August 10, 2018 3 min read

Transitioning from the Optimist to 420

Will Martin now sails a 420 with Jamie Cook and is one of our sponsored sailors. He shares details of his transition from the Optimist into the 420. Learn what to expect and what you'll need.

It’s blowing 15 knots, I’m at my first 420 event at the French nationals just rounding the windward mark. We’re plaining on the reach, I’m flat out on the wire and putting trust in that my helm has more control than I do right now and can steer us through the course. Focused on not losing control of the spinnaker and keeping the boat driving through the swell whilst trying not to get swung around the mast. We are rapidly approaching the gybe mark, desperately remembering the practised rituals, and wondering how I ended up here.

Crewing a 420 is a complete contrast to the light wind oppie events I have been attending over the year. Three months ago I was fully committed to sailing optimists, training weekly and competing every weekend but struggling as I slowly grew out of the class. I had already had to adapt moving on to fuller sails with stiffer spars and foils to attempt to survive in the light winds, always praying for wind. After a tough light year I decided to transition forward into the youth classes. I had tested multiple boats but the tactical side of the 420 appealed to me most. I had also seen older generations in the club succeed in the class and had heard about the variety of training provided.

The main difference I have found between the 420 and the oppie is the amount of boat prep required. Having high quality ropes and organised systems is vital if you want to be fast. Unlike an oppie the 420 has 3 different sails one of which will be hoisted throughout the race making it important to have high quality running rigging. We use sk99 dyneema rope for our halyards as it has extreme strength and low stretch. The boat is also a lot quicker, changing scenarios like starts can cause larger amounts of damage in collisions so mistakes are costly and as a result rope hygiene becomes extremely important; a knot in halyard could potentially not only cost you a race but an expensive gel coat repair as well.

Most existing sailing kit can be used in the boat although you will require a few things.

A harness. After testing and reading up on multiple options I picked the zhik t2 trapeze harness as it had less straps and was easy to adjust. However some may prefer to buy one with a quick release hook.

Having grippier gloves is also helpful especially as a crew. I found that the gloves I had worn whilst sailing the optimist didn’t provide much grip or protection against the sheets.

A wetsuit is also easier to move in rather than a baggy drysuit and is normally comfier with the harness on.

Some sailors carry a safety knife on the water, it's unlikely we would need to cut ourselves free from the rigging in a 420 but is an extra safety precaution it is wise to carry one.

Buying a new pair of boots or making sure that your boat is well gripped is also useful when on the wire.

Moving into a new boat does require a lot of initial practise but a lot of the skills and race tactics carry over especially in the 420. It is a large community of sailors from other classes however there are lots of past oppie sailors in the mix.

More to come from Will soon as he spends more time on the water with Jamie.


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