Hustling BICs vs. Busted Stuff

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Another from C. Crain's series of oil paintings, called "Here Come the Optis"

Another from C. Crain’s series of oil paintings, called “Here Come the Optis” (Click to zoom)

This string probably deserves its own post. How ’bout we call it “Hustling BICs vs. Busted Stuff.”

It all started here:

Capt’n Ron on July 13, 2012 at 8:35 pm:

I’ve been in the sail training business for 20 years and although I don’t classify myself as an Opti hater, I do strongly believe that there are more modern day platforms and more fun boats for kids to experience their first sail(s) on.

For example, if I were to take 25 kids and take them for their first sail on an Opti and take those same kids for a sail on an Open followed by a vote on their
preference of boat, the score would be 25-0 in favor of the Open Bic. Comments from the kids would be that the Open Bic is funner, faster, easier, cooler, more comfortable, not to mention – no bailing required!

It’s not that kids can’t learn to sail in an Opti, it’s about making their first experience the best possible and keeping them excited so that they keep coming back.

Why do we have kids learning on a 50 year old platform? Just imagine if you decided to have your kids learn downhill skiing on a pair of 1960 vintage skis. There are many more examples of other sports that have adapted and taken advantage of technology to make it easier and more fun for kids to learn on.

My kids first learned how to sail on an Opti, but once exposed to the O’pen BIC, they never went back.

If we are to get the masses (next generation) excited about sailing and keep them excited, especially given the choices that kids have today, then we’ll have to move away from teaching kids based on a design from 1947. It really is time to move on.

Reply ↓

on July 14, 2012 at 7:29 am


Thanks for your comment. I take it as a solidly-held position. But I don’t buy it. I hope you’ll respect my position.

A good sailing instructor (or just a sailor looking to teach a newcomer) can make a great, fun first experience out of a bed sheet and an aluminum canoe.

It may well be that the boat you mention has performance characteristics that are inherently quicker or more nimble than a pram. And that can be fun too. But it doesn’t matter in the context of good teaching and sharing.

Open makers appear to have chosen to pram-bash as a central leg of their marketing campaign. It is a sales strategy, not something done in the interest of sailing; designed to convince kids (and parents) to value one boat over another in order to gain competitive advantage, not because it will bring sailing to the masses. Here’s evidence:

Consider two programs in one town, both with good older kids teaching good younger kids to sail in the summer. One has an assortment of old prams that it fixes up each year. Another has gleaming white Opens. Blind to one another, both can do great things. But placed side by side, Open’s hope is that Open sailors will eventually become OPTI-haters, but not because OPTIs are bad or old. And as far as I’ve seen, Open has no plan for what happens next; intergenerational sailing or more advanced group sailing, where the deeper experiences and lessons emerge (although they seem to do a good job of harnessing the vicarious, spectating dad.)

In the end, how many of the kids in either program do you think will stick with it? Sailing has been shown to all of these kids to be divisive, exclusive and shallow, not constructive, inclusive and socially rich. Absent the latter, the answer, the data prove, is a woeful 5-10%. (Sailing has shed more people and kids since the new designs arrived.)

Repeating a theme from my previous post, the answer lies in the program and the people, not the boat. Either boat.

Nicholas Hayes, July 14, 2012

Capt’n Ron
on July 15, 2012 at 8:35 am

You won’t get any arguments from me with regards to great instruction and programming leading to a wonderful experience for kids trying sailing for the first time. I’m basically in the business of turning people onto the sailing lifestyle and your comments about getting superior instruction and sharing from enthusiastic sailors, both from certified and non-certified instructors must be a given if we are to grow the sport.

Where I’m from in Canada, I don’t see a trend of growing Opti-haters or pram bashing going on but a real concern for how we get more kids (and families) involved with sailing and sticking with it. The instruction/programming delivered is just one part of the puzzle but I’ve also seen that the type of boat that instruction is delivered on does make a difference in the overall experience. One of the 3 sailing clubs I belong to has taken the bold move of replacing their Opti fleet over the years and continue to add (around 25 boats currently) to the fleet. This was not a decision that was taken lightly but one that I believe was a good one in the long term for delivering a superior experience and turning kids onto sailing by providing them with modern fun equipment. For your information, I was not involved with that decision of replacing the fleet.

When I brought this discussion up with my 14-year-old son, he mentioned a couple of other interesting points. Remember, he grew up in an Opti but later transitioned into the O’pen BIC and has now grown out of it. He recalls when first being introduced to the O’pen BIC that he was able to sail more because they were down less for repairs and when you dumped them, you could right them immediately and start sailing again. For reasons mentioned earlier, he as well as his sister definitely found the O’pen BIC more fun. Sailing more and having more fun on a boat can only be a good thing.

We also took the O’pen BIC with us a few times when we went on holidays on our cruising boat. It was amazing the number of juniors taking sailing camp while we were visiting other clubs that were wowed and came to ask our kids afterwards about the boat. Most of the comments from the other kids revolved around how fast and cool the boat looked relative to the boats they sailed on. With regards to cool, I don’t understand why kids wear some of the “cool” clothes they do but I’m not about to change their minds or the fashion industry in my lifetimeJ.

I don’t think it’s up to the folks at O’pen BIC to have a plan in place to fill all the different choices and types of sailing that exist for people getting involved with sailing. That’s up to the sailing clubs and different associations at the regional, national and international level, all sailing industry members and existing sailing participants to get creative and do a better job (compared to other sports and recreational pastimes) at marketing the sailing lifestyle and all the benefits it has to offer. O’Pen BIC has delivered a fine product at an affordable price for an important market – next generation sailors and for that I commend them.

To make one more analogy in regards to sailing on an older platform versus a newer one, if for the same price you give me the choice between choosing the keys for a 1957 Chev and a 2012 Ferrari 458 Italia, I’m picking the Ferrari in a heart beat. Both cars have the same main purpose of getting you from A to B. My reason for picking the Ferrari is not just speed but for multiple reasons with the number one factor being that it is just way more FUN!

Capt’n Ron
Advantage Boating

Reply ↓

on July 15, 2012 at 8:56 am

Please stop selling boats on this blog.

Capt’n Ron on July 15, 2012 at 9:21 am

Who is selling boats? Just to be clear and not loose sight of the original discussion, this is not about one brand versus another. I thought this was a discussion between choices available to people/clubs sailing on newer platforms versus older ones and what leads them to make those decisions.

Reply ↓

on July 15, 2012 at 9:52 am

The point of this blog is that the boat is irrelevant and the people and the program are what matter.

It would be interesting to get your insights into creative program design, with out naming a boat. For example, try answering this question: how would you make lifelong fun with three different derelict donated sailboats from the 50s?

Capt’n Ron
on July 15, 2012 at 11:54 am

Although I agree wholeheartedly about needing people and having good programs in place for “grow sailing” initiatives, I also believe that today we have access to better boats/equipment largely due to technology and modern manufacturing processes which does play a role in the overall experience. Enough said on that subject.

Now onto the next discussion…. I wasn’t born in the 50’s but I do know that one of the clubs I belong to built three 26’ boats one winter in the early sixties based on a boat designed in the 1950s. They were built of marine plywood and could be built by a reasonably skilled amateur from scratch. The nice thing about this project is that they were built during the winter on the club premises and it was a regular weekly activity by a team of enthusiastic sailors.

I have personal experience with 2 donated club boats 24 feet in length made out of fibreglass that were first built in 1960 and designed in 1959. These boats were in rough shape when we got them but they were restored to very good seaworthiness condition over the winter period when there is far less on-the-water activity happening. I think it’s a good idea if a club and its members take on the activity of a “project” boat, to choose a boat where an existing fleet already exists in the area. That way you can leverage local knowledge/expertise and potentially get access to spare parts if they are particular to that boat. Today these 2 boats are still being used 15 years later after they were restored. The easy part of this project was restoring the boats to a usable state. The challenge is in managing use of the boats and the on-going maintenance. After several years of the club having challenges running the program themselves including finding/keeping enough volunteers to maintain the program, they decided to outsource this activity to a 3rd party. The difference now is that the 3rd party for a fee takes care of all the details including insurance, maintenance, scheduling, marketing and making sure that participants in the program have sufficient knowledge to use the boats. Participants have the option of using the boats for cruising or racing. What tends to happen after 2-3 years is that the participants in the program don’t wish to live with some of the restrictions put on them like no overnight usage, so they end up buying their own boat and chances are they will moor it at the same club they already belong to and where they have made friends. Recently a bigger boat was added to the fleet that allows members to take the boat overnight given that they have at least 2 years experience on the smaller boats and have demonstrated sufficient knowledge to handle the larger boat.

These days, boatyards are littered with derelict boats, so finding boats for free or a nominal fee should not be a problem. All that is required is a “sparkplug” member with support from the club and a plan in place to manage the program. There are things that make it easier these days like taking advantage of technology for online scheduling of the boats.

Where there is a will there is a way.

I must go now, as it is my time to go sailing.

Reply ↓

on July 15, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Now this, I mostly buy. (Except the part about modern manufacturing which plays barely an incidental role in shaping a life of great experiences.)

In fact, it’s easy to see that when people team up to make something out of nothing (or at least very little), the experience will inform many other aspects of a good life. I appreciate your willingness to share ideas, and to reflect on how they matter to sailing.

If we are to value one boat or another, then on these terms, it’s also easy to see that the derelict has far more potential to save sailing then the shiny new bic.

Thanks for your contribution to the discussion.

– Nick

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