The Optimist sailing dinghy was designed in 1947, by an American called Clark Mills who also was responsible for several other well known sail boats. Later Axel Damsgaard, who was Danish helped to standardise the design and introduce the small sailing pram throughout Europe, from 1960 onwards. It was only much later, in 1995 that the Optimist dinghy became a strict one-design.
The Optimist is not a pretty shape! In fact even as pram dinghies go it’s a bit of a box. The design brief seemed to be – design a small sailing dinghy that can be built from no more than 2 sheets of marine plywood; that will handle reasonably well under sail by a child. Later Optimists are not only made from plywood but also GRP (Fibreglass).
The Optimist hull is fairly boxy, as previously mentioned but this gives the dinghy a lot of stability when being used by small children. Buoyancy bags are normally stapped in along each side of the hull at the for’ard part and also across the stern to ensure the dinghy stays afloat if capsized. A Dagger board is used instead of a centreboard, to reduce space. It is positiones just foreward of the main bulkhead.Near the bow, a thwart with a hole in it takes the mast. Fittings on the transom take the rudder. The tiller has an extension attached to enable the helm to be controlled while sitting far out on the gun’ale, in strong winds.
Sailing the Optimist is fairly simple because she has only one sail. A sprit sail is used. This keeps the spars short enough to make transporting easy. So along with the short mast there are a boom and a sprit which extends from a strap at the mast, low down to the opposite corner of the sail at its peak. Various sail arrangements are possible with reefing points on the mainsail.
Most Optimists are used by sailing clubs to teach children to sail. They are ideal for the beginner or even intermediate sailor. However, because of their size it is best to restrict their use to children between the ages of say, 7 years to 15 years old. Occasionally two 7 or 8 year olds will crew these sailing dinghies, but mostly they are for single handed use. Sailing Optimists give beginners an ideal introduction to sailing. Techniques can be learnt, quickly and easily. Several Olympic champions started sailing in Optimists, so this proves their worth!
Optimist sailing dinghies are the biggest youth racing class in the world. Racing these small pram dinghies proves so skillful that when children grow out of them and move onto bigger sailing dinghies their ability allows them to succeed in those classes as well. Racing takes place all over the world, on six continents. The first of these competitions took place in the U.K. in 1962.
Even now, over 60 years since it was first designed, 4000 Optimists are built each year throughout the world.
If you would like to get a quote for insuring your optimist sailing dinghy, then follow this link for insurance.
Kits for building these wonderful sailing dinghies are available in the u.k. from the following builders. This link not only takes you to their website but also to their gallery of photos showing an Optimist getting built. Click on this Optimist link to go there.
However, if you are looking to buy an optimist sailing dinghy at a very reasonable price, go here.