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The Ins & Outs of Choosing the Right Optimist Program for Your Child By Stephanie Cox


ant to introduce your kid to the sport of sailing? The Optimist Dinghy is the trainer boat of choice for children 8-15 in the South. The small soapboxlike Optimist Dinghy has been the boat that has started the sailing careers of champions like Mark Mendelblatt, Paige Railey, Allison Jolly, and Ed Baird. It is also the boat that has emptied the pockets of thousands of parents. Are you ready to shell out your hard-earned money and give up your weekends to travel around the country chasing your child’s Opti dreams? Do you secretly long to drive a gas-guzzling SUV with weathered Tackle Shack roof racks and an “Opti Parent” bumper sticker on the back? Here is some behindthe-scenes information that should help you decide whether Opti sailing is right for your family. A Boat is a Hole in Which One Pours Lots of Money (Even if it is Only Eight Feet Long) Be prepared to pay a fair amount of money if you want your child to sail Optimists competitively. With the increase in regatta entry fee costs, travel costs, and club costs, parents are paying a pretty penny for the privilege of having their kids race in the Optimist Dinghy fleet. Parents aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch of teaching kids how to sail. Yacht clubs are having to find new and innovative ways to pay for their expensive junior programs. Yacht clubs are being stung with the cost of having to pay more for coaches, powerboat gas, and equipment. Many clubs have passed these expenses on to parents, found fundraising opportunities, or have reduced the size of their junior programs altogether. If your kid gets good, you’ll pay a lot more money. Talented Opti kids have parents who are willing to travel around the country to have them compete at regattas that will get them on the elite Optimist National Team, the South American Team, the European Team, and the World Team. If your kid gets really good and makes the international teams, you’ll pay a lot to get them to these competitions abroad. The top families in the Optimist fleet also replace their kids’ equipment frequently to make sure it is the fastest money can buy. Do you have to buy your kid a new boat every year? No. But if you are into keeping up with the Joneses, sailing


February 2006


Optimists can be an expensive sport. On the upside, you can’t put a price on the experience of growing up Opti. Kids get to make friends with children from around the world. They gain a tremendous amount of self-esteem by learning how to sail their boats alone in a variety of conditions. They get out of the house and become fit. They become good sports and good people if you choose the right program. Traveling across the country provides families with valuable time together. It is hard to put a price tag on the intangible benefits that sailing Optimists provide kids and their families. Shop Around for an Optimist Program Parents today have many options when it comes to junior sailing programs for their children, and these options come with different price tags. Traditional yacht clubs can be the most expensive way to get your kid involved in Optimist racing. Most yacht clubs require parents join the club for their kid to participate in junior sailing. After paying club initiation fees and membership dues, parents shell out a couple thousand dollars before their kid’s first regatta. On the positive side, most yacht clubs have a fleet of boats that new sailors can use until their parents decide to buy their kids an Optimist Dinghy of their own. These clubs expect parents to buy their kids a boat within the first six months of sailing. Another benefit to sailing for a yacht club is the one-stop shopping program can offer. Kids can grow up in a yacht club program as they move from boat to boat. Yacht clubs can afford to staff multiple coaches so sailors can stay with a club as they grow from Optimists and move into Lasers and 420s. Smaller programs may not have the economic means to coach kids after Optimists or may limit their coaching to one type of boat like a Laser. If your kid wants to keep sailing at a smaller program when he or she outgrows Optimists and they don’t have that fleet or a high school sailing team, you may have to look for a new program. Generally, the less formal the club, the less it costs for your kids to start sailing. For example, Davis Island Yacht Club in Tampa or Sarasota Sailing Squadron in Sarasota have less membership costs than St. Petersburg Yacht Club