Dec 20, 2018

Open BICIn the early summer I had the opportunity to have coffee with a dear friend from my university years. Though we hadn’t seen each other in many years, the passage of time became irrelevant once our eyes locked and we both felt like we were in our 20’s. Along with a strong friendship, Lorna and I share a passion for sailing and have become parents. She told me of how she is getting her son Dawson into sailing and how much he loves sailing his Open Bic dinghy. Through conversation I learned that technology in youth sailing has evolved into boats that are faster with more of a thrill factor than what I had been accustomed to. My interest had been piqued.

As a proud father of a toddler I am anxious to introduce Liam to sailing and hope he falls in love with it like I and many generations of the Dunbar family. My sailing endeavours started in 1976 when my father and late Uncle Charlie built an 8ft pram in my uncle’s garage and plied the waters of the Dartmouth Yacht Club.

Open BIC 2In November I attended the annual Atlantic Sailing Conference in Halifax which provides participants with a wide and well-rounded selection of discussions and tutorials. Keynote speaker Kevin Sayre of Vineyard Haven Yacht Club gave a talk of how to keep the youth sailing numbers strong across the demographic board. The Open Bic dinghy and the Un-regatta philosophy was the core of his presentation.

The French designed Open Bic is for youth sailors that are transitioning from Opti’s. At first glance it resembles a mini Open 60 with LOA 9’ Beam 3’7. The Open Bic offers simplicity and high-performance sailing to pre-teens and is referred to as the “link between the Optimist Generation and the New Generation of sailing dinghies.”

Open BIC 3The open transom Bic is 100% self-draining and never accumulates water after capsizing and the boat is easily rigged in 2 minutes as there are no shackles or complicated rigging systems to deal with. The double-chine construction means that the boat is always sailing on a flat surface like the British designed Wayfarer or its Canadian cousin the CL 16. This, along with its super tough construction of Polyethylene, make it “kid proof” and the boat has become extremely popular in 15 countries encompassing Europe, North America and Oceania.

“The Open BIC is a fantastic boat for young sailors to experience the joy of sailing. It is fast, exciting and fun to sail yet simple to rig and maintain. Many of the skills learnt in the Bic will be easily transferred to other boats as sailors evolve and progress onto other forms of sailing.” states Sir Russel Coutts

Open BIC 4Though there are internationally recognized regattas, the fun factor of the Open Bic is greatly credited for attracting new youngsters to sailing as well as retaining established sailors in the crucial pre-teen demographic with the new concept of UN-regattas.

In our current system of learning to sail many youngsters quit sailing because after learning the basics the next step of racing does not interest them. I know from my own experience that if one doesn’t race, the social aspect of a yacht club is greatly diminished.

Open BIC 5The goal of the UN-regatta is a fun alternative to sailors, not attracted to racing, with a focus on fun rather than results. The prime directive of the UN-regatta is “All sailors are required to participate in the spirit of fun at all times. Violators will be publicly embarrassed.” All sailing rules apply such as: Port/Starboard, Windward/Leeward but there are many unconventional rules called freestyle, such as gymnastics, buzzing the dock ala Top Gun, and whatever else you can imagine including best costume. Starts can be anything from the capsize position to a running start from the beach. Races are short, close to shore for better audience participation, can be many reaching legs opposed to windward-leeward or even a slalom course like downhill skiing.

While we witness new technology and innovations on the big boats develop it’s refreshing to see that dinghies are not being left in the wake. But as they say, “The big boats get the glory, but the small boats make the sailor.”

Thanks for the coffee Lorna.

Rob Dunbar
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5 photos credited to Lorna Bennett

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