Interesting – Comments?

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Has The Optimist Evolved Too Far?

The Optimist has introduced more kids to sailing than other boat, and is the dominant international class for youth competition. While the primary goal during the youth years is to instill the love of sailing, the influence of racing can impact the priorities.

As builders are vying to supply the fastest boats, there apparently remains enough wiggle room to improve on this 70 year old design. However, when new models come out, parents might need to step up to keep their kids from getting stepped on. This reality just hit Carlo Cagna as he shares in this report:

We are a group of Optimist parents that just attended the 35th Lake Garda Optimist Meeting, which was held April 13-16 for 1063 competitors.

Being new to the class and wishing to keep our kids occupied with a fantastic sport, we make a reasonable effort to accommodate them in what is otherwise an expensive activity. But we still feel it’s worth it for both the sport and the social aspects around it.

We recently acquired new Optimists for our group of friends, though not the mainstream boats because they were too expensive for us. But we were in Garda with pride of our acquisition and our kids were happy.

However, among other good experiences we came across some unsettling information in the boat park. The gossip was how one of the biggest Optimist manufacturers found a way to bend the class measurement rules to develop a faster Optimist.

Despite being new to this sport, we managed to talk to some of the coaches and apparently these rumors were true. Also being said was how this new model had the support of the International Optimist Dinghy Association.

What this means to us is, after just buying competitive boats for our children, in a few months we will have to buy this newer model. We were told the Optimist was a one design class and our boats could be passed on to our younger sailors. Now our current Optimists will have much less value.

Being how the Optimist is a one design class, should this be allowed? Is this a favoring of some kind to bigger builders? We visited the website of the manufacturer and it’s real as they are advertising these faster boats.

How can the Optimist class accept this? I am eager to hear from others about this situation.

Scuttlebutt Sailing News. April 17, 2017. Issue 4813

7 thoughts on “Interesting – Comments?”

  1. I would like to see the IODA response to this as I believe this is probably rumour mongering. The Optimist Class is very tightly controlled when it comes to class rules.

  2. Hello from side. There are no faster optimist boats, there just boats with better quality of materials and construction. I never believed to the faster boat rumurus but to well setuped combinations. We have to look the optimist as a complete boat.
    Please dont accuse the builders, optimist and all the fittings, compine a very quality boat. Look our sails and compare with laser sails. Look our foils, look our rigs, look our boat, that after so many years on a kid hand is still there.
    Optimist is still one design and there is a big market to select what is really affordable or good for anyone. Every optimist, if you give it to a good coach to setup it and to a passionate good young sailor to sail it, it will be fast.
    Please parents dont be stressed, there are so many people you can access and collect tips and solutions.
    I strongly believe to the sailor and no factory can produce a fast sailor, only by spending more hours on training.

    Antonis Drosopoulos (GRE)
    swiss sailing team national coach

    • Hello Antonis.
      You’ve done a good job on the Swiss Oppie sailors, there are some good sailors in the group, Max Wallenberg, et al. Question – Adrian Surroca was sailing for Germany and is now sailing under the Swiss flag, what happened there? He is an excellent sailor! Will he be in the Worlds squad this year?

      Cheers from a sunny South Africa 🙂

  3. I’ve always believed that you can give a top sailor an older boat, and even an older sail and they will still out perform the majority, just like they would with the latest and greatest equipment. The old adage comes to mind: don’t blame bad workmanship on your tools.

  4. One needs to understand that there is a lot of competition amongst Optimist builders. They use ‘marketing speak’ to try to convince people to buy their boats. This is exactly what we see here.
    Time and time again, we see a nice mixture of boats from several manufacturers in the top 10 (or more) of major regattas. That alone is proof that the difference between hulls is insignificant when it comes to speed. Be careful not to look at regattas with mandatory charter (only World Championships, usually outside Europe), as there you will only see one or sometimes two builders.
    There of course is a difference in sails (a ‘one design sail’ would not work because of the differences in skipper weight) and in spars (similar argument as sails).
    IODA has always been very keen to level the equipment playing field and – although I am no longer directly involved – I am sure this will continue.

  5. I think the backdrop message to the article is that maybe the Optimist Class has become overly competitive. This was something that was hi-lighted at the ISAF world conference in Geneva 2 years ago. I believe that we, as the class custodians and coaches should be judged on the percentage of sailors retained in the sport after Optimists and who excel in the various onward classes.

  6. I think that is an interesting comment, Cal and there is merit in looking a bit more into it.
    The following points come to mind:
    1. Yes, the Optimist Class is very competitive. Parents in the more affluent countries (mainly USA, but they are not alone) are spending significant amounts of money on professional coaching, travel to significant international events etc. They also spend lots on boats (new one every year), but there is no evidence at all that this helps. In my view there is not a lot one can do about it, it is not a new ‘problem’ that some parents will do anything to get their children ahead, even if objectively speaking it is way over the top. The fact that most Olympic yachtsmen (and especially medal winners!) are ex Optimists certainly feeds this behaviour.
    2. I accept totally that the success of a sailing programme can be measured by the retention rate and also the success in subsequent classes. We do however need to bear in mind that the Optimist is usually the first ‘toe in the water’ for children starting sailing and those who don’t take to it will call it a day. In that case, one should not feel too bad if the retention rate is not as high as one would like.


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