Portrait of a Champion – Ian Walker

Determined & focused.

As the Spanish school summer holidays are 10 weeks long, all parents are faced with the dilema of how to keep them out of boredom while holding a job. So our kids were shipped off to Club Nautico Arenal (CNA) sailing camp at the tender ages of 4 (Paula) and 3 (Ian) years old. The reason was due to our family background of sailing and conservation of marine life.

Winter in Mallorca.

The development progression consisted of swimming, kayaking and making sand castles on the beach. Then 8 kids-up on a 2 sail dinghy (similar to GP14) with a monitor onboard. Then double-handed on a Laser Pico dinghy. Finally once they developed confidence, they were sent out to sea in Optimists.

Then they get promoted to the novice racing class, which together with the A,B & C groups (40-45 kids) sail all day Saturday and Sunday until 2pm during school term. There are 8 active clubs in Mallorca, which all hold their own regatta which attracts a fleet of over 150 regular active sailors. It goes without saying this is every Federation’s dream to have depth in members.

Looking back I remember fondly the close sailing relationship I shared with my parents in SA, but I must now admit the concept in Spain to give the club and coaches full control over development does have benefits. Thankfully we still get to enjoy those diner time sailing discussions as a family.

Team racing practice in Palma.

Paula now races comfortably in the junior BIC Techno windsurf class, and Ian has become part of the club’s 1st Team to travel to the mainland to become comfortable with vast testing conditions. Thankfully his school tutors understand and give homework to take along, as he knows if grades suffer, we will pull the plug!

South African at heart!

In 2016 we planned a long Xmas holiday to SA. Our expat friends from CT living in Mallorca suggested Ian should race in the Junior Nationals in Theewaterskloof, and with a stroke of luck it was the Dabchick 50th Anniversary to keep Dad entertained.

The SA Optimist community was so accommodating, it turned out to be a smooth ride full of action.

Ian was welcomed into the scene from day 1, and given a great boat thanks to Roger Hudson from Race Ahead and the amazing support from the Ashwell family.

A year later I needed to visit my elderly folks in Durban, so decided to drag Ian along for the Midmar Youth Nationals. Again the warm support made it a pleasure, whereby friendships on and off the water were strengthened.

Focused! SA Youth Nationals 2017.

We are firm believers in positive thinking, whereby his SA Citizenship opened the door to accept the generous offer from SAS to fill the open slot in the SA Worlds Team. Thanks Cal for your efforts to make this happen.

Ian on his way to victory.
Ian Walker Optimist Champion. SA Youth National Championships 2017.

Ian is so grateful to be given this opportunity, as all the subsequent intense training has taken him to the next level which has paid dividends with his results so far in Cyprus. Long way to go!

Opening ceremony Optimist Worlds 2018, Limassol Cyprus.

Together Shellee and Claire have found a favorable balance to cater to the boys personal technical needs and create an enjoyable atmosphere for lasting memories.

Team RSA 2018. Ian, Keagan, Karl, Matt, Claire & Bryan.

Upon writing this I’m watching Matt, Keagan, Brian, Karl and Ian as 37th ranked team beat 12th ranked Hungary in the team racing World Champs. After that, they narrowly lost to Australia (13th) and Chile (21st), all along flying the flag proudly.

Pre-Worlds training in Limassol.

Then on 3rd September the boys will take on their respective World Championship ranked fleets in phase 2 of the regatta giving it their all.

Good luck boys.

It’s great to share the experience with you.

Clive, Ian, Matt & Gavin at the SA Youth Nationals, Midmar Kwazulu Natal.


Best regards

Clive Walker

(Editor’s note: Ian has qualified for the Gold Fleet going into the final days of racing for the Optimist Worlds 2018)

Worlds 2018 report after 6 races

3 days racing, 6 races, 5 to count. Qualifying series done.

Waiting for final result to confirm the fleet allocation for Monday.

The sailors were assigned different fleets each day based on the day’s current standings, giving them opportunity to test their skills against stronger and weaker sailors. The conditions across all 3 days were similar – 10knts from the south west, 210 deg. The current getting stronger, about 2 knots today. Lumpy, lumpy, lumpy.

After the initial jitters all the sailors got their confidence and took on the job at hand. Ian’s experience sailing in more aggresive fleets helped find him his space in the top 3rd of the fleets he raced in. Matt improved through the series. Using what he learnt in the Med Champs to make better decisions. Keagan lacked confidence in his ability and shared the lack of aggression with Bryan and Karl. His starts improved but still got caught up in the mid fleet chaos. Karl took on the challenge in his own quiet way. Initially he had issues with his boat setup. But once that was rectified he setted into his regular position for the rest of the series. Tough, tough, tough conditions for the bigger sailors but Bryan was by no means among the biggest. He also improved, finishing with his best result today.

Mid fleet sailing offers the toughest combination of conditions. Loads of boats, no clear air and 50 sailors out to get get you. So when you do get a cracker start it’s not that difficult to stay ahead, but get a 2nd row start and you out the back with dirty air.

Time to move on!


Shellee Nel

Results here

View Worlds gallery here

It’s all over. Worlds 2017

Well, we are done, finished over en “klaar”.

The kids spent their second off-day in a relaxed mood. Claire and I took them to see the “Big Buddha Hill Temple”. Snippets of Buddhist philosophy was experienced with men in shorts allowed to do what they want and Claire and Chiara had to wear a sarong, otherwise “no see”

That evening we watched the Americans beat the Chinese in the final of the team races.

The fourth day was spent with good winds, complaints by unknown coaches that the conditions were dangerous and the safety officer postponing the race. According to him a 40 knot wind was predicted.

After the squall, the skies cleared, the wind dropped and the kids were told to launch. After spending a few hours on the water everybody returned. Notwithstanding the fact that no races were sailed, fun was had by all. A Pattaya party.

On day five the races started with 10- 15 knot winds. It was a good day with three races sailed. The kids went out there with the intent to learn and improve and they made us proud. The BFD’ and UFD’s showing that they were well aware that a good start is important and they were trying their best.

The last day was spent on the water with no races sailed. Still a great ending to a fast and competitive event.

Boats were returned. The “Winner” boats inspected with an eagle eye and the slightest damage to be paid by the sailor. Fortunately no penalties to us(thanks Karl and Alex) as we had to feed Fabritzio, who by that time looked like Fabio, a few beers to get the boxing gloves off.

Deposits on the Far East boats, Winners and RIB was returned and with 30 minutes to spare it was off to hotel for closing ceremony. Prizes were handed out and all sailors received well deserved recognition for their participation in the Optimist World Championship 2017 held in Pattaya.

Lessons learned was that we need big fleet experience and lighter sailors. Having said that, the optimist class prepares a sailor for future sailing and hopefully the young sailors will always remember the joy, the fun and making new friends and keep sailing till they are parents themselves.

Kind regards


World Optimist Championships 2017

The Royal Varuna Yacht Club, Thailand

11  - 21 July

Event website

Notice of Race

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World Optimist Championships 2016

Clube Internacional da Marina de Vilamoura
Vilamoura, Portugal

25 June - 4 July

Event Website:

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Background photograph by Matias Capizzano