The Optimist was designed in 1947 by Clark Mills in America. The design was slightly modified and introduced to Europe and then spread outwards across Europe from Scandinavia. The first boats were built in New Zealand in 1975 at Charteris Bay. The design was standardized in 1960 and became a strict one-design in 1995.
The Optimist is essentially designed to be a contoured box made of plywood or glass-reinforced plastic. It has good handling characteristics despite its squared-off appearance. Mills built the first boat on a commission from the local Optimist Club as a boat which a young person could build themselves. Mills claimed that it was the largest possible usable sailboat that could be built from two 4ftx8ft sheets of plywood.
The distinctive single sail of the Optimist is sprit-rigged. Two battens stiffen the leech.It is secured evenly with ties along the luff to the mast and along the foot to the boom, pulled down tightly by a vang. The sprit, extends through a loop at the peak of the sail; the bottom rests in the eye of a short cable which hangs along the front edge of the mast. Raising and lowering the sprit and adjusting the boom vang allow for adaptation of sail trim to a range of wind conditions. As well as this, huge adjustments can be made to sail shape, due to all of the ties running along the mast and boom.
Optimists also have a national sail number using the Olympic abbreviation of their country and a sequential number. Eg NZL 4288
Just in front of a bulkhead, which partitions the boat nearly in half, is the centreboard case. Right behind it on the centerline of the hull floor are attached a pulley and ratchet block. These anchor the mainsheet and its pulley on the boom directly above. At the bow resides a thwart to support the mast which passes through a hole in its center.
Buoyancy bags are installed inboard along each side in the front half of the boat and at the stern to add buoyancy in the event of capsizing. Two straps run lengthwise along the floor from bulkhead to stern. These and a tiller extension allow a sailor to hang off the side for weight distribution - commonly called "hiking out". This can be crucial to maintaining the boat in near horizontal disposition during heavy air.
The vast majority of hulls today are made of fibreglass, although it is still possible to make and buy wooden hulls.
The Optimist is the biggest and most competitive youth racing class in the world. As well as the annual world championship the class also has six continental championships, attended by a total of over 700 sailors a year. Many thousands more take part in international and national regattas.
Optimists provide real international competition because they are manufactured to the same specification by dozens of builders.
New Zealand suppliers: new boats
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