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 . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
“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 . . .