There’s one big question when kids “age out” of the Optimist dinghy: What’s next? For a handful of teenage sailors from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the answer is the International or I-420.
There are two kinds of sailors, recreational and competitive sailors, explains Agustin ‘Argy’ Resano, I-420 coach. “If you fit in the first category, there aren’t many decision points other than to sail in any boat that is available to you. If you fit in the competitive category, you want to find the next competitive class, in terms of size and level, which is closest to you.”
Trends for ‘next’ boats around the world are those that are faster and simpler in terms of rigging, like new Laser 3000 or the 29er, says Resano. “But older designs like Lasers, I-420, 470, Splash and Snipes will remain competitive.”
Puerto Rico’s Mercedes Rios, mother of 2008 Optimist World Champion, Raul Rios, describes her thoughts about a ‘next’ boat. “When Raul was training for 2008 Opti events, we were taking into consideration different choices. He wants to do an Olympic campaign. Knowing that he probably will not be a tall adult, taking into account physical constitution, we knew that the Laser was not an option. The I-420 is a step towards the Olympic I-470.”
Rios continues, “The I-420 is sailed in most countries in Europe and South America and most of the top Opti sailors from prior years are doing I-420. In fact, Julian Autenrieth from Germany and Benjamin Grez from Chile are among those in the top at the 2006 and 2007 Opti Worlds and they are now sailing I-420s. They keep in contact with Raúl and talk about future sailing events. Our goal this year is to attend the ISAF Youth Championships in Brazil and the I-420 Worlds in Italy.”
The I-420 is the two-crew learning boat around the world for kids. It differs from a Club 420, which is the boat of choice for High School and College sailing in the U.S.
The differences between an I-420 and Club 420 are enormous, says Resano. “The Club 420 is a modification on an I-420, which eliminates much of the thought process of rigging and tuning, The Club 420 is made to be easy and simple to sail. Also, the haul is 80 pounds heavier and the mast looks like a telephone pole. This completely changes the performance of the boat, making it very difficult to get ‘into a plane’ and less challenging.”
It’s the planing that the USVI’s Nikki Barnes likes best about sailing an I-420. “The boat planes all the time and I love going fast,” she says.
Also, adds Resano, “the Club 420 is really heavy, with less adjustments, and this means that the over all crew weight makes a bigger deal in the performance of the boat compared to the over all skills. This means that in a light air venue a lightweight crew would have a much greater advantage in the Club 420 compare to the I-420.”
What many sailors and their parents like about the I-420 is the greater sailing skills that can be learned.
First, says Resano, “is the rigging and sail tuning aspect. This starts with setting up the mast for the conditions combined with your crew weight to maximize sail performance. They can adjust the step mast, spreaders (length and deflection), pre bend, rake, and tension. The sailors learn to set up the mast in a specific place in the boat for weather or leeward helm and then understand to use the other adjustments to bend the mast so it would change the sail shape for the conditions they need. In the club boat the mast would not bend and they cannot use all these adjustments other than tension and rake.”
There are different shapes and cuts of sails in the I-420 so sailors have to choose the perfect set up for them. In the Club 420, says Resano, “you can not play the mast bend to maximize the sail you have, so it makes it less skill challenge than the I-420.”
Finally, because of the difference in planing conditions in the I-420 compared to the Club 420, the way of sailing the boat down wind completely changes.
“You really have to understand your down wind angles to maximize your VMG (‘velocity made good’ or the measurement of the time to cover a distance between two points and is a combination of speed, angle and distance) in the I-420 much more than in the Club boat,” says Resano.
In the future, Resano says, “I think the Optimist class is getting stronger and more competitive in the Caribbean. Top sailors with Olympic dreams will move towards a class, like the I-420, that pushes in that direction.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.