Editor’s note: The following letters were submitted in response to the Publisher’s Log in our September issue in which Ben Cesare began a discussion on the nearly universal use of the Optimist in junior programs by stating, “I think the Optimist stinks as an early trainer.” We’ll have a full article on this topic next month.
I agree. I was greatly dismayed when my kids reached a young sailing age, and our yacht club began switching to Optimists from 7’ 11” Dyer Dhows. The Optimist was a tiny tub with no ability for multipurpose use, neither rowing nor motoring. The club expected us to shell out large dollars for this little pram which had no use other than a kiddie trainer. A boat that was supremely uncomfortable for a normal-sized adult or father and son (or daughter) to sail together, although we did when pressed, one time winning the parent/child race.
A New England Science & Sailing Opti Team member practices roll tacking in Stonington Harbor. © Caroline Knowles/nessf.org
You’re right: It is much about socialization and friendship. A tiny, single-purpose pram points to one use: racing. Which brings in the larger question. Does every kid want to race? Of course not. Does every kid who takes up skiing want to race? Of course not. In fact, a very small percentage gravitate towards ski racing. (I know of what I speak, being a ski instructor for some 40 years.) One of my kids took to sailing (not racing), while the other found drifting around on hot summer afternoons, jockeying for position on the starting line with a mass of other dinghies supremely boring, and left sailing.
The class daysailers of my time, and even the 7-11 Dyer Dhow, also served as social places. You could take a girl (or vice versa) out on an afternoon sail and she, or he, didn’t need to strap in to hike, or wear a trapeze harness or wetsuit. Much has been written lately, in your publication and others, about the attrition of young people from sailing. Some are bored, a few are traumatized. But overall, unless the lore, camaraderie, and sense of adventure and exploration of the ocean and the planet are incorporated into teaching sailing, this problem will continue.
Stuart Cole, Stonington, CT
I have quietly been thinking the same thing for years. Honestly, how many international one-design classes have a sprit? Don’t get me started on the sail ties – tedious for an adult and daunting for a 9-year-old. Of course, it all started with the good intentions of using a simple dinghy for learning how to sail and in many ways it fit the bill. However, when you throw regattas and travel into the mix, it gets time consuming and cumbersome. Most of these kids can’t lift the boats even with an adult, and the six-boat trailers are one loose strap away from bedlam. (This happened to our Opti team two seasons ago). Ultimately, getting to and from regattas is a bigger part of the events than the racing, and a huge chore. Of course, it’s the same parents helping too. A lighter, simpler boat would be a nice breath of fresh air.
As you know, the cost of Opti racing has gotten out of hand. Most parents of novice sailors will opt for the $400 used McLaughlin rather than the $7,000 Black Magic with all the bells and whistles. Problem is, this puts the cost of being competitive at a prohibitive level for most junior sailors…we got a taste of this with the Lindsay Fireball when we were kids. When you throw program fees, coaching and equipment into the mix, we lose a lot of talent. I’ve been guilty of this when I purchased a Blue Magic for [my son] Ethan, but I knew enough to shop around for a great deal on a charter boat from the Opti Worlds. I’m betting many parents would simply write the check or opt out.
In the beginning, Ethan had a lot of fun in his Opti. He liked his classmates and did well. Matt’s comments about “would you rather?” were ironically similar to Ethan’s. [Publisher’s note: Charlie’s referring to a story about my son in the September Publisher’s Log] He’d been having a good run at the Opti regattas, but his finishes started tapering off the following season. He made an unsolicited comment that he enjoyed being in the back of the fleet with his friends. Also, that the kids in the front of the fleet were not very nice…
I don’t think Ethan ever tried an O’Pen BIC. They look light and simple to rig, but they haven’t made much headway in the market it seems…possibly because coaches teach what they know. They do look like a skateboard with a sail – quite tippy. Anyway, that’s my two cents.
Charlie Keyes, Norwalk, CT
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