Optimist Class Association – www.optimist.org.za
Strangely enough, the Optimist Dinghy began as a soapbox car. About forty-eight years ago, in Clearwater, Florida, children used to wheel around town in their soapbox cars. A local chapter of Optimists International, the civic group, asked Clearwater boat designer Clark Mills to build a floating version of the soapbox cars, hoping that the local children would start cruising Clearwater Bay instead of Clearwater’s streets. Clark Mills came up with a little square bowed boat and called it the Optimist Pram. It was a boat which a young skipper and a parent could put together in the garage, with one sheet of plywood, some stainless steel screws, some resorcinol glue, and a few banged thumbs.
The first Optimist was built in 1948 and was soon a popular youth boat in and around Clearwater and St. Petersburg. For some time, it was only known in that area. The turning point for the Optimist class came in 1954 when Axel Damsgaard, skipper of a Danish three masted tall ship, saw an Optimist while his ship was visiting the United States. When he returned to Denmark, Axel promoted the design. The Optimist soon became very popular throughout Scandinavia, where it was renamed the International Optimist Dinghy–its official name today.
The IOD spread throughout Europe in the 1960s. In 1962, the first World Championships were held, at Hamble in the UK. In 1965, seven nations got together and formed the IODA (International Optimist Dinghy Association). In 1973, the class received International status from the sailing world’s governing body, the International Yacht Racing Union (now ISAF). During the 1970s, the popularity of the Optimist spread to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Today, the Optimist is the world’s largest– and fastest growing–sailing class, bigger than Lasers, Hobies, Sunfish, or any other one-design. While many boats claim “International” in their title, there is none which is sailed in more countries. The Optimist may be the world’s only true “International” Dinghy.