Boat transition tips for youth sailors

Published on September 15th, 2020

Launched in June 2020, the US Sailing Youth Advisory Board provides youth sailors with a voice within the national governing body for the sport of sailing. Board Members Ian Fox, Samantha Karlson, Will Levy, Hudson Mayfield, Grace O’Neill, and Sara Ortiz Vey have provided a list of boat transition tips for youth sailors, and while it offers excellent information, we wanted to augment their youth perspective with three additional considerations:

1. Their general emphasis is on age-based boats that are geared for the youth years, but there is a world of one design classes to experience. As they say, look what is popular in your area and pursue it.

2. One design classes outside the ‘youth bubble’ introduce young people to adult mentors. In their report they talk about coaching, which makes sense as that is so prevalent in youth sailing, but partnering with experienced adults will offer greater insight into the class, and saves the parents money too.

3. Gaining experience in adult one design classes, or for that matter, any keelboat handicap racing, prepares young people for their sailing life beyond the youth years. The sooner they make these connections, the easier it is for them to remain in the sport.

Okay… here’s their report:


Transitioning into a new boat class is always a bittersweet moment. Your journey to this point has likely been in a small, introductory boat such as the Opti or Sabot, and now there are many more boat classes to consider as your next step. You may be struggling to decide your next boat class, not to mention training partners, equipment, and coaching.

However, youth sailors should always keep in mind – sailing is a life-long pursuit. Times of change come and go as we grow in the sport and transitioning to a new class may happen many times over. Heading into a new class with excited optimism is key!

This article includes tips from our personal experience, including choosing a fleet, considering costs, finding coaching, and prioritizing personal development.

Boat Classes: The first step in transitioning between boat classes is to try as many different boats as you can find. One of the coolest things about sailing is that there are always more boats to try!

Sailing lots of different boat classes will also help you improve your sailing skills and develop a well-rounded understanding of the sport. Great sailors can make any boat go fast, and never stop learning. You can explore your options and get more information on all different boat classes on US Sailing’s One Design Central resource webpage.

Once you have tried some different boats, consider what was the best fit for your sailing style, and the most fun. For example, do you like independence and individual competition? A singlehanded boat might be the best fit for you. Do you enjoy camaraderie and teamwork? In that case, a doublehanded or triplehanded boat might be best. Are you a thrill seeker? Find a fast boat. Do you like tight competition? Find a boat with a big racing fleet.

Partners: Finding a partner is probably the most challenging part of transitioning into a double handed boat. “After sailing for several years in a singlehanded boat, I was used to thinking completely in my head, with no communication at all,” said Ian Fox. “However, transitioning into a doublehanded boat made me change all of that. I think that having to communicate with a partner has made me so much better as a sailor.”

However, finding a partner is sometimes a difficult process. The most important criteria for finding a partner is whether you are compatible with that person. Finding a partner who works well with you will result in more efficient and productive communication.

If you’re struggling to find a partner in your yacht club, ask around! Talk to friends and coaches as well as other people from nearby yacht clubs. Remember to look for someone who compliments your talents and skills so that your team can be greater together than each sailor alone. You might be a great helmsperson and starter but not as good at big picture tactics and strategy, look for a partner who is.

Finding someone locally, or reasonably nearby, will allow you to minimize travel and logistics while practicing, and will give you the opportunity to spend more quality time on the water practicing and racing. Doublehanded boats are extremely fun and sailing with a partner means that you can share all of the incredible experiences of sailing with another person.

Location and Coaching: Where a youth sailor lives or attends school may affect the decision process. Some parts of the country have many programs and boat classes to choose from, while in contrast, the choices may be limited in other areas.

When making the decision to transition to a new class, it is essential that you understand the size of each fleet in your area. It is extremely different to make the transition and learn a new boat without having training partners and a supportive environment.

Some places, such as the Northeast, have established Club 420 and Optimist fleets, however, it is sometimes difficult to find fleets of specialized boats such as skiffs and catamarans. It is important to ask around at your club or go to low-stress races such as a Wednesday Night series to see what boats are popular.

It is also necessary to consider if coaching is available in your area for the class that you are looking to transition into. Class specific coaches have detailed knowledge of that class, and the better you become at a particular boat, the more you should start to look for specialized coaching.

When you are first starting in a new boat it is ok to have a coach with well-rounded knowledge. As you progress, it becomes harder to learn the finer points of the boat without a specialized coach. Start by reaching out through your club or current coach to ask for advice on private coaching for the class you are interested in or to see if there is a nearby team for that class or local fleet.

It is useful to have a coach who has either raced or sailed the boat you are transitioning into for quite a while, as they will be very used to tuning the boat for various conditions and dealing with specific class related issues.

Cost: One of the first questions most families ask is “What does this boat cost?” Whether it is a transition to the I420, C420, Laser, 29er, or another class, there is always a cost associated with equipment, training, travel, etc. – basically what will it take to get out on the water.

Take a look at what gear is absolutely necessary and expected versus what you might want. Does your club provide equipment to sailors starting out in a boat that is new to them and at what point will you need to invest in a new boat?

It’s important to have a thorough inventory of your old gear. What things can be used in the new boat and what can be sold to help with cost? Always take good care of your gear – not only do you want it to last a long time, you never know when you may want to sell it.

Talk to your coaches, old and new. Are there scholarship opportunities within your program? Research opportunities online, not just in sailing but funding to support young athletes. Find a way to contribute to help with the cost. Do you have time between school and training for a job? Is there anything you can sell?

And remember, never be afraid to share your passion for sailing with friends and family. They may be able and willing to share in some of the costs. While there are a multitude of things to consider when it comes to the cost of your transition, you can always find solutions – get creative!

PERSONAL STORIES:

Opti to C420 Sailor (Ian Fox): COVID-19 ended my Opti career. Just weeks before I was supposed to travel with Team USA to the South American Championships, Argentina barred all U.S. residents from entering their country. Furthermore, I had been training the entire year for the biggest event of the sailing season: USODA Team Trials.

Sailors have to qualify for Team Trials and by doing well at that regatta, you can qualify to be on a Team USA international team. Team Trials attracts the best sailors from all over the country, and it is considered the most important and difficult regatta of the year. However, COVID upended all of that and my summer plans were suddenly wide open.

After realizing that it was unlikely that there would be any Opti regattas anytime soon, I made the decision to transition to the C420. Sailing Optis was an incredible experience, especially working with wonderful coaches and making new friends all around the country. However, even though I felt nostalgic about my Opti career, I know that I have great sailing ahead.

C420 to Laser Sailor (Samantha Karlson): Due to COVID-19, a large portion of my C420 team (approximately 14 kids) switched into Lasers after hearing many regattas were cancelled. It was a difficult change for some of us, since we had been sailing with a partner for upwards of three years, or for the crews on the team who had to get used to skippering again.

I was lucky enough to have a well-versed Laser coach for the summer who taught me many Laser tips and tricks. In the end, it was hard to switch boats and have to re-learn many things and start back at the bottom of the pack. However, it was a fun experience because the entire team went through it together and being in a different boat taught me a lot of new tips and tricks and overall it made me a better sailor.

Opti to 29er Sailor (Sara Ortiz Vey): The COVID pandemic put a giant halt to our sport in the spring of 2020. Along with many Opti sailors, I was on my way to Team Trials and at age 14 had big expectations for my final year. I was not planning to transition to a new class at this moment but like many things in sailing, it doesn’t always go as planned.

With the Opti season cut short and summer approaching, I needed to make a decision whether to continue on or embrace this time as an opportunity to transition. With the help of my mother, I looked to other coaches and sailors for advice. The consensus was to spend the summer trying different boats and see what worked for me.

My intentions were to follow that advice, but truthfully it only took one day, one boat, and I knew I was ready to leave the Opti. I have spent several weeks this summer training as a skipper in the 29er and will start the official season in September. I am excited for the next chapter in my sailing career and I’ve learned a lot in the last six months, most importantly how to take a negative and turn it into something positive.

In The End:
Armed with all this great advice, remember to keep a positive attitude. Transitioning between classes is unavoidable in sailing, therefore it is key to find as much joy in the process as possible. Consider your local clubs and available coaching to find a class that is well supported in your community. Meet and watch local sailors in the classes you are considering. Once you’ve chosen your boat, embrace your new peer group which may include a new skipper or crew! This is a chance to try on an entirely new experience in a sport you love.

Visit One Design Central for more one design resources: click here.

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