Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Optimist Class Sailboats

Photos by Muffy Aldrich

Optimist Class sailboats, known more affectionately as "Optis," are small starter boats for children and teens learning to sail.  They allow new sailors to develop many of the skills needed to handle larger boats in more competitive settings, including how to bail. 

The Optimist was designed in 1947 by Boatbuilder Clark Mills as a low cost option for young people. It was the answer to the challenge issue by Maj. Clifford Anderson McKay, Sr., speaking at Florida's Clearwater Optimist Club:

"I believe we can adapt the structure of the Soap Box Derby to create a plan for a boy-sized sailboat,” he told the Optimists. “We’re short on hills here, but long on water. The boat should be safe for youngsters, stable in the water, with lightweight booms that wouldn’t harm a small noggin." (

Mills would say of his design, "Ugliest boat I ever made. Looks like a floating hog trough. I called it the Optimist pram, and the name stuck."

Today, millions of boys and girls have learned the skills and joys of sailing [on] this little boat." (

Optis can easily be put on top of cars for transport, and boats can be readied in less than an hour.   

While collective nouns for sail boats include fleet and flotilla, for Optis I would suggest flock or waddling for the children's and brood for the teens'.




  1. What wonderful photos! Brings back such great memories! Thank you so very much!⛵

  2. Growing up, there was a "rental" fleet of Optimist dinghies at a waterfront park in Stockholm where I first got my feet wet. Realizing this is it, my dad and I built an Opti in our basement and I enjoyed my own "yacht" for many years. That intro led to years of cruising in the Baltic, three weeks on a sail training ship, several years as a sailing instructor, racing Cowes week in England and eventually, coming to the US as a professional, racing the ill fated 1972 Newport-Bermuda race through hurricane 'Agnes'... all because of that first Optimist dinghy...

  3. Opti Worlds / Bodrum Turkey in June

  4. Such wonderful memories--can't wait until my little one is old enough to start sailing Optis!

  5. Cottage Point Sailing Club in Winthrop, Mass. uses these. The kids sing together while they sail formations - it's Disney-level adorable.

  6. You see dozens of these little boats in the cove at Chesil Beach outside Weymouth, Dorset from May through October. I had no idea they had a particular name.

  7. My very own first sailboat was a wood Optimist pram in 1959. A fleet was ordered all at the same time that summer for a number of junior sailors at the Wianno Yacht Club in Osterville on Cape Cod. We drew lots for the boats when they were delivered. Mine leaked like a sieve. I named it 'The Tea Bag'. But the water was warm and shallow and we loved them. Nothing like being your own skipper and crew.


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