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Kit Guide

How to survive the major leap into Optimist racing, by the Sargent family.

By Sargent 2nd October 2020

The Optimist class is celebrating it's 70th Birthday this year and continues to go from strength to strength. Sailors enter the class National Championship in their 100's, with a peak of 490 entries in 2010! The 70th National Championship will be hosted at Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy this summer and for many young sailors, it will be their first major championship. With such overwhelming entry numbers, it's easy to forget that the sailors involved are all under the age of 16 with many barely into double figures - a terrifying prospect for a first-timer and their parents! We decided to ask "Shoreside Domestic Goddess", Clare Sargent, and her family for their top tips and advice for surviving the demands of competitive Optimist sailing. We strongly recommend watching the video link Clare mentions below - the kit and snack preparation is world class!

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We’ve been thinking about our experiences and offer some hints and tips from the four of us. There’s also a video on our Team Zoomy Sailing Facebook page which shows some of the preparation we do at home. Keep an eye out for the shark who wants to go Opi sailing!

This is Gwen's advice on sailing in Main Fleet at an IOCA event.

More than 200 boats on the water with starts in flights of 100 really changes things. There is no way we could get in and out for lunch! It could be confusing and scary, even before you start a race with so many good sailors. Here's what I have worked out.

Before we go to an open meeting I carefully read the Notice of Race and Sailing Instructions so I know what is going to happen. You don’t get shown how the start sequence works with all the flags and told what will happen when you are in Main Fleet. I find the flag key sticker on my boat really useful because then I know what all the unusual signals are.

I have the IOCA course diagrams and flight system laminated and tied onto my rear buoyancy bag so I know what to do and when to start.

Take food and drink on the water with you. I tie two water bottles on bungee near my dagger board and have a thermos of hot food (instant pasta and sauce) and a pot of jelly in my waterproof bag, which is also tied on. I tuck cereal bars into all my buoyancy bags because chocolate bars melt now it’s not cold. I have chewing gum in my Buoyancy Aid pocket because it helps with sea sickness.

It is important to get a good transit on the start line because I found that 100+ boats means massive line sag. I also found that hovering on the line and creating your own space is essential because you can’t get away with reaching up and down the line.

I was surprised when I almost got tangled up in a line of pick up buoys for tying boats onto - I now know to keep clear of that.

I noticed that the boats who had finished before me were instructed to wait to the right hand side of the finish boat. This meant that there was lots of dirty air on the right hand side of the last beat up to the finish line.

I did the Inlands Main Fleet by myself but it will be really nice to move up with a group of friends because then I will know people on the race course and be able to compare my performance with them.

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This is what Johnny said about the key to his success:

  1. Try to be consistent with your results and know who you have to beat. You don’t have to win every race or every cross upwind.
  2. You don’t need to get your best start every time - you just need to have a good enough start.
  3. Eat and drink on the water.
  4. Be precise coming out of your tacks – since the Inlands my coach Michael has been working with me on crossing the boat smoothly.
  5. Wee (but not if you are wearing a drysuit!) (Parental comment: Because if they don't then they won't drink either, and washing kit is better than sailors messing up races because they can't even sit still).

This is what Clare has observed:

Last Summer I treated myself to a cheap pair of green waders (about £30 on the Internet). These have been a marvellous weapon in my Shoreside Domestic Goddess arsenal. Not only do they make me feel incredibly stylish due to the slimming belt but I am able to launch and recover my kids happily and comfortably. More importantly, I am now able to help out with other children and so am getting to know the kid's friends and their parents.

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It has been a real eye opener when recovering unhappy children during the racing that they are nearly always inappropriately dressed. A beach wetsuit with a swimsuit under and a pack-a-mac spray top, or a dry suit with a cotton t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms, or a supermarket bed-time onesie underneath does not make for a joyful racer. The parents are often wrapped up in top end mountain wear.

Kids get cold and miserable more quickly than adults because they have so little thermal resilience (larger ratio of surface area to body volume in a smaller person). So the money, time and effort spent on taking a child to compete at an open meeting or training can be completely wasted if the child cannot endure the session due to inadequate clothing. Likewise a new boat or sail will offer no performance improvement to a child who has not drunk or eaten enough, needs a wee, is tired and too cold.

I emptied out my tool box today and was amazed how much of the Bank Holiday rain had got in. So everything needed to be dried and aired. I think I might dig out a waterproof bag to go over my tool box next outing.

And finally Matt:

Gwen and Johnny have been busy racing away from our home club recently. At the Inlands at Grafham Gwen enjoyed her first event in Main Fleet while Johnny stuck with Regatta Fleet – after mixed results on Saturday, he was very consistent on the Sunday and took the win. This Saturday we were closer to home at Chichester, where Gwen won Regatta Fleet with Johnny second.

There is no doubt that the transition to Main Fleet is tough. The days are long, the flight systems and courses are a new complexity and the standard of sailing is really high. On the other hand Gwen did comment that the sailors do what you expect! There is no doubt that the time she spent studying and understanding the courses before the event really helped her on the day.

I think Gwen’s point about moving up with friends is really important: it’s hard to maintain focus in a fleet of 100 when you have no target to aim at beating. But this was her only chance to try the system before the Nationals when she will have her one and only year in Junior Main Fleet. She’s glad she went because she has the experience to share with the other Regatta Fleet sailors who will be making the jump. It’s also been lovely to watch the friendships grow with each event of the season so far. Johnny and Archie (3rd at Chichester) have become firm friends.

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On the other hand we could have found events with an easier transition to Main Fleet, with smaller fleets, on smaller courses and with either a lunch break, or a short day. But in many ways this defeats the object - the sailor is not experiencing Main Fleet as it is when it matters. In Regatta Fleet they can continue to learn how to fight for results at the front – hopefully a skill they’ll need later in their time in Main Fleet.

I let myself be lulled by the relative simplicity of the Opi spars and dismissed Gwen’s assertion that she was struggling to get under the boom. However on checking the rake before the Chichester Yacht Club event I discovered that it was raked all the way back. Perhaps it shook there due to the odd vibrations on the ferry to Royal Victoria Yacht Club? So we have incorporated a rake check into our event routine.

I normally do the sailing stuff and Clare makes sure all of the admin stuff is sorted out. When she was away at Rutland I had to do both to take the children to the Royal Victoria Yacht Club Open on the Isle of Wight. Thankfully she has some really good systems and the kids have been well trained by her and could help me get it right. We made a video to show her how we survived without her and we thought you might find some of it useful too. Even little things like packing the kit into the bag in the right order makes a difference for a nervous sailor in a crowded changing room.

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