By Kathy Taylor
Some breezy Saturday you might have noticed a fleet of tiny sailboats bobbing in the choppy waters of Bahia Chahue, tacking back and forth across the bay, and wondered, rightly so, just who would go out there in such a tiny vessel. Well, the answer is the young sailing students of the Huatulco Sailing School! They are sailing Optimists, a one design boat whose original criterion was that it could be built out of a single sheet of plywood. Daring? Absolutely! But then, according to the IODA (International Optimist Dinghy Association), over 150,000 kids between the ages of 8 and 15 in over 100 countries are sailing these little boats at any given time. An astonishing 85% of the skippers of the medal-winning boats in the 2008 Qingdao, China Olympics were former Optimist sailors.
The Optimist, developed in 1947, is a seven-foot, six-inch, flat bottomed, pram-bowed, 77- pound dinghy which originally cost $50 to build and rig. Today’s prices are about $1,000.00 new, with gently used boats going for about $700.00. Kids sailing Optis get wet – righting an Optimist is one of the first lessons taught, and one of the mandatory pieces of equipment is a bailer, as well as a life jacket.
Mexico boasts 12 OptiMex member states with junior sailing programs, all driven by the support of the Mexican Sailing Federation (Federación Mexicana de Vela), and its dynamic President, Ralph Nelles.
In the winter of 2002/2003, Huatulco resident Laura Portillo del Signo, harkening to the sailing culture of her coastal Spain upbringing, wanted her children to learn to sail. The use of a small keel boat was offered, and a group of kids would pile on and tack around the bay with the owner/instructor. Obviously, a more formal situation was required. Laura went from interested mother to founder of the Huatulco Sailing School under the auspices of the Mexican Sailing Federation. Some parents purchased Optimists, and a few families bought Lasers for their older kids, but the school had difficulty growing. When Oaxaca was chosen as one of 8 host states for the 2007 National Junior Olympics, with Huatulco chosen as the sailing venue, the infrastructure for the national competition was in place –hotels, marina, sailing course – but host boats were few and far between.
FMV President Ralph Nelles came to the rescue, and in the fleet today are 3 special Optis bearing the names Ralph, and Nelles, obviously named after the school’s Patron, and Junior, for Ralph’s son, who physically delivered the boats to Huatulco. Over 150 young sailors converged on Huatulco for the competition which included Optimists, Lasers and Windsurfing. (Read my 2007 story about this event from a Nayarit perspective at http://www.banderasnews.com/0705/nbmexjrolympics.htm).
Early parent supporters and present day sailing school directors are Miguel Angel Lescale and Barbara Oettler, working as Coach and Delegate, as well as Coach Ysidro Hernandez Prudente, a former Club Med sailing instructor, who also holds FMV certification. Competition is one of the mandates of membership in OptiMex, th and most recently, Kevin Lescale Esmenjaud, placed 20 overall in the Laser competition at the WesMex National Regatta in th th Nayarit. From May 11 – 15 , the team from Huatulco will be competing in the 2012 National Junior Olympics in Nayarit. For results for all sports, including the Huatulco sailors, go to: http://www.conade.gob.mx If you wish to support the Huatulco Sailing School (scholarships, equipment), please contact Barbara Oettler firstname.lastname@example.org.