My two children, Iona and Callum, started sailing Optimists when they were 7 years old. That was 7 years ago! It all started with a summer holiday to Corsica and a walk along the beach. Iona saw some children sailing and asked if she could try that because it looked fun. We organised a taster session for her in an Optimist and her younger brother sat in front of her. One hour later when she came ashore she was very excited and intent on seeing if she could do a 1 week learn to sail course. Our plan to spend time in Corsica climbing in the mountains was abandoned and instead we enrolled Iona for a week of sailing. At the end of the holiday she asked if she could start sailing on Wednesday afternoons (in France children don't go to school on a Wednesday afternoon and many sports and cultural activities are available).
Iona started sailing optimists in Antibes. During her second year the club asked if she'd be interested in joining the competition group the following September. Saying "yes" opened up many new opportunities for her and for us too. Since then we've travelled thousands of km taking her and Callum to regattas, organised our holidays around summer regatta schedules, and discovered many different towns in France.
And of course, we've had the ups and the downs that go with Optimist sailing. At Iona's first national regatta she was selected to travel with the team to Martinique in February for the Schoelcher International Regatta. At the time she had no idea of where she was going, and asked us how many hours it was to drive there. When we explained she would need to take a flight, she was thrilled. The regatta fell outside the school holidays so to go she needed to miss two weeks of school during her first year of secondary school.
Managing the balance of school work and regattas isn't always easy, it requires a lot of motivation from the children to do their school work either before or after, and effort and support from parents, teachers and friends. We've always been very clear with the children that they must do all their schoolwork well and catch up properly if they're to miss any time from school. So far, this has worked well for us, but only thanks to everyone involved and it's for sure that the children need some encouragement if they see a mountain of catch up work on their return.
In France, the children are supported by the coach from their club on the water during regattas, and we've been very impressed with the on the water support they receive. However, parents are still very involved ashore, helping them prepare their boat (when they first start out), fixing their boat when they have a problem, and trying to cheer them up after a bad day on the water, as well as celebrating their successes when everything goes well.
Making sure they keep warm can be difficult, especially when it is much warmer ashore than on the water, or when the wind is forecast to pick up later. We saw a direct correlation with Iona's results and her getting cold, yet despite that, she was always reluctant to put another layer of clothing on. Investing in good clothing for them on the water is important. We're very thankful to the support of Rooster, Iona and Callum have both benefitted from their excellent Pro Aquafleece tops, Beanie hats, and Supertherm and Thermaflex Longjohns and tops. They love their Pro Aquafleece tops, I'd say that is their favourite bit of kit. And we love the highly visible Beanie hats which makes it easier to spot them on the water. In terms of buying clothing we always try to buy one size up except for neoprene where if the size is too big it won't work to keep them warm.
It's not only important to protect them from the cold, we also need to make sure that they are well protected from the sun with sun visors, caps, sunglasses and lots of sunblock. Callum wears prescription glasses with a strong correction and it's been quite difficult to get good sunglasses that work with the thickness of the glass he needs. We've had cases of screws in sunglasses rusting or breaking to deal with!!!!
Iona and Callum have loved being a part of Team Rooster, and became accustomed to writing blogs about their experiences in Optimists. It's added an additional dimension to the sailing for them and definitely Rooster is better known now in the Optimist fleet in S. France than when they started out. I still remember their excitement at seeing the first blogs they wrote on the internet! And Callum had so much fun last year making his "Team Rooster" video in extreme conditions! What was missing from the video was that he ripped his sail before coming ashore that day - it was pretty wild for them coming back ashore but he made it!
Iona has recently moved on to 420 sailing after growing too big for Optimists, but she has countless outstanding memories of her time in Optimists and keeps in touch with many of the friends she made through Optimists. Callum is now in the Optimist senior fleet and also growing very quickly so we're not quite sure how long he will continue to fit in his Optimist. Both Iona and Callum have benefited so much from having the opportunity to sail Optimists as children, both on and off the water. A big thank you to everyone who has supported them over the years.