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Picture of the day

The International Optimist

Bar room knowledge

Ahh Oppies – they are that kids boat right? That’s right!

Ahh Oppies – they are for beginners right? That’s right!  All Olympic sailors were beginners once and 60% the skippers of the Olympic boats in Athens were former Optimist sailors.

Ahh Oppies – they’re built from a couple of sheets of plywood right? Umm no, not now hardly any are.

You don’t see many round here!  You are not looking properly. …..


What is it?

  • 2.31m (7'6.1/2") long, 1.13m (3'8") wide. Weight 35kg (77lbs).
  • Easily transported on top of any car, (where it will drip water over your shiny paintwork!).
  • Safe and simple enough for an 8-year old
  • Exciting and technical enough for a 15-year old

RYA recommended weights and ages for Junior Pathway classes (2005)

Weight rangeMaximum Age Range
Optimist  Single hander38-54kgTo 14/15 years
Topper Single hander51-67kgTo 15/16 years
Laser 4.7 Single handerUp to 62kgTo 15/16 years
Cadet Double hander85-105kgTo 15/16 years
Mirror Double hander85-110kgTo 15/16 years

OK but who has actually sailed one?

Ben AinsleyIn the 2004 Athens Olympic Games over 60% the skippers of the Olympic boats in Athens were former Optimist sailors and over 40% had participated in IODA world and continental championships.

78% of the skipper medallists were former Optimist sailors and over 50% were former Optimist internationals.

This man sailed them until too heavy for them at fourteen!
The Optimist is not only the biggest dinghy class in the world, it is the fastest growing
(This is qualified in the statistics section of the website)

Where did it come from?

“The Optimist was born in 1947 in Clearwater, Florida. The story of its genesis is told and retold with a reverence usually granted to legends.  The Clearwater Optimist Club wanted to do something for the kids of the community, and a number of members pushed the idea of promoting racing in soapbox derby cars. The idea turned out to be a non-starter because Clearwater has no hills, a fatal deficiency for a program involving vehicles powered solely by gravity. Other members pointed out that while the Gulf Coast city was poor in land features it was rich with water, and suggested sailboat racing instead. They asked a local boatbuilder named Clark Mills to come up with a children's boat simple enough to build at home at a cost of no more than $50.
Here's the rest of the story according to Bill Douglas, editor of the United States Optimist class publication Optinews: Mills sketched a sprit-rigged pram that was 7 feet, 8 inches long, the maximum length he could get out of an 8-foot sheet of plywood. "I hammered it together in a day and a half with 10-penny galvanized nails, slapped on a coat of paint and called her an Optimist Pram," Mills said. The Optimists sold plans for $2.50 a copy, and a fleet of the Optimists was soon sailing on Clearwater Bay.

The Optimist was mainly a Florida phenomenon when a serendipitous development set the boat on a course to become what Douglas calls "the most truly international of all international classes." In 1958, a Danish tall ship captain, with Mills' permission, took an Optimist to Denmark. There, the rig was slightly modified and the boat was renamed the International Optimist Dinghy, and the class spread across Europe. The advent of fiberglass production completed the Optimist revolution. The European version became the Optimist of choice in the United States, and kids by the thousands jumped aboard and became sailors.”

Since 1995, the International Optimist has become a stricter one design with over 30 builders world wide. Results at World and National championships strongly suggest that it doesn’t matter which builder supplies the boat. This has driven the price down in real terms since that time.  (One design means what it says, there is only one design with virtually no opportunity for premium adding “features”)  This allows the new boat owner to use local suppliers and to demand good quality.

Where Can I get one from?

Within the UK, the sail numbers reach 5500 with most still in commission. As most Optimist sailors grow out of the boats eventually, there is a steady supply of good quality boats and a large grey market of usually  pre 95 craft. Beware that a boat without a measurement certificate will not command a good resale value and you should avoid paying much for one.  A ready source of information is the For Sale section of the UK International Optimist Class Association (IOCA) The direct link to this is
As a rough  age guide:  Boats with a 4 digit number starting with a 3 were built in the eighties, starting with a 4 were built in the nineties and with a 5 were built in the noughties.

Other good hunting places are the noticeboards of large neighbouring flotillas at Papercourt, Burghfield and Wraysbury.  These clubs can be found through searches on the site.

Maidenhead also has a collection of old club Optimists which can be hired.

Lots of Oppies


IOCA exists to promote the class and organise racing at all levels up to full international and coaching through the RYA. Local opens in the Thames Valley regularly clock over fifty boats and the national events are usually over two hundred.  Membership of IOCA gives you the IOCA logbook for your Optimist sailor, class news and the right to participate in events at other clubs including France, Holland and Switzerland.
The Optimist is a RYA Junior class with routes into Zone, regional and national squads with the UKs best coaching along the way. 

IOCA membership is applied for online please use:

Triple Oppie Trailer


We at MSC  use the IOCA syllabus.  A logbook can be obtained by joining the Association for a modest yearly fee. The IOCA logbook lays down an easy to understand pathway from beginner to race athlete. We also have a useful pathway card which can be provided at Junior Sailing sessions.

If we get sufficient parental support, the club will use its RYA race coaches and youth instructors to run its Saturday Junior sailing sessions in an effective way according to the sailor’s ability.


In addition to the Junior Regatta, the MSC constitution guarantees the Optimists their own start on Sundays. This means that if two or more Optmists appear at a class race, they get their own race independent of the Menagerie class.

Also in 2007 there will be another  Optimist Open at Maidenhead on the Sat 26th May  2007.  We don’t insist on IOCA membership or measurement certificates but these would be preferred. Also we will need Mums and Dads to help us run it. If you want to enter the Optimist Open, please express an interest by registering on the IOCA website under the calendar section.


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