May 31st through June 4th the Banderas Bay will play host to the 2021 Optimist North American Championship (OPTINAM).
The event is a youth sailing competition at the international level, with 113 children from 12 countries competing.
Optimist is a class of small sailboat/dinghy specifically designed for children ages 7-15, and it’s the type of boat that most sailors first learn to sail. In fact, 99% of sailors in the world have learned to sail on this type of boat. It’s a highly regulated class, because protecting the safety of the children is the number one priority. A child sails alone in an Optimist, unlike larger sailboats that require a crew, so safety measures are paramount.
The competition is open to youth ages 11-15 who have already qualified at their local and national levels. These children are among the best young sailors in the world.
The competitors have come from Argentina, Bahamas, Bermuda, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Chile, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, USA, and the Virgin Islands.
“The kids are dedicated,” said Linda Green, chairperson of this year’s event. “By the time they get to an international championship they have put in a lot of work.”
Five Days of Races
There will be races each day, Monday through Friday, starting at 1:00pm off the coast of Bucerias. The boats head out on the water between noon and 12:30 to prepare to hit the starting line at 1:00.
The 113 boats will be split into two fleets, with 60 boats in the first fleet and 53 boats in the second fleet.
The two fleets will start the race 15 minutes apart. That means 60 boats start the race at the same time, each jockeying for position, trying to cross the starting line before the other boats. Then the same for the second start, 53 boats jockeying for position, each hitting the starting line at full speed and sailing away towards the first mark of the racecourse.
They will sail a trapezoid-shaped course, which is created by placing inflatable buoys in the water to mark the corners of the trapezoid. The boats sail to each mark, along the four sides of the trapezoid shape, and finish where they started.
They will sail the same course Monday and Tuesday, and they will sail two to three races each day. Scoring is based on accumulating points based on what position each boat finishes in each day.
Wednesday is team racing day. The boats will team up into groups of four boats from each country. Each team will try to block the other teams with maneuvers. The top three countries will be awarded medals for team racing on awards day.
Thursday and Friday are individual races. At the end of the day on Friday the scores are tallied, and the winners will be declared and posted on the event’s website. There will be an awards ceremony, with 35 trophies and 40 medals presented to the top competitors.
The kids have several days of preparation before the races begin. They measure the sail, the boom, and the spars on their boats, and they weigh their boats. They also have practice races the week before the official race begins.
With competitors coming from 12 countries, it’s important to decide which language to use for communication. English is the official language of the event, and even though many of the competitors are from Spanish speaking countries, at least 85% of them are able to speak some level of English. Event organizers are bilingual in English and Spanish, as well.
Continuing Through COVID-19
“We were expecting 150 kids, but because of COVID, and the financial impact COVID has had on some of the families, we are hosting 113 kids this year,” said Linda Green, chairperson for this year’s OPTINAM.
“They’re all here in Vallarta now, and they are all excited. It’s an accomplishment to qualify to be at a North American Championship. They have not been able to compete internationally for over a year since COVID started. IODA usually has 7 international championships each year, but they were only able to have one in 2020 – the European championship in Slovenia. The kids are excited to be here and to see their friends in the class. We’re working hard to make this event a success for the kids after being shut down for so many months. We appreciate the effort, time, patience, and interest the parents have shown.”
To compete at the international level, the minimum age is 11 years old, and the maximum age to sail in an Optimist is 15 years old. After age 15, sailors enter another class. So this year’s competition is particular exciting for the 15 year olds, because it’s the last year they’ll be sailing in a boat they’ve potentially been for 8 years – half of their lives.
Vallarta Yacht Club
OPTINAM is hosted by Vallarta Yacht Club at Paradise Village. The club put in a bid two years ago with the North American body of the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA), and through voting, IODA chose Vallarta Yacht Club and Banderas Bay as the venue for this year’s competition.
“The Vallarta Yacht Club encourages youth sailors,” Linda Green said. “That’s why we bid to host OPTINAM this year. We have a very active junior sailor program at Vallarta Yacht Club, with 33 kids who are mostly from local Mexican families, and we also have a few kids from expat families. In our Junior Sailing Club we have Optimist class, as well as Lasers, C420, and Hobie 16’s, which are more geared to adult sailing. We’re teaching the children to sail, and we’re teaching them leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for them to develop lifelong skills and responsibility.”
“We welcome sponsors, and anyone who would like to financially support a child in our Junior Sailors Program. We feel that everyone who wants to learn to sail should be able to.”
For more information about OPTINAM 2021, please contact Linda Green.
For more information about Vallarta Yacht Club’s Junior Sailors Program contact Bart Goodall.