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Curacao Youth Sailing Takes the Plunge With The Splash

Curacao has solved one of junior sailing’s most perplexing questions – ‘What boat is best for kids after an Optimist?’ – with the Splash.

“My son, Alexander, is one of those kids who grew too big for an Optimist before he aged out,” says Clara Hoogeweegen, who with husband, Karel, has become the Splash distributor for the Americas.

The Splash gained its foothold in Curacao when Cor Van Aanholt, a former Sunfish World Champion, organizer of the Optimist Club of Curacao, and Opti dad of four, discovered an unused beat-up boat on the island. “The kids asked to borrow it and went for a sail one Friday night,” relates Hoogeweegen. “My son was an avid boardsailor, but he instantly became a Splash convert. As a parent, I found I didn’t have to nudge him to sail. He wanted to sail the Splash with his friends all on his own.”

The first new Splash dinghies arrived to Curacao in November 2004. Five were purchased by the club, which changed its name to Youth Sailing Curacao (YSCO) with the addition of the Splash to the fleet, and six were purchased privately. In January 2005, the Curacao Youth Regatta featured not only classes for Optimist, but the Splash, too, and attracted Splash sailors from Holland and Belgium.

The Splash is a single-handed dinghy that was first built by Roel Wester in the Netherlands in 1986. The 11 ½-foot boat costs about US$6000 and, as a strict one-design class recognized by ISAF since 1998, has all identical ropes, spars, rudders, dagger boards and sails.

“Kids can easily start to sail a Splash when they weigh 105 pounds,” says Hoogeweegen. One of the Splash’s main competitors to entice Opti grads is the Laser. “In comparison, the Laser is too tall, too complicated, too competitive for kids of this size and age. They need to learn more sailing techniques to sail a Laser properly and they can get these on a Splash. After all, the Laser is an adult boat and an Olympic class boat as well.”

Hoogeweegen says there are a few noteworthy differences between a Splash and Laser. “For example, the Laser has only one hiking strap in the middle. Short kids have to really reach with their toes. They’ll feel it in their knees about two years later. The Splash has two hiking straps, which makes it physically easier to sail.”

Also, “sailing a Laser hull with a 4.7 sail, what many Opti sailors graduate to, is like sailing a big car with a small motor. You need to have better balance, a better proportion for the boat to perform as it should. The Splash is built to be between a Laser and an Optimist. It has a wider and deeper cockpit with plenty of room to move around, and sitting out on the narrow side decks is very comfortable,” she explains.

Finally, says Hoogeweegen, “kids can heave or lower the sail in the Splash without having to take the sail out.”

These key points have helped the Splash really catch on. There is a Splash International Class Association and Splash fleets sailing in many countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Poland and Holland.

Hoogeweegen would like to see the Splash catch on as a popular class for Opti grads in the Caribbean. To that end, she and her husband brought a demo boat to the Optimist North American Championships held in Ponce, Puerto Rico, in July. “A lot of the South American countries are interested and some of the other islands too. Bermuda, in fact, is looking at maybe ordering a dozen boats for their youth sailing program.”

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