Opti Racing is sometimes the first introduction to sailboat racing for both the parent and the child. The information below is intended to be a general overview to help everyone understand just what this sport is that we all enjoy so much. Please read and reach out to ilya.juniors@gmail.com or to someone in your program with any questions.

Beginner Racer

Who’s interested in racing, the parent or the child?

First, the child should know how to sail an Opti independently.  Your local sail instruction program is the best place to start.  The best way to “hook” the child is with no pressure which means low fear = more fun!

How to enable the interested youth?

It is a good idea to have a peer friend, buddy, or model mentor with whom to share, express feelings/concerns.  The buddy system also helps with carpooling and eases the stress for the parents.  There is a lot going on in a young sailor’s mind, so it needs an outlet.  Sailing clubs or organizations or sailing centers offer support and knowledge.

What is Green Fleet Racing?

Green fleet is a special fleet for novices. The purpose is:

To encourage novices to attend their first Opti regatta.

To encourage their continued participation in Opti racing.

To build the fleet from the bottom up.

Why is Green Fleet so fun?

Only participation awards are given in Green Fleet so the emphasis is on camaraderie, cooperation, and learning.

Green Fleet coaching while racing is often permitted and the sailing instructions should clearly address this issue.  

What are other resources (other than this fabulous site!)?

The United States Optimist Dinghy Association has plenty of news and information for Opti sailors, coaches and parents.  See USODA.org
For U.S. Sailing info on junior racing see http://training.ussailing.org.

How do Opti starts and courses work?

Starts: Often, the championship fleet is divided by ages into red, blue, and white fleets or gold and silver fleets. However divided, these fleets start together. Green fleet gets a separate start, preferably on a different course.
Courses: An Olympic triangle is preferred, for up to 125 boats. Above 125 boats, the trapezoid is preferred, using four randomly assigned divisions (or six, if it’s a very large fleet, like the 313 boats at the 2001 Nationals). This yields two (or three) starts per race.
The Optimist Class has software which makes this all fairly easy to understand, see the USODA’s web site. The trapezoid configuration is windward, reach, run, beat to finish.

How does Overall Scoring work?

Overall scoring is the official USODA policy (as opposed to fleet scoring). Here’s how overall scoring can work for you: Overall scoring determines places within the red, blue and white (age group) fleets simply by looking at the overall results. All age groups start together at Optimist regattas. To determine 1st through 5th place in blue fleet using overall scoring, you simply run down the overall list of finishers and look for the first blue fleeter, the second blue fleeter, etc. This gives you the order of finishes in blue fleet. Awards are made using this list.

Where can I get more detailed regatta information?

All sorts for running youth regattas, including downloadable forms and lots of event ideas, can be found on the Opti web site: www.usoda.org.  Details about local I-LYA racing are on this website under Traveler Series. The local schedule is on the Calendar and Events page.

What can I do to make sure my sailor is safe?

Arrange for US Sailing certified instructors and coaches and make sure all are in compliance with Ohio’s Return to Play (Concussion Prevention) Law.

Do I have to buy a boat right away?

Most Clubs or sailing centers are able to provide beginner Opti sailors with a boat for beginning Green Fleet racing.  A dolly is a must to get the boat in and out of the water; 2 adults can easily lift the boat. When your child tries racing and likes it, “it floats his/her boat!” then consider purchasing a boat that will meet his/her needs into the future.   Go to www.usoda.org for a list of used boats and check the Junior Sailing News page for local listings.  For about $3,000 you can purchase a boat that will last for several years and be assured that you can turn around and sell the boat for just a little less or about the same as you paid for it.  Remember that a dolly and a good set of covers extends the life of a boat.  See the section below on what to look for in an intermediate Opti.

What is the most important piece of equipment?

The life jacket otherwise known as the personal floatation device (PFD).  Your sailor’s PFD should be: 1) U.S. Coast Guard Approved, 2) the proper size, and 3) well made. Allow your sailor to choose the one he or she likes so it’ll be worn every time while on or near the water.  Whether in a sail camp, learn to sail program or borrowing a boat from a club, you ALWAYS need to supply your own PFD. Again, ask around for preferred brands and styles.

What do we need for a regatta?

Most regattas require some form of travel, and that means getting your sailor and boat to where they need to be.  Boats travel by car topping or trailering.  Test the rig out locally first, drive around, make sure it all stays attached.  Ask a travel veteran for advice; trucker’s hitches and come-along straps are not dirty words.  Optis can fit inside many mini-vans with the seats removed.  Make sure you bring everything for sailing.  Even though most regattas provide on and off the water food and beverage, make sure your sailor leaves the dock with plenty of water and snacks to make it through the whole day.  Dry clothing is a good idea for post racing comfort and the drive home.  And don’t forget the sunscreen!

When does my sailor move on from Green Fleet?

According to the USODA website, the Green Fleet is a special fleet for novice racers. There is no rule that says when or even if a sailor must move up out of the green fleet.  As a general rule, your child is ready to move from Green Fleet to Silver/Gold Fleet when he/she is finishing in the top 3 for more than 2 consecutive regattas, but you know your child best. The level of competition should also be taken into consideration when choosing fleets.  

Intermediate Racer

What is life like in the fast lane of Opti racing?

The Silver/Gold Fleet Racer is ranked at the end of each regatta and series.  Competition is the name of the game here and the “desire to win” pushes your Opti sailor to do his or her best.  There’s no hard and fast rule that your sailor can’t return to Green Fleet if conditions are challenging or his/her confidence warrants.  This is especially true when it comes to “big fleet” or “big water” events like sailing at Nationals (no matter where located) or ocean racing (where big things are swimming under your boat).

How can we prepare for Opti racing in the off-season?

Develop a regatta campaign strategy.  Pick a goal for the sailing season: 1) finish races; 2) rank highly; 3) increase knowledge, confidence.  The more races/time on the tiller, the better the Opti sailor becomes.  Communicating these goals and reminding your sailor about them often really helps, especially after tough regattas.

How do we best plan our season?

Dedicate time to Away regattas, i.e. I-LYA Traveler Series.  This means that you have to plan for travel ahead of time.  Most calendarsof races post in the late spring.  Map out your dates and contact venues for accommodations and amenities. 

What should I look for in an intermediate Opti?

Boats from the major builders are very popular and last for years.  Look for a boat that has been fitted for racing and used for a few racing seasons.  Many well cared for models (less than 10 years old) are available on the open market.  Foils (rudder and centerboard) should be made of epoxy and comply with the “New Rule.” Spars (mast, boom, sprit)–get the stiffest and lightest possible.  Sails should be new and consistent with the sailor’s weight and ability.  Sailmakers all have helpful websites but don’t be afraid to ask top sailors what they use, they love to talk about it!  If you are buying used equipment, make sure the parts and sails have certification stickers (on parts) and stamps (on sails) that they meet Opti class measurement and equipment requirements.  New parts can be costly if purchased at the last minute at national events!

How do teams work and where do I sign up?

Join a team to pool resources and knowledge.  A “team” can be anytime more than 2 boats informally pair up or a Club team.  I-LYA membership is a good idea and this is done by joining an I-LYA club.  Those clubs have the best info and resources for Jr. Sailors.  A USODA membership is also a good idea which includes the Opti magazine.  For major and national regattas, Opti sailors must be a member to compete in USODA events.  Dues are very reasonable and sailors benefit from the exposure to larger regattas/larger fleets.  Always sail Green Fleet a few times at large USODA events.  Joining U.S. Sailing is a great way to be exposed to the best racing and safety rules and helps support the sport of sailing. 

Can you give an example of an informal team formed in the I-LYA?

In the summer of  2012, several Hoover Sailing Club Jr. Race Team and Cowen Lake Sailing Association junior Opti sailors banded together to form SCOOT (South Central Ohio Opti Team).   SCOOT members pooled resources to train and compete at many I-LYA events as well as USODA events.  Parents and members shared coaching, accommodations, knowledge and friendships!

Does my child need a coach?

Coaching is very important. It’s difficult for the parent to coach regardless of his or her sailing ability.  Young sailors need to gain racing independence and need a role model/mentor.  Ideally, the coach was an Opti youth racer.  It is VERY important that the coach be alone with his or her sailors.  If jumping on a safety boat with parents is the only option, fine.  But it is MUCH better if your coach has their own support boat.  Your junior sail program or race team should have coaches that are at least US Sailing Level 1 certified, but Level 3 instructors have much more training.  Certifications ensure safety and positive reinforcement of proper sailing skills are addressed.  Also, make sure you coaches comply with your state’s concussion training, like Ohio’s Return-To-Play law and certification. 

Is away regatta coaching expensive?

Private coaching can be expensive but it’s worthwhile for away regattas.  Pool resources with other parents and sailors.  It’s common to spend approximately $100 per sailor, per day for a coach at a large Away regatta.   Collaborate with other parents, some have more experience, some less, but all benefit.  The benefits include the fact that your sailor has an experienced safety and support boat.  It also keeps bad parental influence away from kids when they are already stressed enough.  Any parent who has tried to teach or coach their own child can relate to this problem.  An away regatta coach is a professional who researches the best conditions and equipment for the race area and focuses on your sailor’s performance.  You may be able to keep costs down by offering your boat to the coach to use by himself or herself, offering lodging, or being a repeat customer.

Can you give me examples of shared coaching?

In December 2012, youth sailors from several I-LYA clubs (including Hoover SC, Edgewater YC, and Sandusky SC) joined resources to compete at the Orange Bowl International Youth Regatta in Florida.   At 2013 Opti Nationals at Grosse Point YC, sailors from Sandusky SC, Cowen SC and Hoover SC collaborated on Green Fleet coaching, coach boat support, and fun off the water. 

Advanced Racer

It is important not to forget about a good campaign strategy.  To establish rankings, start with the U.S. Team Qualifier representing the U.S. at international events.  There are several race teams which travel the country which are good options including the Lake Ontario Optimist Team (LOOT) and Team Prime.  But the greatest ranking of all may be a win of the I-LYA Traveler Series!

Valuable Resources

The Optimist Parent and Owner Manuals are both available in the Members section at USODA.org under FAQ. Both include additional valuable information to help get you started.

Click Here for “Teaching Beginning Sailors Confidence and ‘Mechanics’” by Hank Reffner and learn how to use the telephone game to help make your first year sailors comfortable in the boat.

Click Here for “How to Tack an Opti” by Hank Reffner—a step by step breakdown taken from the Advanced Opti Boat Handling DVD.

Supporting & Host Club Sponsor