September 2016, I sat down with my boss and we discussed our desire to build a programme beyond the scope of the Optimist. We recognised that whilst Finland had an excellent history of building and executing comprehensive Optimist programmes, there was little in the way of training opportunities for those sailing ISAF Youth World Classes.
Our mission was/is to create a competitive youth programme that provides Finnish youth sailors with the very best opportunity to learn, grow and reach their potential. We focused in on the 29er as the most suitable class to build such a vision. The following five points made it clear that the 29er was the right class to pursue.
First, the 29er is 1 of 5 ISAF/WS Youth Classes.
From the age of 15, ideally no later than 16, sailors need to set foot and race an ISAF/WS Youth Class. Sailing an ISAF Youth World Class exposes sailors to the highest possible level of youth sailing in the world. Other classes simply don't share the same level of competition. The ISAF Youth Worlds has always been regarded the Olympics of youth sailing, and sailors naturally focused on performance all share the passion to attend and ultimately win. In essence, Youth sailing is a race against time. You have a limited number of years to grow, develop and learn to win, prior to being thrown into the deep end of Olympic sailing.
Second, as a skiff, the 29er's high performance nature is fun, fast and exciting.
The 29er is a fun double-handed class that exhibits speed and performance. Naturally, double handed classes include an important social element that can be the determining factor in deciding if sailors will continue or not (post 15 years). The skiff consists of single-man trapeze with three sailors (main, jib, gennaker). Important settings include the vang, cunningham, jib luff tension, bridal height, rig tension, batten tension, sail trim and trapeze height.
Third, the class can be argued as the most competitive double-handed youth class in the world.
In 2017, the 29er European & World Championships attracted over 150 and 129 team respectively, compared with the 420 European & World Championships that attracted 77 and 109 teams respectively. The Nacra 15, still in the process of developing and finding it's place in Youth Sailing, attracted 27 teams at a regatta this summer in Garda.
Large fleets breed competition. Getting to, and staying at the front of the fleet is both challenging and demanding. Sailing with such competition allows youth sailors to fast-track development of tactical and strategic skills, whilst amplifying the importance of refined boat handling and technical skills. Through this, youth sailors are provided with the platform to enter the Olympic classes (49er, 49FX, Narca 17, 470) with a firm foundation to build on.
Fourth, the class has an attractive second-hand market with affordable boats and equipment
As sailors progress from the Optimist, through the Youth Classes, onto the Olympic classes, sailing becomes more expensive. If you're lucky enough to belong to country where a national body or sailing federation picks up a lot of that cost - consider yourself lucky. For many nations its a lonely and expensive journey.
One of the big deterring factors for sailors (parents) when they leave Optimist is the considerable investment in buying a new boat (29er approx.€11,000 new). An attractive secondhand market solves much of this problem, particular when starting out. Competitive second-hand boats can range from (€4000-€7000), reducing the barrier to entry for many young sailors.
Fifth, the 2018 29er European Championships will be held in Helsinki (6-12 August)
Having a European Championships in your backyard is an invaluable opportunity to expose young Finnish sailors to the demands of racing at a high level. Sailors can have comprehensive domestic programme with the peak-event on home waters, this promises the prospect to enhancing performance and learning capabilities.
When considering the above five points, it was hard to ignore the class that I myself had enjoyed as a youth sailor. Add to this my cousins experience - finishing 11th, 7th and 5th in the past three 29er World Championships. Both successful sailors in their own right, William has now transitioned to the 49er class, and younger brother Scott has one year of youth remaining. As a Performance Pathway the 29er class has provided them with the opportunity to reach the top of international youth sailing.