Ireland is days away from its staging of one of the largest sailing events of the season when the Optimist European Championships kick off at the Royal St George Yacht Club on Dublin Bay from the 13th to the 19th of July.
Over 250 sailors from 44 nations make it the second highest entry on record for the world's most popular junior sailing class, with over 150,000 boats registered internationally.
Thirty-two European countries have entered teams of up to seven sailors each and they are joined by teams of up to four sailors each from twelve non-European countries.
The great majority of the sailors will be aged between 13 and 15 year old. They have been selected from trials and sometimes pre-trials involving several thousand sailors. Unlike at other Optimist events the girls – just over 100 of them – will race separately from the boys and this gives great emphasis to their event. Indeed all six of the female European Olympic dinghy medallists at the London 2012 Games had participated in Optimist European Championships.
Male graduates of the event include triple Olympic medallist Iain Percy (GBR).
The event was last held in Ireland in 1993 at Newtownabbey. Only 27 countries (21 European) participated then, mostly because few East Europeans were able to travel but also due to the growth of Optimist sailing in countries such as Singapore, India, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand in the last twenty years. Indeed Singapore, where sailing is a major school sport, may well challenge for the open prizes. First-time entrants are Iceland and Antigua.
Individual prospects are hard to identify with many of last year's sailors now over age, but Mara Turín of Slovenia won both the 2012 and 2013 Championships and could become the first girl ever to win three times. 2013 boy’s champion Tytus Butowski of Poland will also be trying to retain his title.
One of the key factors in the choice of Dun Laoghaire was the ability to house all participants in two hotels close to the venue, creating an Olympic village type environment ashore perfect for making the friendships so valuable in this lifetime sport.
For event updates, information and to follow the racing live see: