The Magic Of The Meeting Optimist told by Mauro Berteotti
In 1985, when I was 6 years old, I did the sailing school at Fraglia Vela Riva and that is when my one and only passion for sailing has begun.
In the years after, I got into the sailing team and participated at the Lake Garda Meeting Optimist every year until the end of my Optimist career in 1992. Of my firsts “Meeting Optimist” I remember it was freezing cold, the technical equipment wasn’t the one we have today; for example, we didn’t have the dry suits we use today in winter. When Easter was in March temperatures were very low and concentration for the regatta went on physical endurance.
Back then the numbers of participants are nothing like the ones we have today, but 300 participants were still a much higher number than other regattas and furthermore, we used to start on a single starting line!
In the last years in Optimist, I started training with the 420 at the same time and I “lost” two Meeting Optimist regattas because it was at the same time of the 420 Ranking.
We get now to 1995, when I switched to 470 and, having a week free from commitments, I started participating again at the Lake Garda Meeting Optimist as a mark layer until 1999. That year, thanks to the president of the time, I’ve been able to get one week off the military service to work at Fraglia Vela Riva.
After being a summer sailing coach for multiple years and helping the coaches with the beginner team, I did my first Lake Garda Meeting Optimist as a coach in 2000 with Arco’s club and, the years after, from 2001 to 2010 with Cervia’s club. Only from 2011 I went back with the club that made me discover my passion, Fraglia Vela Riva. So many regattas, thousands of students and so many satisfactions that I will forever carry in my heart!
Until 2000 the Lake Garda Meeting Optimist was considered to be the first regatta of the year and for some the first training as well. At the beginning of the 90s, we used to do our first trainings from half march; at the dawn of the first young teams.
In the first editions the fleet was one, we all started together from a very long starting line, there sometimes were even 3-4 rows of boats. Those days where the wind was weak, there were “battles” to get the first row.
After that, there has been the first evolution of the Meeting Optimist, in order to manage 600 participants, and it was the one of dividing boats into multiple fleet, but with a different system compared to what we use today. A boat stayed in the same group for the whole regatta and every race was against a different fleet (for example: 1^ race yellow-blue and green- red; 2^ race yellow-red and green-blue), to make all the participants race against each other; this method meant that, before doing the following race, all fleet had to arrive, losing so much time waiting.
The following years, the number of contestants were always increasing year after year, so we made a different racing area for cadets and changed the system for juniores, the starting fleet was of one colour not two at a time like before, then colour of the group changed daily given from the ranking results; the last day there were the finals.
From this point of view, the Meeting Optimist became more and more a regatta of international interests. Many countries still use it today as a selection of athletes who will compete at the World Championships.
The regatta had then to evolve even more to make it as balanced as possible, despite the record number of participants. The problem was always about managing to keep the contestants underline at the starting line, so it has been changed again; the one-minute rule has been modified to 3 minutes before the start (if any of the sailors was out of the starting line less than 3 minutes from the start, they were disqualified), and now, the start has 3 starting points, differently from how it was with one. The race committee in the middle and 2 ribs at the extreme sides of the starting line. This has been made to make the starting line shorter, giving more reference points to the sailors, for them not to go out from the middle.
In spite of the major difficulties of the technical staff to place the start line, this system made possible to reduce by far the general recall, making possible to lose less time in the starting stages, despite a larger number of fleet having to start. Thanks to this mechanism, we also have been able to remove the “pre-start” and make it become a normal waiting area, going back to the course IODA.
The Lake Garda Meeting Optimist with time became a regular and important time for the whole city. Teams with their families stay in Riva Del Garda for more than a week, to make the most of the fair wind conditions to improve their sailing techniques. Later in the year, they can’t stay without it, so some are also coming back other times of the year, acknowledging the lake Garda as one of their favourite locations to sail.
The organization of the Meeting Optimist is complicated and beyond the technical staff, a committee meets periodically to organize the spaces and the associates events. Between workers and volunteers there are thousands of people collaborating for the success of the event.
The most emotional moment for me is the opening ceremony, seeing about 1000 young sailors parade with the flags of the participants’ countries in the well-known historical streets of the city, following the marching band, is spectacular. It’s also amazing seeing people coming out of shops, restaurants, pubs and so on, to say welcome to the sailors.
The Lake Garda Meeting Optimist is a unique regatta, every day you meet people you knew your whole life, since you were the one sailing on an Optimist, from all over the world. Some of them were coaches when I was a kid and now are still active, others were the ones I used to coach and now became coaches as well…a continuous evolution.
This year, for the first time, I will spend the Easter’s lunch at home with my family, but I think I’ll still go and have a look at our beautiful lake!
The 38th Lake Garda Meeting Optimist 2020 is still not cancelled.
Happy Easter to you all!
Coach of Fraglia Vela Riva