Opti Stories

This page is dedicated to the old-wooden Optimist Prams. As I find picture I will add them here.

Searching on Flickr I found a beautiful picture of Steve F. sailing a wooden Optimist back in the 1960s.
Steve in Optimist Pram  #49 Clearwater Transit

"I raced as a kid in the late 60s out of the Dunedin Yacht Club by the marina.  You can imagine the memories a 9-year old-would have alone in his own boat, sailing with the porpoises. 

We raced under the supervision of Cy Neilsen from Neilsen Construction and his assistant. Won several ribbons. Still have the original mimeos of the instructions we were given somewhere. 

I recall being very happy to get one of the new fiberglass ones, which we had to carry down to the ramp (mine was red). Some prams were better equipped than others, and we "owned" certain ones. Some 50% of the fleet were the older original wooden ones, which none of us wanted. Now they're in museums... 

There are efforts to resurrect the program. The prams are all still in storage. I met with the yacht club last year when they were forming a plan, but did not have the time to volunteer." 

-- Steve F.   Nov. 10, 2011  Flickr link

Manatee River Boat Club:

Experienced instructors taught
children about sail trim
Photo: Manatee County Library historical archives
Optimist Prams sailing out of 'the cut' that separates the
Manatee River and Terra Ceia Bay

Photo: Manatee County Library historical archives

In 1938, the Manatee River Boat Club (MRBC) was organized on the Ninth Street steps at the Bradenton pier. The MRBC formed the Manatee River Pram Fleet for the youth of Manatee County in the late 1940’s. A small shed was set aside to house the prams and have a place for a teaching program that would show local children the fundamentals of sailing.

Plans were obtained through the Clearwater Optimist Club at $2.50 a piece and Harold “Pappy” Stoehrer, who became regatta chairman, built three boats to start the organization.

Several local merchants sponsored the cost of the prams, $65.00 unfinished, which included an insurance cost of $15.00. Pappy required the children to be responsible for finishing the boats. 

The boys sanded and painted the wood while the girls made the sails. The sponsor’s name was painted on the side of the prams in large print. 

Link to full article in The Bradenton Times -May 21, 2010


Clifford McKay Jr.
McKay Jr. in Optimist #1 on launch day

Clifford McKay Jr. is the son of the man who proposed the idea of an inexpensively built boat to Clark Mills. Clifford McKay Jr. was the first young boy to sail the Optimist Pram pictured here. The article from the St. Petersburg Times is dated June 29, 1948. McKay proved to be a very good sailor in his WTAN radio-sponsored Pram.


June 3, 1967: Optimist Pram Built by Melvin Thume
Pictured: Melvin and son Wayne
"My father was working at a boatyard in Oxford at the time, and we were living as caretakers of a large estate near the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. We sailed it in a large creek which was protected from the rougher waters of the bay and perfect for a small boat like this.

It was very exciting as a kid to bounce along the waves, and the Chesapeake Bay is one of the most beautiful sailing spots in the world. I have many fond memories of sailing with my father.

I remember I was so excited last year when my wife and I were at Mystic Connecticut, and there were about 20 of them out in the harbor filled with kids racing. What memories that brings back."

--Wayne Thume   Nov., 2011

Link to Wayne's Flickr page


Ribbon Regatta - Clearwater, Fla.

Normally it was a big mistake to touch one of the buoys for any reason. But the ‘ribbon regatta’ was completely different.

The race committee would attach (I think they used light thread) a bunch of ribbons to each of the buoys. Each buoy had it’s own color of ribbon. The skippers were told to go to each buoy, in any order, and retrieve a ribbon. Once in possession of all of the different colored ribbons, the skipper could head for the finish line.

Imagine the chaos at the starting line…some skippers electing to beat to windward as is usual in a race, but others deciding to go downwind first. This of course meant that head-on collisions at the start could be a problem. Next came rounding the buoys, getting close enough to grab a ribbon, but somehow avoiding other prams and the anchor line of the buoy. Participating in a ribbon regatta on Clearwater Bay was a fun, noisy, crazy experience that I will never forget. 

Susan with other skippers - Clearwater circa 1965 - L to R: Eric Scheidenhelm, Pat Flaherty,
Robbie Orton, Mark Lapham, unknown, Teddy Wilcox, Susan Pulling, David Orton, Greg Gregory 
 --Susan Pulling Robinson is one of the founders of the present-day Dunedin Youth Sailing Association

Excerpt from her webpage - History of the Clearwater Pram Fleet

Where is Zambia?

Our phone was always ringing at the strangest hours. That’s because my dad, Bob Pulling, was President of the Optimist Class Pram International Racing Association. It was his responsibility to mail out $5 copies of the plans for building a pram. By the mid 1960’s, demand for pram plans was at a feverish pace.

I’ll never forget one midnight call from a man in Zambia, Africa. I think it was in 1965. Since Zambia had been known as Rhodesia until 1964, my dad had absolutely no idea where the country was located, or even if it was a country. He was so surprised to find out that it was a completely landlocked nation deep in Africa. With dad’s help and guidance, before long Zambia had a thriving pram fleet on a large lake. After that, if anyone questioned the viability of starting up their own fleet, dad would always tell them about Zambia.

I wonder if there are still prams sailing there?

--Susan Pulling Robinson

From: History of the Clearwater Pram Fleet
Around the Island Race - Clearwater, Fla.
Susan's dad, Bob Pulling with the trophies for the 1967 Internationals
On a few occasions the fleet raced ‘around the island’. This meant that the prams would sail North up Clearwater Bay, going out Hurricane Pass. From there we headed South in the Gulf of Mexico, skirting Clearwater beach. Next we sailed back in under the Sand Key bridge, then under the little bridge at the West end of the Clearwater causeway. This required us to stand in the bow and unstep the mast, because the causeway bridge was (and still is) too low for a pram to sail under. After paddling under the bridge and restepping our mast, we finally proceeded back home to the Youth Maritime Center.

I remember feeling so very grown up – skippering my own little pram all by myself on such a wonderful, all day journey. Of course there were numerous chase boats filled with adults to help if needed, but most of us did just fine. Such a happy memory!

--Susan Pulling Robinson

From: History of the Clearwater Pram Fleet

"I woke up one Christmas morning to find an Optimist dinghy beside my bed. I guess I've been sailing mad ever since"..... Ben Ainslie (Gold Medalist)


Dave Bishop has some beautiful pictures of kids having fun in wooden Optimist. Here is an example of one picture from his online album: Link


Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies is one of the nicest guys you'll meet on the professional sailing circuit. A veteran Cup campaigner who won the Volvo Ocean Race 10 years ago, he's hungry to claim his first America's Cup for his home team in San Francisco in 2013. Ray Davies is the embodiment of that childhood spirit that says “I can”. The spirit of the little boy who, in his little Optimist dinghy, once boldly crossed the bows of mighty boats designed to brave open seas heading off on the Whitbread in Auckland, is still very much alive in Ray Davies.