is a Dan Leech design Mk 4.
“After talking to some people who saw a tendency to fuller, rounder shapes in the Ovington, Synergy and Delfs, I asked Dan Leech whether he would make the bow a little fuller too. Currently it is very sharp, much like the Icebreaker. But he refused to do so, which I can understand: who am I to ask for a change of a world’s winning design on the basis of no experience at all. So I added a little more fullness in the bow myself. That is the fun of making your own boat.”
“Another smaller change was the sidedecks because I want to hike with a wider knee angle. That change was no problem at all.”
He remembers some of the sailors from his time in the class and some are still sailing today.
“I have only just started to sail OK again, so I have not met many people yet. But of course I know Peit (Norbert Petrausch) and Jörgen Lindhartdsen and I had a very friendly contact to H.P. Hylander.”
“I want to race the boat as much as possible. This year I shall race in Arco, Kiel Week, and the German Championship and maybe smaller weekend races. Next year’s worlds is in Marstrand. I took part in last worlds there in 1972. So did Jörgen Lindhardtsen. I am looking forward to meeting him. That will make a nice anniversary.
And as for expectations on the water…“Overestimation of myself is also something I usually do. With age and the usual weaker forces and abilities that has not become better. So please do not ask me to put my expectations in writing…”