Two articles I recently read made a lot of sense to me as a parent to two junior sailors and after a summer of trading back and forth between Optimists and O’pen Bics. The predicted happened, which was that my eleven year old preferred the planing, no-bailing, super fun unRegatta set up of the O’pen Bic to his race Opti. That is to say – we forked over decent money for a used race Opti and he spent the summer wanting to race O’pen Bics. It’s a movement not unique to my sailors, as kids experience the thrill of singlehanding a fast, fun boat – casting aside the ill conceived notion that any serious racing sailors must begin, and perfect, Opti racing.
Obviously the TotalBoat team knew about this trend already, as we spent considerable time and resources on the O’pen Bic Summer Tour for the second year running. Kids from about 15 clubs around Narragansett Bay and eastern New England were delivered a fleet of 4 O’pen Bics to try out for a few days. Junior sailing classes put a bunch of kids onto the boats and let them rip around without concern for bailing or capsizing (the O’pen Bic loves to capsize and is easily righted) and with lots of emphasis on boat handling and fun!
Starting lines welcomed Bic sailors more than ever, with a whole course and class added to the Narragansett Bay Junior Race Week for the first time ever. In fact, as the other classes waited ashore for a postponement, the O’pen Bics raced off the beach in about 2 knots, doing a fun “Kinetics Race,” and a “Stand Up and Race” Race, showing the postponed kids that it doesn’t take much to get a super fun race off, even in the lightest breeze.
Here’s our summary. Kids want to go fast and have fun. Most admittedly don’t like stress, they panic easily and if their first experiences are not B+ or better – they are out. So striking the fun meter while the iron is hot is key. When kids take the tiller to singlehand a boat for the first time, it can be a mixture of independence and fear and hopefully plenty of pride. Teaching kids about starts, mark roundings and the Racing Rules of Sailing is a big job. Plenty of adults i’ve raced with still don’t have the current set of rules down and would be unable to skipper, much less compete in a crowded fleet.
Then look at the Opti class. The recent New England’s held in Newport, RI hosted over 400 boats, most of whom were hard-core, boat tweaking race nuts. When my son, who is a speed freak and a very capable sailor and racer, got wind of the 400 boat fleet, he was out. He tasted the fun factor at the 2nd O’pen Bic Intergalactic Regatta we held this summer (video below), and knew that he did NOT have to endure the uncomfortable panic of the Opti New Englands to advance his boat handling and racing skills.
Stumbling across these 2 articles below in 2 consecutive days reinforces this sentiment amongst youth sailors today. Kids racing in giant fleets are picking up bad habits and are not being corrected when they foul another racer or get fouled. They are deciding it is OK to skip over the Opti fleet and sail O’pen Bics or similar singlehanded boats that lend themselves very well to advancing to trickier boats to race as they grow up, like the 29er or even foiling Moths. If you were to put an O’pen Bic sailor and an Opti racer nut into a 29er aside each other, who do you think would be more likely to succeed right off the bat and have fun inside the first few attempts? Leaving behind the initial panic and frustration of driving or crewing on a tippier boat? Sure – 420’s are tippy and fun – and the aforementioned junior sailors of mine all look to the 420s as they rig their sprits and inflate their airbags while rigging their optis – wondering how long before they are out of the Opti and in the faster, more fun and technical 420.
All you have to do is read these 2 articles, below, to see what we are talking about.
Our local junior sailing program along with the massively successful public youth sailing program at Sail Newport, have taken this to heart and are adding O’pen Bics to their singlehanded fleets for next summer. The O’pen Bic UnRegattas are popping up all over the world, proving that, even outside the US, the trend is catching on. Kids have a preference and it’s one that is breeding better sailors. More confident and capable racers. Sure – Optis are still going strong and will – and should. There are kids for whom that class is ideally suited. And there are kids who will ask at the first session when they can get into an O’pen Bic to try that out.
As the sailing world expands to embrace foiling and high performance boats, why not look towards the more technical, fun focused experience of O’pen Bic Sailing? We sell O’pen Bics at JD and want to spread the word. But more than selling boats, we want to race against your kid! We want kids to WANT to race and capsize, to compete and succeed! And we want all the kids to have fun and not panic amongst 200 boat starts. Because even as an adult, that makes my palms sweat and my heart palpitate.
From Sailing Scuttlebutt: There is an exciting movement happening in Hawaii. Kids are sailing nontraditional boats and getting more excited than ever about the sport. This movement is toward alternative pathways (think O’Pen Bic and RS Feva) as opposed to more traditional classes (think Opti, Laser and C420).
While many junior sailors burn out in overly competitive programs or simply lose interest in sailing, kids in the programs at Hawaii Kai Boat Club (Honolulu, HI) are proof that modern designs, paired with innovative approaches to teaching, can instill a lifetime of passion for sailing.
A short video of two 15-year- olds, Pearl Lattanzi and Ariana Long, shows them sailing a 29er on Moanalua Bay off. The girls are the product of a new generation that have made the transition from O’pen Bic to RS Feva to 29er….Read more here.