From the SAILING Archives – by Richard Crockett (Sailing Publications)

Michael Giles haming it up for the cameras and showing the enjoyment of sailing his own boat. Having fun in a boat is priority number 1 for new youth sailors.

It certainly seems that there was some reluctance in this country to establish the Optimist class – maybe due to the strong presence of the Dabchick fleet which grew exponentially once launched?

Rhodesia led the way in Southern Africa, hosting a Junior Schools regatta in Optimists in 1969, with 180 young sailors attending – 57 sailing Optimists.

In South Africa two clubs specifically promoted the Optimist Class, that being Henley Midmar and Zeekoe Vlei Yacht Clubs. Read more . . .


Geoffrey Jackson adjusting the sprit.

I am told by a very reliable source that the final race of the Optimist National Champs late last year (2021) was an absolute humdinger of a race with the winner “taking all”. It was of course a race between the two Seans – Sean Kavanagh and Sean Sadler, with Kavanagh being the ultimate winner and the two still level-pegging on points after the final race, so the winner of the final race decided the final result.

These two had levelled-pegged throughout the regatta and were streets ahead of their competition. That final 12th race was a match race where the two crossed tacks and the lead changed several times, with absolutely nothing more than a boat length between them at any time. These two, at their tender age, were a credit to the sport and sailed with maturity, guile and heaps of good sportsmanship. Read more . . .

A good start by the fleet of 50 Optimists competing for their Transvaal junior championships. In the foreground is Geoffrey Page, Clara Hooyberg who came 4th and was the first girl home.

Sadly I still have the impression that there was no serious drive to push the Optimist Class on a national basis as there appeared to be isolated pockets of excellence dotted around the country.

Despite the slow progress, a report in SA Yachting in February 1972 stated that “… the class has developed to such an extent in the Western cape that it has become necessary to form a Western Cape regional committee…”. Read more . . .

L-R. Mark Rennison, Fiona Morley, Sandy Atteridge and Richard Wiederhold.

Zeekoevlei had just two classes being sailed by the juniors, the Dabchick and the Optimist where the Western Province Junior champs were held. There are many names in the results of this event who went on to become big names in the sport, with the scribe making this interesting comment: “It will be interesting to follow the sailing careers of these competitors as they mature. The healthy, enthusiastic competitiveness I am sure will one day develop them into good yachtsmen and international skippers.” Sadly the publication chose only to publish the Dabchick results! Read more . . .

There is no caption to this, although I wonder whether this was not a preliminary meeting with PSI Yachts to build the Optimist in GRP?
L_R. Peter Collins, Dave Booth, Basil Cooke of (PSI) and Gavin Smith.

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. Girl Wins Optimist Nationals


I am not sure whether a girl has even won the Optimist Nationals after Gillian Theunissen did in December 1974? Maybe one of the Optimist class doyens has that answer?

And a deserving winner she was too as she won three of the six races and finished 10 points clear of her nearest rival Mike Vulliamy, with Dave Vinnicombe third.

Sailed from the Transvaal Yacht Club on Hartbeespoort Dam, nearly all the top skippers of the Republic took part in winds which were light putting the very strong Cape contingent of 16 boats (out of 48) at a disadvantage.

She had such a command of the conditions that one skipper was overheard saying this: “I think Gillian Theunissen can smell when the wind is going to change”! Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1977 Optimist Nationals


The 1977 nationals were a closely fought affair, very closely fought in fact and going right down to the wire.

“The National Junior Yachting Championships, held at Swartvlei from December 17 to 21, developed onto a ding-dong tussle for supremacy between inland and coastal skippers with the result in the balance right up to the final race.”

In the end, it was the inland sailors who triumphed on both the Optimist and Dabchick classes – but oh, it was so close!

The Rhodesians competed in numbers, with first and third in the Oppie fleet being from that country, and with Brett Clark from Redhouse sandwiched into second spot.

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1979 Optimist Nationals & 10 Pics


A record number of 98 Optimists competed in this event at Zeekoe Vlei which was won by Jonathan Swain. The runner-up list shows many a highly competitive and well know sailor with Matthew Orton second, David Hibberd third, Andrew de Vlieg fourth and Leanne Holliday fifth.

This fleet of 98 included a contingent of 15 Rhodesian entries and 26 novices.

I do like the following exchange in the report: In the meantime the novices were sailing around waiting for their start. Some newcomers were quite bewildered and one really small chap with his peak pulled well down on his forehead was obviously quite frustrated as he sailed toward the committee boat, stood up and shouted to our SAYRA Councillor “Geoff what’s going on now, when do we start? “Mr Myburgh, experienced in handling such situations, smilingly told him he would be starting shortly and happily he sailed off. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. ‘81 & ‘82 Busy Optimist Years


The 1981 Optimist nationals at Swartvlei, and then a string of other regattas proved that the Optimist dinghy was achieving its goal in terms of youth sailing, as was the 116 boat fleet.

Talking of numbers, the Dabchicks achieved a fleet of 91 boats in this joint junior national championship – impressive numbers indeed.

Jonathan Swain won the nationals ahead of Nico van Wierengen. These two simply being far superior than the rest of the fleet – especially judging by the points difference between second and third.

Swain appeared to cover himself in glory early that year as he also won the PYC Junior Week regatta, and the Natal Optimist Champs. Plus he was also the top Optimist in the Inter-provincial schools regatta in which five provinces competed. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1982 Optimist Nationals & 15 Pics


Another big fleet of 95 Optimists competed at Boskop for the national title with N (Nico ?) Van Wieringen being the convincing winner with a score line of just 3 points to count. His closest rival, B James, had 18.7.

I found this report interesting for the simple reason that it raised the issue of “superstition” – and that the winner of the tune-up race does not win the event overall! Read this:

“The tune-up race finally destroyed a deeply entrenched superstition that the winner of this race will not win the nationals. Brian James came in for a convincing win but decided not to flaunt superstition and sailed past the finish line as did Stephen Loxton in second position. Nico van Wieringen had no time for superstition and took the gun although he must have doubted his decision after his tenth place in the first race which was convincingly won by Brian James who also won the second race but only by a few centimetres, causing Judge Paddy Peel-Pearce some anxious moments.

“After that the regatta belonged to Nico van Wieringen who increased his lead every race by pulling ahead into clear air and winning the last race by more than four minutes.” Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 9 Optimist Features From ‘85 & ‘86 + 15 Pics


Today I am happy to share another 9 editorials from 1985 and 1986 – all about the Optimist dinghy and the sailors of that era. There’s some fascinating stuff in these pages. Enjoy them. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1986 Optimist Nationals + 15 More Pics


It was back to Boskop for this event, with numbers no where near the heady heights they had reached in years previously. Just 60 Optimists and 58 Dabchicks.

The “Vaalies” (remember that word?) dominated the event with 4 in the top 10 Optimists and 7 in the top 10 Dabchicks.

Stefan Aspeling had won the Optimist event prior to the last race, with Malcolm Hall as runner-up and Shaun Carkeek in 3rd spot.

Looking down the results sheet is interesting as the names of some soon to be up-and-coming sailors are there – Melissa Rossaak, Alon Finkelstein, Greg Barker, Mark Sadler and others too. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1988 Optimist Class News + More Pics

Concentrating on 1988 today, the Optimist class was pretty busy with Nationals, various Provincials, overseas regattas for the top guys, and even an Optimist Masters regatta for some fun. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1989 Optimist Nationals + Pics


Continuing with the “Bookmakers” them from yesterday and the 1988 event, the following was noted in the report: “There must have been at least ten skippers who were able to win the title and they came from all active regions . It was even suggested that we open a bookmaking business at the nationals. with the proceeds towards Optimist funds. Nevertheless, after a few races it became clear that there were only a few all-round skippers capable of taking the title in a place with variable conditions like Swartvlei.”

The fund-raising thought was an opportunity lost as most parents believe that “little Johnny” will win and place big bucks on their darlings!

This was a closely fought event with less than 3 points separating 1st and 2nd, and the first places spread around the fleet. The top two guys each won a race, yet third placed Greg Barker won two and was 10 points adrift of second overall.

I was fascinated to see that Oliver Schildt, 14th overall won two races, yet was not placed in single figures in any other races. Maybe conditions were really, really tricky and testing. Read more . . .

“Talking Sailing” From My Archives. 1995 Optimist Nationals


It’s time to close the lid on this Optimist thread as it’s been running for a few weeks now, and as there is so much history of the sport in our country to share, we move on as of tomorrow.

Plus, the final pics as scanned from my archives will all be used up today. Please note that the full colour pics have never been published before unless used in the magazines. I used to select just a one or two from each roll of film and archive the balance. In this digital age and with the time and good equipment to scan, I am now able to use every single pic – with the result being some top shots I missed when selecting slide (transparency) images with a magnifier.

But back to the ‘95 Optimist Nationals which, as normal was, a hard-fought affair, and captured in print as follows: “It does not happen often that an Optimist national champion defends his title, more often than not he is too old or too big to sail Optimists again. We were fortunate that last year’s champion, Richard Booth, was present at Langebaan. He put in a very serious bid to be the first skipper ever to win two Nationals in a row (Jonathan Swain won twice, but not in successive years) and after three races was in the lead. He was however, strongly challenged by some of the younger lads, like John (“JJ”) Eloff and Edward van Reenen as well as worlds team member Jamie Waters. In the end it was these four skippers who were clearly ahead of the rest of the bunch and fought it out for gold.”

And “girl-power” was prevalent too as reported here: “The first girl (in fifth position) was Lindsay Samuel, a terrific result from the petite Transvaal girl on the choppy Langebaan waters. Her result equals that of Dale Hudson in 1991 and Leanne Holiday in 1979. No girl has ever finished better than fifth in a South African Optimist nationals, so there is something to go for, ladies!” Read more . . .