In time I hope this web page is filled with good advice from many different sources, but for now I will attempt to hit the points that confused my wife and I so badly when started down the road as new Sabot parents. It honestly took two years to really feel that I had a handle on the information I needed to know to properly support my sons' sailing. During our learning phase (which is still continuing by the way) other parents have been kind enough to guide us and support us so that we might in turn give our children the support they needed. The parents who helped us have assured me that other parents before them in turn helped them. So be advised, your turn will come! This legacy is one of the strengths of the Sabot community. Enjoy it, take full advantage of it, make friends, and help when you are able.
Be aware that opinions abound in the Sabot world about just about everything. Take heart in the fact that if you get the basics right (basic boat set up for example) that the rest of the discussions are fine points you will not need to pay attention to for quite a while. I have divided the discussion below into the major topics as I see them.
I need to state here that what is written here is just my opinion. If you differ, please submit your own piece and it will be posted. More opinions can only enrich the knowledge available to new parents.
Why should your Child Spend Time Sailing?
Junior sailing is time consuming and, as your sailor gets better, requires a moderate amount of money to support. So why devote the time to sailing instead of hockey or piano lessons? My answer is that sailing provides a wealth of experiences, positive friendships over a wide age range, and a close and cooperative relationship with nature.
Sailing builds maturity and self-confidence. When a child learns to move a Sabot in the direction they intend (no small accomplishment actually), they accomplished it on their own. They are alone in the boat making decisions that directly affect the success or failure of their efforts. This is unusual for children in our society currently and, I would argue, the real foundation for self-confidence. They engage in these efforts in a supportive, physically beautiful, and safe environment. They make lifelong friends and learn to love an activity that will provide them challenges for as long as they live. It is not a sport where you play for an hour and go home. It is far more encompassing an activity than that. A sailor interacts with individuals from their home club and other clubs for the day, or the weekend, or the summer, or the year, or over a range of many years. At the advanced levels of sailing these friendships become national and then international. Sailing can become much more that a sport, it often becomes a challenging and wholesome lifestyle.
It is the nature of sailing that the greatest success occurs when the sailor is working most harmoniously with nature not 'dominating' it. There is a good lesson to be learned by that experience.
And finally it is a venue of racing that puts girls and boys on a level playing field with equal chances of success and thereby creating an environment of mutual respect.
What are my Responsibilities as a Sabot Parent?
As a member of the Sabot Community there are some expectations and obligations that come with the territory. Sabot sailors have gone on in disproportionately large numbers to great national and international success, in part, because of the strength and supportive environment surrounding Sabot sailing. Sabot sailing typically is not, and should not be, an environment where it is all about 'my kid'. Parents need to be supportive of the other kids from their club and of the kids sailing for other clubs also. If a child forgets a leeboard handle and another parent has a spare, they will typically lend it to the child no matter what club they might be from. Parents will get to know the other well and become friends as they spend a good deal of time together as their child(ren) continue through their years of junior sailing. The parents sitting next to each other today watching the Sabots go around will be sitting next to each other in a few years at a Laser or 420 event. It is generally a really friendly and mutually supportive group of individuals (kids and parents). We cheer for someone else's child who has been struggling and is starting to show success, and drop a kind work to the child (and parent) who had a day that was not quite so successful.
The second obligation to assume as a Sabot parent involves supporting the logistical and organizational systems that allow all of this fun racing to take place. These efforts can be as simple as helping to serve lunches at a regatta, towing boats to a regatta (this always makes a parent popular), helping organize the local or regional events, or becoming a part of one of the organizations that organize sailing. For Sabots that organization in the International Naples Sabot Association and there is a need for board members, measurers, volunteers for Nationals organization, etc. Sabot sailing is a rich activity that happens because those in the sailing community support it.
Your Attitude is Critical to your Child's Experience
Of all of the points covered here this is by far the most important component of your child's experience. You need to be clear about what you want for your child as they participate in sailing. If your child's inclination and your goals are not aligned then they will most likely drop out of sailing.
There are a multitude of reasons that children sail. A very few young sailors are driven to win, most sail because it is fun to compete with your friends and doing well is great when it happens, and some really do not care how well they sail but really enjoy the friendships and the sun and fun. If your child is of the third type and you want wins, then the sailing experience will be frustrating for both of you. Be honest and clear about what you want from your child's sailing. As a competitive father I have had to struggle with this issue. I have had to learn that sailing is their experience, part of their life and I am there to facilitate that experience. Their wins are their wins, not mine. Their lower finishes are theirs to accept or change as they choose. I have come close to driving one of my son's out of sailing by inflicting my expectations on him. He loves to sail, loves hanging with his sailing friends, and will probably be involved in boats and sailing for the rest of his life. It would have been a shame for me to ruin that for him. He has been successful in sailing.
Now for the tough part. Watching your child race. Your child will be brilliant one day and terrible the next two. You will see them make America's Cup style moves one day and the following weekend they will spend more time going backwards than forwards. They will be on their top form for a couple of months and then get worse for months on end. DO NOT DESPAIR. They are kids and that is what kids do. It is enough to drive a parent batty.
Please remember that the real goal is to develop children that love sailing, the water, boats, their sailing friends, and the environment that surrounds sailing. Today's disaster might be the seed for tomorrow's success (though honestly is also may just remain today's disaster). DO NOT DESPAIR. What you child is doing today does not indicate what they will be doing next year or three years hence. I can name many young sailors who did not particularly stand out in Sabots who are now World Class Sailors. Sabots provide a very rich foundation for future sailing endeavors.
In the beginning just about anything that looks like a Sabot, has a mast, rudder, leeboard, and a sail will do. There are really only two things that must be right on a Sabot to make it sail correctly. The mast must be angled back in the boat properly and the leeboard must be parallel to the keel. There is a link to articles on how to adjust the mast angle (rake) on this website (see also the Ullman and North Sails tuning pages). This website also contains some instructions on how to check your Sabot's leeboard alignment. Trying to sail a Sabot with bad mast rake or a leeboard out of alignment is like trying to drive a Porsche with one wheel missing. You might be able to move it but it will not be fun or rewarding.
If you look at the boats sailed in the 'A' fleet you will see that they are a maze of small lines and blocks. Ignore the temptation to try to duplicate them for your beginning sailor. Your boat needs to be rigged with a main sheet (to pull the sail in and out), a vang (to pull the boom down when going down wind), a downhaul (to pull the bottom of the sail down toward the boom), and an outhaul (to pull the sail out on the boom). These do not need to be fancy. Simple is better. In fact in the very early learning stages it may be best to adjust all but the mainsheet before your child goes out so all they have to do is work the main sheet.
Until you child gains experience ignore the finer points you hear about. Ignore discussions of boat weight, sail makers, JC straps etc. Just let you child get into the boat and have fun. Fun is the key point here. As your child progresses you will get more advice than you want about how to make the boat more sophisticated. Listen to someone who has been around Sabots for a long time and follow their advice. Here I have to thank Hugh Vanderspeck and Ken Wild for their patience in mentoring me.
I cannot begin to explain the racing rules or the techniques that are required to race successfully here (in part because I am not qualified to do so). I highly recommend Sailing for Dummies written by local success stories JJ and Peter Isler. It takes you from the most basic terms to the advanced strategies. It is well done and worth the price. For a good discussion of basic sail theory and racing mechanics I suggest you use the link on this page called "A Guide to Racing Basics". It is an excellent discussion and will solve the problem of what to read at bedtime for a few days.
The Sabot sailor moves up through a series of fleets as they improve and win races. Sailors advance to the next fleet level when they win two one-day regattas or win one two-day regatta. Parents may promote their sailors up to the next class (please talk to your Club's Junior Director about this move) if they choose, but once a jump up to the next class is made that sailor may never go back down to the lower class. There are a few regattas where the level designations do not apply and these will be noted below.
The most basic level is the C3. At this level you can expect to watch kids play bumper boats, yell 'starboard' while having little knowledge about its meaning, get into irons and sail backward, and generally blunder their way around the course. This is all well and good. Sailing is a complex activity and lots mistakes have to be made to learn how to do it well. Usually the C3 fleet is sailed separately from the other fleets in a more placid area. While coaching is allowed between races in all fleets, coaching is allowed for the C3 sailors at the back of the fleet while they are racing. Other fleets may not have any coaching (from coaches or parents) while racing.
This is the next level up from C3. These guys can generally get the boat around the course but may not be able to do it fast and/or do not know all of the rules involved.
These sailors have learned how to race and have a basic understanding of all of the most important rules. They are learning to look for wind shifts, how to position themselves on the course, how to make a competitive start etc. These sailors are competent racers.
These sailors are fine-tuning their skills. They have the big picture strategically and tactically, they move the boat well, and they are solid on the rules and how to apply them to advantage.
This is the most challenging fleet to sail in. All of the sailors are good. It is the small skill differences that make the winners here. A better roll tack, a shift seen more quickly, and a start that was aggressive but not over early can make the difference here. These sailors are the best young Sabot sailors and, perhaps in the future, some of the nation's and the world's best.
My children have sailed primarily in the San Diego area so the following reflects the racing scene there. I do not know what regattas are the most suitable for the Newport/Long Beach area. Someone please help me with this so that I can include that information in this article.
Luff-In - All the San Diego Area Yacht Clubs
A Luff-In is a low-key event sponsored by an individual yacht club. All fleets are welcome. A Luff-In is the best place to have your child race for the first few times outside of their club races. The atmosphere is not highly competitive, there are small fleets, and there are usually plenty of coaches.
All Girls' Jam
Good fun for all fleets and levels. Boys need not apply. This is a supportive first regatta for C3 girls with none of those pushy guys on the water with you.
Gold Cup - Alamitos Bay Yacht Club (ABYC)
This is a more competitive event than the Luff-In. All the fleets sail but they always run a separate C3 fleet in a less windy area. They have always done a wonderful job if looking out for the C3 sailors and making sure that they have shorter times on the water and are not sailing in overpowering conditions. This is a good first big regatta.
This is a more competitive regatta than Luff-Ins and appropriate for C3 sailors and above who have demonstrated their ability to sail around a racecourse at their local clubs. This is also a good first big regatta.
Dutch Shoe Marathon - San Diego Yacht Club (SDYC)
This is a LONG race. It starts at SDYC and ends up in Coronado. The sail is about 2.5 to 4.0 hours in length and takes place in the open waters of San Diego Bay. C3 sailors who feel comfortable in their boats, and have good basic skills can complete (and do well as they start first) in this race. Be warned, there are usually well more than 150 boats sailing this event so it can be intimidating.
Sabot II (South and North) - Various Clubs
This event is for Sabot Sailors 12 years and under of all fleets. There is no separation of fleets in this event and the top ten sailors from each event meet in the Sabot II championships. As with the Dutch Shoe, a C3 with good boat skills would be welcome but this is not a good first event for a C3 sailor.
Sabot Nationals - Location varies by year
This is the most competitive event of the year. Each Year about 60 of the approximately 180 sailors who try to make the actual three days of Nationals racing events are eliminated but they are then invited to sail in the Cove Cup (three days of one day regattas oriented toward pure fun). New C3 sailors should not attempt to compete in this event, though C3 sailors who have competed successfully in prior events might choose to.
Sweet Team Races - Various Clubs
Team Racing is an entirely different type of racing where the members of a team (usually 3 boats) work the rules and the other team to gain points. The teams are created by the Yacht Club Junior Director and are usually not made up of new C3 sailors because of the complexity of the racing.
Those are the points that currently come to mind. I am sure I will need to add more. Please remember that kids sail because their friends sail and because it is fun. Keep the fun in their sailing and they will still be sailing at 80.
Good Luck and thanks,
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