More than 110 sailboats bobbed in light air on Narragansett Bay to compete in the first Junior Optimist Sailing Regatta of the season at Edgewood Yacht Club yesterday afternoon. The sailors, ages 8 to 13, sailed Optimist sailboats, also called Optis.
The Opti is often used for beginners learning to sail. The 10-foot long vessels have a single sail and are shaped like bathtubs with a centerboard and rudder. These petite boats used in the regatta were made of plastic but some Optis are still made from wood.
Ten other yacht clubs participated in the event, including Saunderstown, Wickford, Barrington, Conanicut and the Greenwich Bay Sailing Association. All of the children sailing in the regatta are pupils of various sailing schools established by the yacht clubs. Nearly 15 of the sailors are members of the Edgewood Sailing School.
Participants signed up for the regatta online up to a day in advance or on the same day of the event with a $5 additional fee.
This year’s regatta consists of two fleets: the green fleet for beginners and the red white and blue fleet for more advanced sailors. At the sound of a whistle, the Optis sail to three orange markers placed in a triangle formation. Six races were anticipated throughout the day and the person with the best standing average wins the competition. Zim Sailing Store supplied gift certificates for the winner’s first place prize.
The competitors use tactics and methods that they have learned in sailing school. Tacking, for example, is a maneuver by which the boat turns its bow into the wind so it changes its direction. Running is used when the wind is pushing the rear of the sailboat forward.
George Shuster, Edgewood Yacht Club board member, says all of the races are on the same course but may have to adjust the markers if the wind shifts. Both fleets were on separate courses in similar triangle formations.
Coaches from each yacht club were on the water to help the beginner sailors and cheer them on. If needed, coaches towed the Optis to the proper starting point to ensure a fair race. Depending on skill levels, children in the beginner’s fleet may advance to the junior fleet when able to sail individually.
“All kids in the sailing school must complete a swimming test in order to continue taking lessons,” Shuster said. “The Optis are about 100 pounds and are easily flipped over.”
The Narragansett Bay Yacht Association (NBYA) Administrator Roger Carney coordinated the event and has been doing so since 2006. The cost was $25 per sailor and the Edgewood Sailing School provided volunteers and boats needed on the water. Some children own their own Optis and are welcome to bring them to the race.
Carney always interacts with the students to deal with any administrative problems they might run into. Protests can be brought upon sailors if breaking various rules set in place for racing sailboats. Right of way obstruction, oversized sail and a premature start are some of the rules that are mandatory in order to continue in the competition.
Many children name their boats to set them apart from the rest. A boat named the Black Serpent with a giant snake painted along side could be seen floating in the water at yesterday’s race. Lunches were brought on board because the sailors stayed on the water until all races were completed. The next race typically doesn’t start until all boats have finished the course, leaving roughly 10 minutes in between to snack.
NBYA coordinates nine regattas every season, June to August, including groups of Optis, Laser and Club 420 boats. Although all of the yacht clubs that take part in these events are from Rhode Island, out-of-state clubs enter regattas during race week, this year being Aug. 13-16.