The International Optimist - An introduction
What is an Optimist?
What will it cost?
In North America add around 30% to the prices below.
Around US$700 a year.
It works like this (very like the secondhand automobile market):
Where and how to start
Local clubs usually have sailing classes for kids, which are surely given in Optimists (99% probability!). So, your first step should be to go to the coast, find a club and ask there.
If the clubs where you live don't offer these classes, ask your national Optimist association where Optimist is sailed in your area.
Unofficial* guide to the first steps in the Optimist
*These guidelines are not intended to override the methods of any club or instructor!
Age and size
What age should they start?
Most countries start at eight years old. But there are plenty who start earlier and eleven or twelve is not too late - even to get to the top in the Optimist.
But surely they should not race at that age?
It depends what you mean by racing.
Kids probably start racing as soon as they can crawl! French coaches have the youngest pupils racing around by paddling even before they get a sail on the boat!
The secret is to let the young sailors race to the level he/she really wants to (not the level you think it should want to).
In many countries mini-regattas are organised at the same time as open (under 16) events. This is great, but they should be tailored to the needs of younger sailors - fewer, shorter races, if possible on more sheltered waters (inside the harbour? inside the bay?).
What is the maximum age to sail an Optimist?
Sailors are permitted to enter the Optimist Worlds and Continentals and other big regattas until the are 16, i.e. until and including the year in which they have their 15th birthday.
But some sailors do get too big before then.
This is the breakdown of ages at the Optimist Worlds:
When am I too big for the Optimist?
A lot depends on local conditions, particularly during the summer holidays. If you sail in a place that never gets more than 8 knots in summer, you are going to have problems winning over 55 kg.
As an active sportsperson you are likely to be a bit lighter than the average "coach potato" but don't be tempted to diet without talking to a doctor. The unwise loss of weight may lead to loss of stamina.
If you feel you are getting nowhere and there is a good alternative boat locally, try it. Plenty of older Optimist sailors "cross-train" - sail a more powerful boat as well as an Optimist.
Up to a certain age you will probably have more fun at Optimist regattas. But when you start to find most of the competitors "silly" - move on! But don't drink too much at the first regatta you attend with a bar!!
The Optimist Class in the World
How many Optimists are there in the world?
Frankly we don't know!
For registered Optimists the answer is just over 200,000. In 1974 we started to issue numbered plaques for each Optimist built, and we have just reached number 132,000.
But very many "Optimists" were built without plaques. Almost no plaques were bought by the former "East Block" even for exported boats, and builders in many other countries "cheated". And there are still a lot of boats out there which look like Optimists but aren't!
Is this the biggest Class in the world?
There are over 170,000 Lasers worldwide. But outside the United States we believe there are more Optimists than Lasers.
Which countries have the most Optimists?
Probably the United States which currently buys over 1,000 boats a year. France, Spain, Sweden, Finland and Germany also have very large fleets.
Which are the strongest Optimist countries?
Why are they so good?
One or preferably two really good sailors seem to raise the whole level of the top of the national fleet.
Who gets selected?
For the IODA World and Continental Championships teams must be selected by the national Optimist association on the basis on sailing competitions in the Optimist.
But IODA encourages countries to select different sailors for different events. At the Worlds and Europeans the same sailors may not enter both in the same year (except for the previous year's European champions).
What is the age limit?
Sailors are permitted to enter IODA events until and including the year in which they have their 15th birthday.
What are the nationality rules?
"Sailors shall be either nationals or bona fide residents of the country they represent, unless otherwise agreed by the IODA Executive. A sailor who has represented one country at an IODA World or Continental Championship shall not represent another member country except in cases of alteration of residence, which cases shall be approved by the IODA Executive. Attention is drawn to ISAF Regulations relative to the ISAF World Youth Championship."
What this means is that a sailor living abroad or with more than one passport may choose which country he represents, but once he has chosen to sail for one member country at a major event he cannot then change his mind and sail for another one, unless he really has migrated.
This reflects the fact that young people cannot choose where they live and sail, and should be allowed to represent their country of residence (provided that country allows).
The reference to ISAF Regulations is that, if a sailor has represented a country in Optimists, he may have difficulties in representing another country at the ISAF World Youth Championship.
NOTE: These are the IODA Rules. In some countries stricter nationality laws or rules apply.
What should I do if I feel that the selection trials have been unfair?