Wooden Optimist Sailing Dinghy

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Project by johnstoneb posted 03-18-2019 02:45 PM 1440 views 2 times favorited 18 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Last spring my daughter, SIL and friends formed the Coeur d’Alene Youth Sailing Association (non profit to teach kids to sail on Lake Coeur d’Alene). They encourage the parents to provide an Optimist but the only requirement it a life jacket and a parent or responsible adult be present when sailing. They had for the summer 5 Opti’s and 2 Lasers for the kids (3 Optis from parents Dan found 2 used in the Seattle area and he had 2 Lasers They had 8 6 to 8 yr olds and a couple of teens that used the Lasers. They had fun over the summer sailing Weds and Saturday.

A little history on the Optimist is necessary here. In 1947 the Optimist club in Clearwater, FL felt they needed some activity to keep the kids in town off the streets and thought sailing might be a good activity. They had no affordable boats. They went to a local boat builder named Clark Mills and asked him to design a small sailboat that could be made for under $50. He designed a pram that could be built with 1/4” plywood. The boat worked well and a lot af kid’s parents built the boat and kids sailed it. In 1958 a Danish tall ship Captain visiting the US saw the pram and asked permission to take one back to Denmark with him. He made some modification in the rig and renamed it the International Optimist Dinghy (IOD). It spread around the world from there. The IODA governs racing for 5 to 15 yr old internationally.

I received from my SIL a subtle hint in the form of a link to plans for an Optimist. In researching things I found the Cleveland Area Boat Builders and Boaters Society had the plan for much sell than the original link. I ordered a set of plans from them and started building the boat in October
I built the boat from 1/4” exterior plywood and eastern red cedar. I used the eastern red cedar because I had stack of it in my garage.
The strongback (the frame that keeps the boat straight and square was from 2×4’s and 2×6’s from Lowe’s (picked their stacks over for straight ones) and got enough to build a strongback. For the mast I found 2 knot free and straight 2×4’s glued them up cut them down to a 17/8” hex and went to work with a spokeshave, 80 grit sandpaper and a small board with a 13/4’ hole in it for a template made a round mast.
The exterior was skinned with 6oz cloth and fiberglass resin (mainly for abrasion resistance on the bottom), then primed and painted with Interlux 2 part epoxy. I had used fiberglass before in atching my drft boat but this was my first big project I got a real education in it and the 2 part paint. It is abut a 20 ft paint job. It looks pretty good from about 20 ft away. The interior was finished with spar urethane that came out very nice. I enterd it in the local Artistry in Wood show this weekend and picked up a blue ribbon on it. I was pretty happy with that. It meant I did a good job in hiding my mistakes.

I will take this to Coeur d’Alene next month and launch it and find out if it will sail. I know it will float but not sure about the sailing. My grandson will be able to get out of the plastic boats and into this and it gives the CYSA another boat for kids that don’t have one.

I may end up taking the strongback to Cda this summer and helping build a boat up there. The boat is fairly simple and can be built in about 40 hrs with a little help.

I got an education in fiberglass

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

18 comments so far

View stefang's profile


17040 posts in 4344 days

#1 posted 03-18-2019 02:57 PM

Looks like a fun build and the kids will surely love it.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View WayneC's profile


14359 posts in 5108 days

#2 posted 03-18-2019 03:02 PM

These are wonderful. I wish there was a program like this where I grew up.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Dutchy's profile


4006 posts in 3179 days

#3 posted 03-18-2019 03:16 PM

Nice to see you made this “great” boat. The optimist is well know and used a lot here in my neighberhoud. This is the Dutch Optimist site.


View luv2learn's profile


3109 posts in 3313 days

#4 posted 03-18-2019 03:17 PM

Wow Bruce what an exciting and worthy venture and best of all your SIL is in my neck of the woods helping our local kids. Perhaps we can connect when you come up. You did a great job building that dinghy. What do you estimate the material cost to be?

-- Lee - Northern idaho~"If the women don't find you handsome, at least they ought to find you handy"~ Red Green

View PaulDoug's profile


2481 posts in 2714 days

#5 posted 03-18-2019 03:35 PM

Congratulations on a great build. You are way ahead of me. I started one called “The Mini Cup”, that was in an old Popular Mechanic magazine. I started it 10 years ago, the hull is done except for the final paint and the centerboard and rudder assembly is done. All I need is to build the mast and sails… And there it sits…

I did build a skin over frame kayak, could not use it because of a bad back, so I sold it to a guy last summer from Coeur d’Alene. I live close to the Tri-Cities in WA. He sent me pictures of him paddling it on Lake Coeur d’Alene.

-- “We all die. The goal isn't to live forever; the goal is to create something that will.” - Chuck Palahniuk

View ralbuck's profile


6684 posts in 3277 days

#6 posted 03-18-2019 06:47 PM

Looks great!

-- Wood rescue is good for the environment and me! just rjR

View fivecodys's profile


1723 posts in 2646 days

#7 posted 03-18-2019 10:47 PM

Wow! That came out really nice.
What a good grandpa you are! He is gonna love it!

-- A bad day woodworking is still better than a good day working.

View BlueRidgeDog's profile


787 posts in 789 days

#8 posted 03-19-2019 12:13 AM

Love it. Is there no keel?

View johnstoneb's profile


3167 posts in 3183 days

#9 posted 03-19-2019 12:25 AM

No keel uses a centerboard

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Bill Berklich's profile

Bill Berklich

1176 posts in 1399 days

#10 posted 03-19-2019 11:49 AM

What a great project. Thanks for posting it.

-- Bill - Rochester MI

View JimYoung's profile


400 posts in 2597 days

#11 posted 03-19-2019 12:55 PM

Nice job, and your grandson will have a unique boat to sail.

-- -Jim, "Nothing says poor craftsmanship more than wrinkles in your duck tape"

View Lazyman's profile


6647 posts in 2398 days

#12 posted 03-19-2019 01:36 PM

Very fun build. Building it with the kids would be a great way to get them even more excited about sailing.

-- Nathan, TX -- Hire the lazy man. He may not do as much work but that's because he will find a better way.

View REL's profile


87 posts in 4667 days

#13 posted 03-28-2019 12:15 AM

First of all, Beautiful!!!!!! Great job.. Pretty sure, I saw a sleeve for a center board. Great for the kids. I too it turns out to be an easy sailer. Where do you get the sail?

What makes this so interesting to me, my wife is from Eastern Washington. I spent sometime on Coeur d’Alene lake. Even played a little golf on the resorts course.

I also was a sailor; had an O’Day Mariner. My sailing experiences were on the East Coast waterways, Cape Cod,Hudson River (West Point down to NYC), and the Jersey Shore.

-- REL, North Jersey

View johnstoneb's profile


3167 posts in 3183 days

#14 posted 03-28-2019 02:38 AM

The sail came from Intensity Sails.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View REL's profile


87 posts in 4667 days

#15 posted 03-31-2019 10:46 PM

Thanks Bruce.

-- REL, North Jersey

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