History of the class in South Africa

European Optimist Championships 1992

Svendborg, Danmark
27 July – 2 August
Arrangør: Svendborg Sunds Sejlklub

SA Team. From left to right: Roger Hudson, Charles Nankin, Alon Finkelstein, Andre Van Aurich, David Hooper.

This was actually a very historic occasion for us as it was the first official IODA event to which we were invited after sports sanctions against South Africa were dropped. It was so early, that we still used the old flag and sang the old National Anthem!

The 1992 Worlds were to be held around Christmas, in Mar Del Plata, Argentina. We had already entered our team for that, when we got the invite for the 1992 Europeans. The opportunity to test ourselves at this level before the World Championship was too good to turn down, so it was decided to send a ‘special’ team of 5, for which each region was invited to send a representative. In the end, Eastern Province and Free State declined to send someone, so we went with two Western Province (Charles Nankin and Roger Hudson), two Transvaal (Elon Finkelstein and Andre Van Aurich) and one Natal (David Hooper) skipper (note the ‘old’ provinces here).

The regatta was held in Svendborg, Denmark.

The first race was a bit of a shock, we were all at the back of the fleet. We had a good talk about this, and from then there was a huge change. The wind was mostly light, and in Alon we had a light weather specialist (from the Highveld, small of posture, but very focussed, experienced and talented). He won a race and to see the SA flag go up and the Anthem played (there was a daily prizegiving) was very moving after years in the wilderness! Alon continued to sail well and before the last race we knew that he had a real chance of winning the regatta, with Ramon Oliden from Argentina being his main opposition. This was a bit embarrassing as the first European in the European Championship did not really have a chance of winning anymore. The atmosphere in the team was fantastic, Alon got enormous support from the other boys with everyone hoping for light winds in the last race (although for themselves they would have preferred quite a bit more wind).

The last day dawned with light winds. I cant remember exactly what the positions had to be, Ramon beat Alon in that race, but it was not enough and Alon won the regatta (and Ramon was second)! Fortunately for the Europeans, there were two classifications, one for everyone and one for ‘Europeans only’ (which was a bit strange as we had just emerged out of that frame of mind). The rest of the team also acquitted themselves well, most ending in the top half of the fleet. Unfortunately I don’t have the results anymore!

As a result, South African Optimist sailing was suddenly in the limelight and Gustavo Lima from Portugal came to our nationals (which were just before the Worlds) in order to practise agains this bunch of superheros. Gustavo promptly won our Nationals (and ended up sailing in the Olympics for Portugal several times).

Unfortunately, the conditions at the Worlds in Mar Del Plata were very different and our team could not maintain the form of the Europeans. Ramon however became World Champion and Alon still has the unique status of having beaten the World Champion in a major regatta!

Report & Photographs by Hans Thijsse