Different and Better?

Different and Better?

One of the bright spots in the sport of sailing right now has to be what Bic is doing with their O’pen.  They aren’t just selling boats, they are promoting fun on the water.  Recently, the Buffalo Canoe Club hosted the Great Lakes O’Pen “The Un-Regatta”.  Having hosted countless Lightning Worlds, NA’s Canadian Open’s and Districts, Laser Radial Worlds, FD Olympic Trials and Worlds, and a wide collection of other continental championship events, the Canoe Club is a superb place for off the beach sailing.

What’s an “Un-Regatta”?  O’pen Bic has been promoting this format for several years, and from the reaction of the kids in the event, it’s working.  Well, let’s just say Coaches aren’t welcome.  Neither are a bunch of rules and old Judges who aren’t certified in how to have fun. 

There’s LeMan’s style starts and finishes some times.  There’s races where people are required to do a 360 turn.  Freestyle races, where pairs of sailors face off against each other, not with aggressive match racing moves, but with tricks that serve to entertain their fellow un-regattan’s, who vote on the winner of each pair.  There’s reverse racing, where a gun sounds and everyone has to reverse course.  Stand up racing – don’t try this at home in your Opti.  Oh yeah, the occasional regular race too.  The purpose of the different formats of racing is to accelerate the learning curve in boat handling skills.  If you want to learn one way, and one way only, to participate in hard core racing, and bailing technique, go sail an Opti.  If you want to have fun and learn a lot more about the sport, try an Un-Regatta.

One aspect of the Un-Regatta that was really interesting for the contestants was Speedsailing.  A small GPS was attached to the boom of the boat, and the top speed was recorded.  The most wind seen that weekend was 12 knots.  Eliza Oak is the current North American O’pen Speedsailor record holder at 8 knots.  How about a Mini-America’s Cup – some Swiss Opti sailor versus an American O’Pen sailor.

Regatta results?  Well, sure, there are some.  Paige Robinson pictured here won the Under 12 group – not as the best female, but the best overall under 12.  The winner of the regatta isn’t determined who has the lowest score, it’s determined by a vote of the competitors as to who had the most fun.  The winner of the Great Lakes O’pen Un-Regatta was Isaac Cohen, a reformed Opti sailor who traveled from Philadelphia just for this event.

One thing the sport needs more of is fun.  The myopia of winning as the reason for being in a sailboat is clearly well past its prime.  It’s easy to be optimistic about the sport when kids can go have fun in an Un-Regatta.  Nobody really remembers who won what trophy, but everyone remembers the friends they make while having fun in a sailboat.  Seems like it is now O’Pen season on fun.