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North Sails NEWS
NEW OK DINGHY CLASS LEADER
Singlehanded Champion Takes Lead In Sail Development
Charlie Cumbley came into sailing through his family. “My grandpa worked for a boat builder, and then I got started just for leisure,” he says. “I wasn’t involved in any junior race teams. I just went out and found any boats I could sail, and that’s how it progressed until I got relatively serious in Finn sailing in my late teens and ended up meeting Paul Hobson. For my sins,” he adds, laughing.
Hobson invited him to join North Sails One Design in 2006, which Charlie describes as “an awful long time ago.” Today his title is One Design Sales Manager for the UK and gets involved in “everything from Optimists to J/80s.” He’s recently been named class leader in the OK Dinghy.
By his own estimate, Charlie has won something like fifteen national championships “across a little range of vessels.” He earned a spot on the podium at many international OK events the last couple of years and was winning the 2018 OK Dinghy Europeans until the last race, when he lost a tight battle with Star champion Freddy Loof. Though he feels he has the most experience in singlehanded boats, Charlie also sails Etchells and J/70s. “Nothing gets too stale, which is quite nice. And,” he adds, laughing, “I’ve got someone else to blame.”
When Charlie first started sailing the OK, the fifty year old class was just starting what he calls its second wind. “130 boats at the 2018 Worlds; it’s definitely on the up.” Older designs like the OK are coming back, he thinks, because people get tired of just going fast. “They like getting back into a boat where the racing’s really close and really tactical.” And unlike the Finn, “you don’t need to be a monster of a guy” to sail the OK, though there are plenty of Olympians (like Loof) in the fleet.
“Sailors who maybe aren’t quite as strong as they used to be can get involved in this class, and if they’re good, they can have some decent results. People always like doing well, don’t they?”
The OK offers enough tweakability for retired Finn and Star sailors, thanks to its origins as a trainer for the singlehanded Olympic class. The masts are carbon, “not quite as exotic as the Finn mast, so it’s not like a small mortgage to buy one, but they’re quite nicely refined now. The new boats they’re knocking out are really nice bits of kit.”
The class is strong in northern Europe and also in New Zealand and Australia. Charlie says having design groups in both hemispheres helps ensure year-round progress. “They can push on things through their summer, when it’s our winter and a bit quieter, and vice versa. They give help and feedback and design input, and then I compare it to what we’re getting over here, and then we make a decision on where we go. So, there’s been quite a lot of development in 2018. The sail that won the Worlds was the Kiwi design, which was great. Our UK design was third and leading up until the last race.”
North offers three different OK sail designs, so there’s something for everyone regardless of “where you sail, how heavy you are, and how stiff your mast is.” For big events, each competitor can measure in two sails. “You could quite happily measure in a full and a flat sail, which is what I do and what other guys do. You end up with a two sail inventory.” And each design has a large crossover, he clarifies, “so that you don’t get into that situation where you’re sailing round in five knots with a sail that’s designed purely for 20 knots and pulling your hair out.”
Mast stiffness used to be a large variable, but over the last few years the masts have become more one design—which means sail design can be more refined as well. “All the sails are built with custom luff curves to fit the mast,” Charlie says, “ just like we do in the Finns for the Olympic guys. It’s pretty customizable.”
Charlie travels quite a bit to sail, so when he’s home he tries to spend as much time as possible with his wife and two kids. His older daughter is almost big enough for Optimists, which means “I’ll become an Optimist parent. Scary things happen then!”
As for the OK Dinghy, Charlie hopes to one day step on to the top of the Worlds podium—but not in 2019, since he couldn’t make it to New Zealand. “Hopefully, the Kiwi guys nail the Worlds and we’ll sit down after that and have a little chat and see things we can improve on,” he says.
“Work on through the season. With more good sailors coming in, you need to keep pushing, getting those little details right.”