“Opti” Youth Sailing Program

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by David Rigby
Linda Calabro & Buzz Savage photos

Having just completed its eighth summer of training, the popular Osprey Yacht Club’s Optimist Youth Sailing Program successfully introduced another twelve young students to the joys, challenges, and excitement of sailing. There were two separate week-long sessions (July 3-7 and July 31-August 4) with six students in each session.

Using the three Optimist sailboats built by OYC volunteers in 2010, the future sailors received classroom instruction, in-the-pool safety training, and extensive on-the-water sailing experience—all under the watchful eyes of experienced OYC instructors, safety chase boat pilots, safety observers, and photographers.

Opti Program Details

The students began the program about the same way as many approached their first day of school—excited, reserved, and somewhat anxious; but all knew that it would definitely be a new adventure. The “Opti” program is designed to take a methodical and measured approach for teaching students how to sail. More importantly, it is designed to be a safe and fun-filled week on the water where students can use the experience to learn more about themselves and those around them.

Each student is paired with another student (sailing buddy) and an experienced instructor for the five-day session. While emphasizing the importance of teamwork, this practice also allows a measure of bonding to take place. It also lets the students grow in confidence and experience with the same instructor, while the instructors devote their time, talents, and personalities to their particular students.

The opening day’s classroom instruction covered the basics of sailboat handling, the effects of wind and current, situational awareness (what’s going on around you both dockside and out on the water), and boating safety. After “hitting the books,” the students and instructors “hit the pool.” Here at the Plantation swimming pool, the students must swim the length of the pool unaided in order to continue in the program. Closely supervised, they actually sailed an Opti, practiced capsizing and recovery drills, discussed seamanship, and learned the knots and hitches required to sail safely.

On days two through five, the program operated from our marina’s “F” Dock. Working closely with their sailing buddies and their instructors, students rigged their Opti, rendezvoused with their respective safety chase boat that towed them to the training area (the Yeopim Creek, primarily south and west of the marina), and were turned loose…completely solo...on the water…controlling a sailboat!

Those students not on the water in an Opti, had the opportunity to learn by watching others while sailing aboard a safety boat. The process was later reversed to allow the second set of students to take to the water solo. Watching, as well as sailing, the boats tacking back and forth, catching and then losing the breeze, only to catch it again, was both exciting and confidence-building as the week progressed.

After each of their first three days on the open water, students de-rigged and secured their Optis on the dock before reviewing lessons learned that day with their fellow students. After their final day’s sail, they secured their boats and returned them to the boat storage racks before joining their friends and family in the OYC meeting room for the graduation ceremony. There they again reviewed the day’s lessons learned along with some memorable events of the week. Each was then awarded a photo taken while under sail and a personalized Certificate of Achievement for having successfully completed a fun-filled week of learning and growing on the water!

Plans are already underway for the 12 student openings in next summer’s Opti program (9-13 years old/50-115lbs/5’2” max height), which will be conducted July 2-6 and July 30-August 3, 2018. Applications by OYC members will be given priority now through November 30, after which all APPOA family members or extended family members will be eligible to apply on a first-come-first-served basis.