What is an International Optimist Dinghy?
The ‘Opti’ is a flat-bottomed, hard-chine, pram-bow dinghy with a una spritsail however it is more commonly known as a bathtub that breeds the best sailors. It is 2.31m long, 1.13m wide and weighs 35kgs. Optimists are designed for kids. They can handle them without danger, fear or back-strain They are quite simply the most popular boat for Children and young teens to learn in with over 150,000 kids over 100 countries registered. The Optimist is not only one of the biggest dinghy classes in the world, it is the fastest growing with over 350 new Opti’s registered last year in Australia alone. It is the only dinghy recognised by the ISAF* exclusively for under 16s. Former Optimist sailors made up over 50% of the dinghy skippers at the last Olympics.
Why is it so popular?
- It’s Easily transported on top of any car, (where it will drip water over your shiny paintwork!) or box trailer.
- Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old
- Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old
- Easy and quick to rig
- Tightly controlled build standards making it about the sailor and not the boat
- Easy to source common parts
- High boom clearance
If you want to sail in International competition, boats are supplied as part of the competition making it a more achievable international experience. These boats are sold after the competition providing a constant source of near new boats on the global market.
The biggest draw back to an Opti is that the class rules do not allow for a self bailing system so the sailor needs to become very proficient at avoiding water in the boat and knowing how to ‘bail and sail’.
ISAF the ‘International Sailing Federation’ is the world organising body for sailing.
What age group are Opti’s suitable for?
The Opti’s are very robust and are very simple to rig and sail. This makes them perfect for a child from 7 to 15 to learn in. Whilst the Opti’s are easy to sail they are very difficult to master the technical aspects and this makes them great to develop into through to the highest age allowed in competition of 15. With good space inside the hull and a high boom it is very rare for a child in this age group to grow too tall for an Opti. Like any small boat however the weight of the skipper will effect performance.
What training is available at Blairgowrie?
The Tacker programs are the perfect way to introduce your children to sailing however Blairgowrie also offers a great way to spend more coached time on the water and develop your skills further through a large sail training program for our juniors. It is broken down into 5 different groups reflecting the different levels of experience. The minimum age is 8 (as at November each year) Training happens on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings in January, and on Sunday mornings in November, December and February.. During this time, those beginning will learn to rig their boats, to sail them in the sheltered waters between the shore and the moored boats, and to right their boats after a capsize. By the end of their summer, one of the special occasions is their first sail down to Rye. Parents are strongly encouraged be part of the training program.
Beyond the beginner group, the kids are taught more advanced levels of boat control, and to sail in stronger wind conditions. They will also enjoy their first introduction to racing. For all groups, the sail training is conducted by experienced and qualified members of the club, and the boats are overseen by plenty of club rescue boats.
When do they start racing?
We find that some of our juniors are ready to enter our club races after just a year in the sail training and or completion of Tackers 2 – and there are very few who won’t be confident to try their first race after 2 years.
The Optimist racing is split into 3 sections. First there are Minnow and Optimist A and Minnow and Optimist B. Both start together, but the Minnow/Optimist B sailors do a shorter course of one less triangle. For the Minnow/Optimist B’s then, that means usually a triangle, and then a beat to the finish. For those just starting out, the T (for ‘Training’) racing takes place just out from the club.
For many, the first race will seem a bit scary. Don’t worry !. Ask one of the other parents or sailors to explain the courses, flags and starting/finishing procedures if you’d like a helping hand. Pick a day when it’s not forecast to blow too hard, and perhaps set a goal of at least getting through the start-line and up the first leg.
How do I buy or rent an Optimist?
Check out the Association’s website for the Australian Distributors however a new or near Opti with trolley, covers, spas, sail and everything you need to sail range from about $3,000 for a club spec boat to $4,000 for a Regatta Boat. Regatta Opti’s are also available for rent at about $500 per season if this suits you better than buying initially. Second hand boats suitable for starting out may start at around $1,500 however they are difficult to find due to their popularity and relatively late start as a Class in Australia. The fibreglass Opti’s retain their value extremely well. As the class is very tightly controlled other than the occasional new sail there are very few maintenance costs associated with the Opti if they are well looked after and many children keep the one boat throughout their junior sailing time, after all with the Opti, it is typically more to do with the sailors ability than the boat.
What events happen away from Blairgowrie?
There is an extremely active Opti class association in Victoria http://www.optivic.yachting.org.au/ supporting many training and racing regatta’s for all levels throughout the year and as the only Dinghy recognised by the ISAF for under 16’s it is the only Junior boat to be invited to participate in the ISAF Worlds held at Sandringham each year.
Does anything happen off the water?
There is no doubt that the kids have a great time and make great friends at the club and the various class events. Just in case they run the risk of getting bored in-between these times, there are a range of events organised by the club for the juniors such as an all-day ‘Mystery Day’ excursion, a junior skippers on keel boats race, and a video night. And let’s not forget the social interaction between the parents too!
How do I find out more?
Come down to the club on a sail training day and observe things for yourself – or call the Opti class rep listed in the class rep section of the website.