Green Fleet Q&A

June 30, 2010 7:06 am

So you and/or your young sailor would like to get started in Opti racing? Thinking about going to a GreenFleet regatta this summer? Make sure you include one of the USODA OPTIMIST CHAMPIONSHIPS with GreenFleet guru Tom “OPTIGUYTOM” Coleman and you’re sure to have a sailor begging for more. Tom has professionally coached at and helped coordinate the GreenFleet at most every USODA event as well as many US Sailing JO Festivals and Orange Bowls for over a decade. In 2004 the US Olympic Committee chose Tom as the Development Coach of the Year for sailing due to his success with training young sailors to race. We asked Tom to help clarify what a GreenFleet regatta is like for first time, beginning racers and those who aren’t quite ready to join the competitive crowd on the “big” course.

How can I get my child started into Optimist racing?

Ideally your son/daughter has had at minimum of two weeks in a learn-to-sail program sailing solo in an Optimist Dinghy, Opti Trainer or Sabot. Did they have a great time? Do they seem excited to continue? Their instructor may be a good place to start as far as assessing the skill level achieved by your aspiring “Olympian” and if they are ready. But often, even they are not aware what a great experience a professionally managed GreenFleet event can offer new sailors.

It’s not uncommon to hear parents rave that their child learned more at a 2-4 day GreenFleet event than they did all summer in sail camp. Parents are invited to learn too!

And exactly what is this GreenFleet I’ve heard so much about?

GreenFleet is where beginner racing sailors “learn their manners”. We slow things down. It’s our job to answer ALL their questions and quell their anxieties as well as to fuel their desire to learn. This is all accomplished while playing and having FUN! Parents often learn as much as their kids and are encouraged to “listen in”. A good GreenFleet is best lead by an experienced racing coach who knows the Optimist, but more importantly knows and really cares about kids and how to bring top level skills down to their level. My philosophy is that I am teaching life-skills and that sailing is the medium, not really the object. I am known for making GreenFleet “FUN”, but I am a stickler for proper technique as well as stressing sportsmanship and the rules. It’s not uncommon to hear parents rave that their child learned more at a 2-4 day GreenFleet event than they did all summer in sail camp.

All that being said, GreenFleet sailors run the gamut from some who really don’t have the skills or desire to be there to some who can beat half the competitive fleet on occasion…. AND THAT’S ALL GOOD! I’ve never seen a GreenFleeter who wasn’t challenged or who felt like they didn’t belong.

Doesn’t my child need to “qualify” to go to the Optimist Nationals or one of the regional Championship events?

Nope! But they do need to sail a Class legal Optimist. No Prams or Opti-look-a-likes. Some Opti-clones are great trainers and many regattas are starting to allow them. They just are not appropriate for a Class Championship regatta. Optis will be available for charter if you don’t have one or can’t bring your own. Some families will fly to these events and the boat is waiting for them when they arrive!

There are regattas that a sailor must qualify for, but that is well past the realm of GreenFleet.

Technically they will need to be age fifteen or under as of December 31st of the current year and must be a member of USODA (join the United States Optimist Dinghy Association).

Should I be worried about this “measurement” process?

Nope! We will have a very instructive “safety measurement”, but boats will not be “officially” measured unless I suspect that a boat and/or parts may have “issues” or may not be a true Optimist. We will not allow a registered sailor to NOT participate in one fleet or the other, we always find a way!

How do I know if my daughter/son will be OK in the GreenFleet?

Sailors in GreenFleet come in all sizes, ages and abilities. A GreenFleeter at a USODA event is no different than a GreenFleeter at most club events. Ideally, they should be able to handle their boat in 10, maybe 15 knots of wind. If they can sail around a triangle course and have good control of their boat, have even a “basic” understanding of the racing rules and want to be there… they will have an awesome time. Even if they are a little shy in one area or another, if they have a good attitude and are willing to learn, they will have an incredible experience.

If they can sail around a triangle course and have good control of their boat, have even a “basic” understanding of the racing rules and want to be there… they will have an awesome time.

How do I know if my sailor should join the GreenFleet or the competitive fleet?

You will want to discuss this with your sailor and probably the sailor’s instructor or sailing director. (Note: Beware that even if your racer has a year or so under their belt, they may have the best experience, learn more and still be very challenged in GreenFleet. It’s a shame more kids don’t stay in GreenFleet longer. Usually it’s the parents and home-program coaches pushing them a little too hard, but mostly because they are not aware of what I offer at these events). The decision is ultimately up to the parents. Placing an unwilling, untrained sailor on the competitive course may be detrimental to their love of the sport. I’ve seen it happen time and again. In most instances, if you need to question which course they should be on, the answer is GreenFleet. The official policy of USODA allows sailors to drop from the competitive fleets (White, Blue and Red age level fleets) down to GreenFleet, (usually at a large or more competitive event or if they are recent to the competitive fleet – Nationals is a good example).

The main emphasis on the Red (ages 13-15), Blue (11-12) and White (up to age 10), age level fleets (referred to as the competitive or Championship fleet) is on competition. Serious competition at a big event IS fun for most of the sailors, but they’ve got to know the rules and should be very comfortable in handling an Opti in winds of fifteen knots or more (racing may continue in upwards of 25 knots!). Very few, if any, sailors at this level have been racing for less than a year. Most have a couple years racing and many five years or more. They will be competing against some of the very best sailors in the nation. Windward legs of a mile are not uncommon and the typical course is the Opti trapezoid. Their day on the water is often 8-9 hours! Judges will be on the water and some sailors may be knocked out of the race at the start. Some teams will have hired high level coaches. This is the best and most exciting competitive sailing for kids under sixteen in the country. Scoring is done according to age groups, but the nine year olds start with and sail against the fifteen year olds (and sometimes beat ‘em!).

Now if you register your child for the competitive level fleet racing and they find after a couple hours on the water that they are “in over their heads”, they can often “step down” to the GreenFleet course, which is great, but at the option of the PROs (Principle Race Officers). I’ve seen far too many kids sitting-out regattas after a teary and disappointing first day when they should have sailed over (with an escort) and joined GreenFleet. Once a sailor “steps down”, they must stay for the duration. Sailors cannot “move up” from GF to competitive course, that’s against the rules.

Sure, the GreenFleeters are competing too, but having FUN and learning is where we place the emphasis. Usually the the GreenFleet (GF) completes more races than the competitive fleet. We aren’t so fussy about having a perfect line. We cruise the line to avoid general recalls (but do call back OCS sailors). In GF we never use the ‘black flag’… where sailors can be disqualified from a race at the start (that’s a tough lesson and not FUN!). Our courses are much shorter so they get more starts, more mark roundings and more finishes (and chances to rest… and have water battles!)

I normally follow my son around in our jon boat to help him when he needs me. I should be there on the water for him, right?

Yes and no. It’s comforting for your young sailor to know you are out there if he/she needs you. It’s nice for them to be able to visit you between races, but leave the coaching to Tom and a few of the other specially trained coaches that will be helping on the water. Your presence on or close to the course may compromise the opportunity for your sailor to grow and gain some independence. Tears will flow less frequently in the immediate absence of the parents.

If you interfere with other competitors, even accidentally, you may disqualify your sailor. Join the other parents on the spectator boat and relax! When your daughter approaches make sure your greeting is not “well, how did you do? Make it “Wow, you did so well!” and “You look like you’re having so much FUN. I’m proud of you!” Ease up on the pressure, at this age kids already put too much pressure on themselves.

Parents learn that their kids are safe, well cared for and are learning a lot of good life-lessons…and the improvement race after race is phenomenal!

So the sailors can be coached while racing?

One of the biggest differences between the Competitive Fleet and GreenFleet is that the bottom half of the fleet can be actively coached. You’ll see me and other select coaches zipping in and among the competitors urging them to sit properly and pull their sails in, to “get their heads out of the boat” and watch for wind shifts. It’s amazing what can be taught under these conditions. We expect every sailor to learn new skills and get better during the regatta… and they always do.

Trying not to let my wake cause problems for the sailors, I’ll often catch the first boats around the marks calling an occasional foul or merely pointing a finger to help keep the sailors on their toes and let them know that the rules WILL be enforced. Mostly, the coaches and I will be found bringing up the rear, helping bail out a soggy Opti and cheer up a teary competitor. But most of the time, with an overall eye on the safety of every sailor, merely being there keeps things running smoothly and fairly. The kids quickly come to know they can count on us to keep things FUN, but that proper technique, focus, attitude and striving to do your best are expected. Parents learn that their kids are safe, well cared for and are learning a lot of good life lessons….and the improvement race after race is phenomenal!

My daughter has been winning all the races in our club in Missouri where she is in the Blue Fleet, but I don’t think she’s ready for the competitive fleet. Will she be challenged in GF?

One of the interesting things about the GF is the range of talent. Some of them are good enough to finish in the middle of the competitive fleet on occasion. Some may have previously won competitive fleet regattas. And that’s OK too! (USODA allows sailors to move back and forth, regatta to regatta). The great thing about that is they help bring up the level of the rest of the sailors. The less skillful sailors can learn a lot from watching them and trying to beat them. There will be some incredible sailors in the GreenFleet at a Championship regatta. And they ALL will learn!

For many of the sailors, this will be their very first regatta away from their home program. We ensure that it’s an experience they will want to repeat. Starting them off with not only the proper skills, but the proper attitude and expectations is extremely important. Our goal is that each sailor goes away with a thirst to do it again. We know that if we accomplish that …. We’ve done a good job”.

What goals do you set for the sailors in GF?

While no sailor is forced to participate, the timid ones are carefully led through steps to get them to join the group and into the FUN as soon as possible. As a group, our first assignment will be to make friends and meet all the other kids. Rarely is there a sailor who shies away for very long!

For many of the sailors, this will be their very first regatta away from their club. We ensure that it’s an experience they will want to repeat. Starting them off with not only the proper skills, but the proper attitude and expectations is extremely important. Our goal is that each sailor goes away with a thirst to do it again. We know that if we accomplish that …. We’ve done a good job”.

What’s this about free clinics each day?

Another great feature of OPTIGUYTOM GreenFleet events are the daily clinics on rigging, go fast techniques, rules, sail trim and shaping, safety, starting etc. all led by top level Opti trained coaches. Parents are welcome and say they learn as much, if not more than the kids! While the competitive fleet may be killing time on shore or bobbing around near the committee boat waiting for wind the GF is entertained on shore with clinics games and other fun activities. We won’t leave them to wander (but parents or guardians are expected to be nearby).

The GreenFleet is commonly kept together for land storage and usually launch after the competitive fleet. While some groups will keep their GreenFleeters with their other sailors, the best experience will come from staying with the GF group on shore. Safety and concerns that each and every sailor feels comfortable and welcome are the highest priorities for coaches for this young group. Opportunities are not only encouraged but directed, to allow the sailors to make new friends from the very start. That’s one of the ingredients to making sure they have a good time and want to come back!

How deep do they go with the trophies?

No trophies will be given. Each sailor in GreenFleet will receive a nice medallion for their efforts as competitor. The prizes these sailors take home will be the life lessons and friendships formed, hopefully treasured, long after tarnished trophies have been discarded or forgotten about.

GreenFleet Coach Tom OPTIGUYTOM Coleman can be reached at Tom@optistuff.com

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Tina permalink
    June 30, 2010

    As a former participant in greenfleet at Nationals I can say that it was the best, most educational, encouraging, and fun sailing event I ever attended!

  2. Bob Cormier permalink
    July 6, 2014

    I have built my opti for my grandchildren. I followed plans from CCBBS. Could this race in a green fleet race? If not, is there an alternative?
    Thanks

  3. July 7, 2014

    Hello Bob,

    The web administrator notified me of your question. Please email me at usoda@usoda.org or call 609-510-0798.

    Best,

    Genoa Fedyszyn
    USODA Executive Director

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS