A simple but innovative design by a notable Kiwi sailor is gaining interest around the world.
Four-time America’s Cup winner and professional boat builder Matthew Mason has designed a bow extension and more performance sail to be used on a traditional Optimist, something he calls the O-Pro.
The bow extension clips onto the front of an Optimist, extending the hull length by 450mm, and the new sail is also 1.2m² bigger than a standard Opti sail.
Mason recently presented the O-Pro concept at World Sailing’s annual meeting and has fielded calls from a number of European countries as well as from India and the Cook Islands.
It might be in less well-off countries where the O-Pro has the most potential. The hull extension vastly improves the performance of the boat in a cost-effective way and also extends the life of the yacht.
Graduating to the next classes can be expensive, which can see a dropoff from the sport.
“Stats show that, on average, about 200 kids participate in our Optimist nationals every year but only about 20 percent of those continue sailing, so it’s not a great retention story,” Mason told Boating New Zealand. “Something’s wrong.
“I think there are two main issues: loneliness and cost. Sitting alone in a boat for hours on end isn’t much fun for a kid. Many want to participate in an activity they can do with their friends. The Opti’s a one-man boat so it can be quite solitary. This modification not only allows bigger, heavier kids to continue sailing as they grow, but it’s also perfect for two-up sailing.
“Secondly, for kids who become serious about competitive sailing, the step up to the next class of dinghy is prohibitive – anything from $5000-$10,000. That’s a lot of money for many families. I believe the O-Pro fills the gap. The modification kit is a relatively inexpensive outlay – around $1500 – and immediately offers bored sailors a more dynamic, performance-orientated boat. It’s an affordable solution.”
The Optimist is still the go-to boat for learners but is coming under threat as many children want to move into faster yachts like the O’pen Bic.
The Opti's limited performance is one of the reasons why Mason came up with the idea.
“[My eight-year-old son] Williams is part of the Opti programme at Wakatere and on the way home one day he asked me why the Opti had such a blunt bow compared with other classes,” Mason said. “It started me thinking.”
Wakatere Boating Club have five O-Pros at the club and Mason plans to approach a number of yacht clubs who might have Optimists sitting around not being used to look at turning them into O-Pros.
How it works
The bow appendage extends the hull by 450mm and is held in place by three bolts and nuts.
The built-in splashboard helps divert water away from the inside of the boat.
A 1.8m carbon tip extension slots into the top of a standard Opti mast.
The new sail is 1.2m² bigger than a standard Opti.
Two small children or one larger child can sail it.
It’s aimed at two children who want to sail together or older, heavier children who are learning.
To watch a video on the O-Pro, see here.