What the Optimist Class can’t do

Published on July 18th, 2019

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt
It’s likely the nature of California to not agree on the best pram for kids. While I was growing up, to the north was the El Toro, to the south was the Naples Sabot, and in the Los Angeles County area was the Windward/Westward/Sidney/US Sabot (see what I mean).

Debating the best is a fool’s errand. I’ve done it with my wife on more than one occasion… foolish. She came from the Naples Sabot, which had by far the biggest and best class, producing a long list of talented and joyful sailors, but sailing the worst boat. Drifting sideways with a leeboard is no way to go upwind, and capsized boats need to be rescued.

The prams to the north were better boats. They had daggerboards… enough said. At times they even had lofty numbers, providing an excellent platform to get young people into sailing. But the Optimist Class eventually staked its claim in those territories and is now the dominant choice for youth training.

However, the Naples Sabot is holding on, embracing a 112 mile range between San Diego and Long Beach. As a parent, that limited area was a plus to me. No disrespect to all the Opti parents out there, but kids should not accrue more frequent flyer miles than people paying the bills. We all want to help our kids, and it can be hard to reign in the enthusiasm. Naples Sabot parents can only get so giddy.

But when about 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered, and nearly 100% of the water is covered by Optimists, this pocket of Naples Sabots is seen as an oddity from the outside. I get that. Why is one area so stubborn, so stuck in their ways, committed to what no one will defend as a better boat?

For kids, among the prams, the Optimist is a better boat. The first time the Class held its US Nationals in California, they went to a sailing venue near Los Angeles nicknamed Hurricane Gulch. It blows there, and I witnessed how well this boat and these kids took it on. It was impressive.

But what the Optimist Class can’t do, and what the El Toro and Naples Sabot Classes can do, is support adult sailing. They are bigger boats than the Optimist, and both have active adult schedules highlighted by their iconic events. On July 19, I will be enjoying the granddaddy of the Naples Class… the Dutch Shoe Marathon.

This point-to-point course travels over 7 miles through sections of San Diego Bay rarely sailed in the boat. It is mixed generational too, a shocker in this day of age. It’s a rite of passage for beginner sailors, a return home for older competitors, and a chance for young parents to doublehand with their pre-sailors. I enjoy mixing with the next generation and supporting an event weaved so tightly into the fabric of the region.

Plus, with three-fourths of the 178 entrants being underage, there’s room at the finish host Coronado Yacht Club bar to enjoy one of the best Margaritas in town. Win-win-win!

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