While many of our CYC Opti Team kids have parents or siblings who race sailboats, certainly not everyone does. I am going to attempt in this post to give a bit of an overview of how sailboats are raced. At the end will be a few books and other resources for you to learn more. This article will talk about the basics of entering a regatta - what you need to know to get to the starting line. The next will discuss the rules for the sailors once they get racing, so you have some idea what your little one is talking about!
Sailboats are raced by everyone from young children to people in their 80s and beyond, which is one of the great things about the sport; it is truly a lifelong sport. Whether sailing an Opti or a Volvo Ocean Race boat, sailors must agree to a common set of rules, just as in other sports. These rules cover everything from how to enter a race, what eqipment you must have, who has the right of way, and more. The standard rules are called the Racing Rules of Sailing. They're updated every four years by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF), the international governing body of the sport of sailing. Each country has an equivalent organization - in the US, it's called US Sailing. US Sailing is the governing body for all sailboat racing in the US, from a local Opti regatta all the way up to the CYC Race to Mackinac. The rules adopted by US Sailing and ISAF make it possible for sailors to know how to enter a race and what rules to follow both on and off the water.
Optis are a type of boat called a "one-design" boat, meaning that all Optis which comply with the class rules are exactly the same and thus the boats can compete evenly - it is the skill of the sailor that should make the difference. In order to manage the Opti class, there are parallel bodies to ISAF and US Sailing, namely the International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) as the international body and the US Optimist Dinghy Association (USODA) as the US body. IODA/USODA make sure all Optis raced in the US are the same. Like US Sailing and ISAF, these nonprofit entities are largely run by volunteers who love the sport of sailing. Membership in US Sailing or USODA is often a requirement of entry in a regatta, so I strongly suggest that you have your junior sailors join both bodies now online via the links above. (You do not join the international body, but rather the US one, in both cases). You do not need to own a boat to join either organization. For families, US Sailing offers a family membership which gives each family member their own membership number and may be less expensive than joining
One of they key things our coaches teach at CYC's sailing school is an understanding of the rules. All sailors should read and strive to understand the rules, and their parents must understand the basics, particularly about entering a regatta.
What is a regatta? A regatta is simply a series of sailboat races, organized so as to be scored together and run by a single entity. Most often, a regatta is sponsored by a yacht club. The Club serves as the "Organizing Authority" for the event - this is the entity which establishes the regatta, coordinates both on- and off-the-water activities, and generally runs the event. When an Organizing Authority (OA) wants to set up a regatta, the first thing they do is publish the Notice of Race (NOR).
The NOR is the key document for a sailor (and their parents)! The NOR sets out all the requirements of entry; the dates and time and location of the regatta; information on how to register and costs; the classes of boats that will be raced; the rules that will apply, and all sorts of other important information on the event. It's the contract between the sailor and the OA and should give you enough information to decide whether or not to enter and to plan your attendance at the event.
Some examples of NORs from recent regattas include the 2015 USODA Midwest Championships, the 2015 Macatawa Bay Junior Olympics, the 2015 Orange Bowl, and the 2014 USODA Midwest Championships held at CYC (click on links to view). For fun, here are the CYC Mac NOR, the Sydney-Hobart Race, and the Volvo Ocean Race. As you can see the adult events' NORs, while more complicated, follow the same basic format. Pretty much all events post their NOR on the Club's or Event's website, so that's the best place to start looking, but you can always ask our coaches or me for help tracking it down.
Every parent and every sailor should download and read the NOR before deciding to enter a regatta and should save a copy! I cannot emphasize this enough. The NOR will answer virtually all your questions on how to enter, whether you should enter, and what you need to do to enter, plan your trip, etc. When I ran the Mac race in 2014 and 2015, about 95% of the questions I received from competitors could have been answered if they had just read the NOR, and the same goes for our opti sailors. If you're not ready to enter an event yet, download one of the samples above and read through it so you understand what's involved.
Some key things to look for in the NOR when you download it:
- What are the dates, times and location of the regatta? These virtually always will remain unchanged.
- "First warning" is the time that the first race of the day will begin, usually expressed in military (24 hour) time. Please note that this is NOT the time you show up at the venue, but rather the time that the sailor needs to be 100% ready, in his or her boat, and out at the start line. Normally you need to arrive 2-3 hours before this time at the venue. Your coach will provide you guidance on this.
- Many regattas post a "No racing after xxxx" time. This is designed to let you know about when the sailor will be done for the day. Again, this is not the time to pick them up, but rather the time that the last race will start (no later than that time). Figure a few hours after that for getting the boat in, put away, etc. before you can leave/
- What class(es) of boats will race? Will there be an opti green fleet? How are the other fleets organized?
- USODA has the concept of a Green Fleet, for newer sailors. See this article for information on what the Green Fleet should be all about. Not all venues offer Green fleets, and in events that are not USODA-sanctioned, the Green fleet may not follow these guidelines. Ask your coach.
- Do you need to bring your own boat, or will charters be available?
- Chartering an opti may make sense for certain travel regattas. Always discuss this with the coach.
- Does the sailor need to be a member of US Sailing or USODA to compete? Many if not most regattas require membership in one or both organizations.
- Again, I urge you to have your sailor join both bodies today to avoid difficulties down the road.
- How do I register? What are the deadlines? What is the cost?
- Most, but not all, regattas offer online registration. Some require paper, and the deadlines are often strict. Please adhere to them carefully!
- Do any special rules apply?
After reading this post, you should understand how to find and read the NOR; what to look for in the NOR; how to register for a regatta; and how to figure out the basics of how the regatta will be run.
In addition to the NOR, a second document is issued closer to the actual regatta called the "Sailing Instructions." I'll talk about that in the next post; the SIs deal with matters that occur on the water.