Leba is a place of large sand dunes and - we are told - large waves and wind. At least this is what the OK Dinghy sailors are hoping for. The 125-strong fleet includes teams from New Zealand and Australia who traditionally perform better in the breezy conditions, while there are also strong teams from Germany, Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Poland.
The OK Dinghy was the brainchild of Danish architect Axel DAMGAARD OLSEN. Having already introduced the world famous Optimist dinghy into Europe from Florida he next persuaded Danish boat designer Knud OLSEN to design a light, fast planning dinghy that could be built and sailed by amateurs, both quickly and cheaply.
DAMGAARD was one of a number of Danish Pirat sailors (a German designed two man boat), who recognized the need for a fast single-handed dinghy with a simple unstayed rig. OLSEN drew the plans for the first OK Dinghy and the great Danish Finn sailor Paul ELVSTROM helped to develop the Pirat's somewhat stiff rig into the characteristic bend of the OK Dinghy mast. During the winter of 1956-57 about 70 boats were built in Denmark and these began racing at several clubs in 1957. The OK Dinghy was born.
The OK Dinghy's single hard chine and relatively flat bottom panels made it ideal for home construction. The original wooden spars and cotton sails could also be constructed by the amateur, and in garages and sheds right across the world this is exactly what happened, as thousands of OK Dinghies were hurriedly put together to join in the fun afloat.
In the early days the boat was considered too dangerous in Denmark and several race committees tried to have it banned because it kept capsizing too much. However, in the coming decade, the class spread across the world and was sailed in upwards of 25 countries. In 1962 the OK Dinghy International Association (OKDIA) was established after a meeting of sailors in Holland and its first item of business was to arrange a World Championship, which was duly held the following summer in Maubuisson, France. The OK Dinghy became an ISAF International Class in 1974.
Axel DAMGAARD was the driving force in these early days. His enthusiasm for the class enabled it to grow and become the global success story it is today. He encouraged builders and sailors to keep everything simple and most of all fun. And so it has remained to this day.
Undoubtedly the main favourite for the title this year is Nick CRAIG (GBR), the double and reigning World Champion. After dominating the World Championship in 2005 when it was held in Denmark, he retained his title last year in Belmont in Australia after a last race showdown with his archrival Jorgen LINDHARDTSEN (DEN). CRAIG hasn't done as much OK Dinghy sailing as he would have liked over the past two years as he has been campaigning a Finn. However he thinks the level of competition within the Finn has raised the level of his game and he is now more tactically astute than ever.
LINDHARDTSEN by comparison gave up competitive Finn sailing in 1987 and returned to the OK Dinghy in 1993, after having sailed it from 1964 to 1978, winning the World title in 1978. Since 1993, he has placed in the top 10 virtually every year and has finished as runner up three times, in 1995, 1999 and then 2006.
Another past champion, Karsten HITZ (GER), has made a comeback this year after a few years off. One of the most experienced helms in the fleet, he finally won the World title in 2000 and 2001 after 15 years of trying. Always preferring windy conditions, he won the windy races at the Medemblik Spring Cup and last weekend took the German title at Warnemunde in 20-30 knots of breeze, against Mark PERROW (NZL) and CRAIG.
As usual, the Kiwis have sent a very strong team including 2002 World Champion Greg WILCOX (GER), who currently resides in Germany, 2006 national champion PERROW, 2007 national champion Paul RHODES (NZL), Karl PURDIE (NZL) and 2006 Interdominion champion Steve MCDOWELL (NZL). Meanwhile the top Australian is Andre BLASSE (AUS), who is a regular in the top ten should do well if the conditions off Leba live up to expectations.
In the British team, CRAIG is joined by 19 others including 2006 national champion Robert DEAVES (GBR), inland champion Terry CURTIS (GBR) and Jonathan FISH (GBR), while HITZ is part of the 37 strong German team which includes the 2006 European Champion Martin VON ZIMMERMANN (GER). The home team are also expected to put up some good sailors, of which probably the leading light is Tomasz GAJ (POL), who has placed high in several regattas so far this year.
With 125 boats on the start line, the 2007 event is going is to be one of the most hotly contested OK Dinghy World Championships, and with several events during the week to celebrate the class's 50th anniversary, should be as interesting off the water as it will be on the water.
Racing for the 2007 World Championship starts on 23 July with ten races scheduled between then and Saturday 27th. Measurement and the practice race take place on 21 and 22 July. However most sailors will arrive in Leba early to sail the Leba Mayor's Cup from 18-20 July in preparation for the main event.