OK number 15 on show at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall

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K33 leads OK at Maritime Museum

OK 15 Ping Pong racing with her contemporaries, and at the National Maritime Museum – boat collections manager Andy Wyke is shown for scale!

An early example of the popular 4m (13ft 1in) OK singlehanded racing dinghy is on show at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall until the end of December this year.

The OK was the brainchild of Danish architect Axel Damgaard Olsen who, in 1956, saw the need for a fast, singlehanded boat with a simple unstayed rig that would be exciting to sail – and provided the inspiration for his friend Danish yacht designer Knud Olsen to draw up the plans.

Considered easy for home construction, the first 70 boats were built in Denmark between 1956 and 1957. By 1974 the class had achieved international status: numbers worldwide now exceed 15,000.

The Museum’s OK is number 15, Ping Pong. She was built in 1961 by Hugh Patton, who built several dinghies for himself and others in the back of his watchmaker’s repair shop in Bath.

He was also a successful sailor and sailed the dinghy in Olympic Trials in  1963, when it was thought that the class might be involved in the Tokyo Olympics of 1964.

Ping Pong was sold out of the Patton family in 1968 and was donated to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall by the OK Dinghy British Class Association in 2008.

NMMC boat collections manager Andy Wyke observes that originally the dinghy was to be named KO, after Knud Olsen’s initials, until someone pointed out that Ko is Danish for cow!

Today the OK is one of the most widespread international dinghies, with a loyal worldwide following. It is sailed in over 20 countries and has inspired many sailors to become involved in the sport.”

Dave Cooper, the International OK Dinghy UK website’s editor kindly supplied the photos above showing Ping Pong racing with her contemporaries. I asked him what he thought the appeal of the boat and the class might be, and this is what he said:

‘Hi Gavin,

‘Actually, OKs haven’t changed very much at all: now that flat side decks are back in fashion, contemporary hulls are pretty much identical to my first (1968) boat!

‘The materials have changed a bit: there are lots of foam sandwich epoxy boats now, but a new plywood boat came second at this years Nationals, so it’s not all over for wood yet!

‘The big change has been the rigs: the pic of Ping-Pong at the dinghy show gives quite a good impression of the wooden mast (laminated and very beautiful, I always thought) with the boom going right through a big slot in the mast. The booms had an ash front end scarfed to a spruce spar. Wood was superceded by aluminium, and now we’re using carbon.

‘Sail shape has also changed a bit. Someone in the 60’s pushed the top batten up a bit to make the sail more like the Merlin Rocket’s sail (I still say it’s illegal!), but the class still sticks with Dacron, so there are no laminate or Kevlar sails.

‘The class rules tie the boat down to a pretty fair one design, but sheeting and sail controls are completely free, so there’s plenty of scope for individual preference and experimentation.

‘I think people like the OK because it’s a design you can sail anywhere: just as happy on a river or gravel pit as out in big waves in the open sea. They sail well in any wind from bugger-all to way-too-much. The competition is always terrific: at any event there are desperate struggles going on right through the fleet with the guys at the back tussling just as hard as the front runners, and because the design isn’t particularly fast all the racing is very eyeball-to-eyeball.

‘It isn’t a particularly easy boat to sail, but doesn’t have any vices that good technique won’t overcome, so practice and pushing your own limitations pays dividends.

‘For the top-end sailors the international competition is a huge draw. Going to the OK Worlds lets sailors line up against some of the best helms anywhere, but without any professionals it’s a level playing field for everyone. Once upon a time people like Jorgen Lindhardtsen, Nick Craig, Turtle Wilcox and Karsten Hitz were ordinary club OK sailors, just like us!

‘For ordinary folk (like me!) OK sailing is a ton of fun and doesn’t cost the earth. We can line up against the top guys, too. Certainly we get thrashed, but not without the occasional satisfaction of tacking on top of Nick Craig or Terry Curtis.

‘Rule compliance is pretty good in the class but protests are non-existant (last UK protest was in 2004, and that was a Belgian!), so you can guess that racing is pretty friendly. Socially, the class is a currently a lot less wild than it was in the 90s, when they got banned pretty much everywhere. I think the attitude of ok sailors, who I’ve always found amazingly friendly and encouraging, is another big factor in making the class a great place to be.’

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