…when we got to the yacht club, we were greeted by a swarm of 10 to 12 year old children who were about to go out on Optimists. We watched as they cleared the harbor area. One of the kids, though obviously at loss, managed to get out into the channel despite the crowding and jeers of his friends. An hour later, the children returned like a swarm of bees. And we saw something eye-opening: the hapless kid of an hour before had been transformed. He was doing just as well as the others, yelling “starboard” at any challengers, deftly handling the crosswinds in a narrow channel before raising his centerboard and sailing up the ramp.
We helped him stow his gear and asked, “How long have you been sailing an Optimist?” Answer: “This is my first time.” In a blinding flash, we were struck by the obvious. So Rene, Jocelyne, and I immediately set sail, each aboard one of those marvelous dinghies. Close reach, reach, beam reach, coming about, jibing, backing with reverse rudder. We checked to see how well the boats hove to with sail sheeted in and the tiller down at 45 degrees. The wind rose and we watched for gusts, learning to anticipate shifts as a force 4 wind raised little whitecaps on the lagoon. Rene and Jocelyne were beginning to take charge of their boats. Just for the heck of it, we started racing. It was terrific fun; we were in seventh heaven!
When we headed back a couple of hours later, nobody could have said which of us had sailed the most miles in his life. It was extraordinary: in as single outing, Rene and Jocelyne (beginners) had grasped the essentials, because each was responsible for everything, from beginning to end. When you are sailing alone, you pay for the slightest mistake or lapse of attention. But an Optimist is a forgiving boat, and it gives you fair warning; you really have to work to turn one over.
(From A Sea Vagabound’s World)