About the boat
The Optimist dinghy is a design classic with an enduring appeal and wide support in the UK and around the world. It is one of only a handful of classes recognised by British Youth Sailing for their junior pathway for sailors from ~6 to 16 years old. See here for details of the opportunities for training, racing and overseas team events.
The distinctive design dates back 75 years, becoming an international one design class in 1995 with a strict specification laid down for boat builders and sail makers. This gives the Optimist class a level playing field for competition, maintains a good second hand market for boats, while also allowing some choice for sailors as they grow and gain experience, for example moving to a sail with a fuller cut.
Top 6 Reasons to Sail an Optimist
1. Stable yet responsive
The shape of the hull and the sprit-rigged sail provide a stable platform for children learning to sail as well as a responsive boat, which handles well, for those who want to take their sailing to the highest level.
In a moderate breeze, this stability allows even the younger and lighter sailors to get out on the water without being overpowered and not miss a session. In a fresh breeze, the more experienced sailors can have a blast and for the most part avoid a capsize.
If they do capsize, there will be some bailing to do (there are no self-bailers) but the boat sits low in the water, is easy to get back into and doesn’t blow away.
2. Adjustable Rig
It is fair to say that tying sail ties to mast and boom is pretty fiddly but once this is done most sailors don’t touch them week to week. The sprit-rig can also appear unfamiliar to those used to a Bermuda rig but the low centre of effort that it brings is key to the boat’s stability.
While the Optimist may not be easy to rig, it can be rigged relatively quickly - from arriving at an event with the boat on the roof to having it rigged and ready to launch can be as little as 15 minutes. The beauty of the rig though is that it is fully adjustable and with that, over time, the young sailor learns much about tuning a boat which will be invaluable in the future, in whatever boat they sail.
3. Supports a wide range of ages and body weights
There’s no lower age limit to sailing an Optimist but a child can only compete until the end of the calendar year in which they turn 15 years. The ability to use sails cut for lighter or heavier sailors, extends the weight range, so that most Optimist sailors fall between 30-55kg. While most sailors will choose the standard flex options, there is a choice when it comes to mast, sprit, boom and foils (daggerboard and rudder) for the more serious racer.
Some children will outgrow an Optimist and transition to another boat but most are able to enjoy racing until they have to move on. At 14yrs, 75% of children in the UK are under 55kg, so still in the competitive weight range for an Optimist.
4. Easily Transportable
An Optimist’s fibreglass hull is strong, stiff and light - weighing just 35kg. If you just have one Optimist to transport then carrying it upside down on standard roof bars is probably easiest. The foil bag will lie flat in the boot with the collapsed trolley, while the mast bag (containing mast, boom and sails) will fit in the car interior.
With wide roof bars (135cm) you can carry the boat and a Rigtube and avoid having the mast bag in the car. If you have more than one boat to transpor,t then a box trailer with racks for two or more boats is probably the way to go - these can be picked up second hand.
You can pick up an old boat, suitable for a beginner for a few hundred pounds. Sound, second-hand boats suitable for racing at club, regional and national level are available from around £900-£1,500. While boats that are only a year or two old and come with a good sail, may sell for over £2,500.
A good source of second-hand boats is the UK Optimist Boats, Parts and Kit facebook group.
6. Competitive racing in large fleets
Whilst an Optimist is easy to sail, it is relatively difficult to sail really well. This allows those sailors to hone their skills and finesse their racing tactics over a long learning curve, on which they will be able to rely througout their racing lives. It is of no coincidence that so many of the current, top UK sailors started out in the Optimist fleet and we believe that the class today is the where the stars of tomorrow can be found, competing on start lines that other classes can only dream of - regularly 90 boats in the UK and, at the annualk Easter regatta on Lake Garda (which currently holds the Guinness World Record for the largest regatta in the world) you can find yourself on a start line of nearly 200 boats - quite an experience!