When Tomas Nores, father of three sons under the age of 12, watched his kids’ sailing program dwindle from 100 enthusiasts to 8 miserable children in Optis, he knew something was wrong. The water was warm year-round in their hometown of Miami, Florida, and the breeze was always blowing, yet his kids were on the verge of throwing in the towel. Determined to not give up, Nores drove ten kids from Miami Yacht Club to a nearby O’pen BIC Un-Regatta. In typical Un-Regatta form, the courses were unconventional (figure 8s, slaloms, Lemans’ starts, etc.), the boats were easy to learn and fun to sail, and the biggest trophy went not to the first-place finish, but rather to the competitor who had the most fun.
That did the trick. The smiles returned to the kids’ faces and suddenly, Miami Yacht Club junior sailors were excited to sail again. Nores took this enthusiasm and ran with it. “I knew we were loosing 92% of our kids, so after this Un-Regatta, I told the MYC we had to sell the Optis and get the O’pen BICs, and we had to do it now.” They were hesitant at first, but they were willing to try anything to gain back the junior sailors.
That was March 20, 2009. By March 27, MYC had 20 Open BICs and 25 kids signed up to sail them. By the time summer rolled around, registration was up from the average 100 signups to 130, and from 110 sessions to 215 sessions. With the increased revenue from registration, MYC was able to hire two full-time coaches and it will be able to pay off the $50,000 fleet in just 13 months.
“The kids loved these boats from the start because they don’t have to treat them like a piece of jewelry,” says Nores. “They can flip it, stand on the hull or boom, hit bottom with the mast, drop it on the beach, and nothing will break.” The boats also look plain cooler. The mono-film sail, narrow plastic hull and open transoms (no bailing!) look more like a high-end sportboats than flat-bottomed bathtubs. O’pen BIC’s Kevin Broome explains, “The durable plastic hull is more child-, dock- and rock-friendly and the efficient sail design allows sailors to see the entire course. Tipping in most other junior racing boats can mean the end of a race. Tipping in an O’pen BIC is no big deal…just right it and go!”
But it takes more than a nifty boat to start a revolution. The Open BIC Sailing concept also embraces a new style of regattas. “Most adult sailors are cruisers, not racers, so why is it that most junior sailing programs push racing?” says Broome. “If the kids don’t like racing, they are soon on the outs and many leave with a bad taste in their mouths.” That’s why the Un-Regattas are focused on having fun.
An Open BIC Un-Regatta is, shall we say, unconventional. There are unconventional courses and unconventional starts. There are whacky tricks in the middle, like the Spiderman, where the kids capsize and right their boat without touching the water, a skill they’ve mastered down to 8 seconds. The races are short as are the downtimes between them, allowing BIC sailors to get in more races. At the end of one regatta this fall, the Optis sailed 5 races, while the O’pen BICs sailed 13. Ironically, in making the racing low-key, fun and downright goofy, MYC found that many junior sailors were falling in love with racing after all.
As the summer went on, enthusiasm grew until the Miami Yacht Club was vibrating with excitement. These kids needed a place to spread their wings, so Nores spread the word. He visited other area clubs, shared of their wild success, and created the US Winter O'pen BIC Series, a six-regatta series around south Florida that, for the first time, will bring the O’pen BICs to the front of the junior racing scene. Though the contestants will be mostly from Florida, some teams from the Northeast are expected to compete as well.
At the first regatta, on October 17th in Ft. Myers, there were 16 racers. At the second regatta, on October 24th in Miami, there were 42. Nores predicts sign-ups will stay in the 40s and beyond as kids at other clubs start to get interested in the funky little boat.
With the wind fully in his sails, Nores wants to keep the enthusiasm high. He’s already talking about purchasing 10 new boats and training for the US O’pen Cup in June and the World O’pen Cup in August.
The folks at Open BIC created the class, the boat and the Un-Regatta to revolutionize junior sailing, making kids realize they don’t have to sail in the bathtub their grandpas raced. They also realize how difficult it can be to make this transition come to fruition. “Sailing is a grass-roots organization. People like Nores are the torch bearers of the sport,” says Broome. “Nores, and people like him, are the reason many of us are still in the sport.”
A few other clubs, including Buffalo Canoe Club in Ridgeway, Ontario and Columbia Gorge Racing Association in Hood River, Oregon have also caught the O’bic fever and are using the boats both recreationally and for Un-Regattas. Meanwhile, the parents and kids at MYC are carrying the torch for O’pen sailing, and they can’t wait for it to catch on. “If your kids try the Open BIC, they will have a blast. They will not be afraid. They’re not going to hate sailing or racing,” says Nores.
For more on O’pen BIC sailing and the US Winter O’pen BIC series, check out class.openbic.com.