Optimistic About Shelly


Mothgirl Dibou – Schiffsratten collaboration

announces Shelly Fizz Beta


plum gut shelly racing

Two months ago with some excitement I told you about a project underway at the Schiffsratten boat yards over in Tiga.


The Rats wanted to build a new one-design dinghy to teach basic sailing skills in second life.  We all know that the Tako did a yeoman’s job filling that role for some time, but in the assessment of many, the Tako’s aging algorithms, lack of product support, inflexible vendor system and bleak prospects for bug fixes or upgrades made it a far-from-optimal choice in 2009.


 Not willing to settle for second best, the Schiffsratten set out on a bold plan to build a boat that met their own requirements. From the outset, they had a grand vision to make a boat that everyone would want to sail, that would be easy for beginners, would include modern algorithms and scripting, and would serve as a good teaching boat. Most importantly, they wanted to make the boat widely available at no cost. Frankly, I thought that was a pretty tall order, but the Ship Rats were undaunted Optimists.

Calm down! It's only Beta!

Which is a great segue to my next point! If you were shooting for the moon designing a new teaching boat, what RL boat would you pick to model?


 There is really only one answer to that: an Optimist. Optimist dinghies have been around for 60 years, and if you sail in RL, chances are that you first learned on an Opti. It is by far the most popular one-design teaching boat, and it’s currently sailed worldwide with over 150,000 official hulls manufactured. The number of unofficial Optis must be many times that. The International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) proclaims that “The optimist is, quite simply, the dinghy in which the young people of the world learn to sail.” That might sound like hubris, but it’s not: the Optimist is the only dinghy approved by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) exclusively for sailors under 16 years of age. Consider this: At the 2008 Olympics over 85% of the medal winning boat skippers were former Optimist sailors. The next time you see some 10 year old kid soaked with sea spray and face smeared with zinc sunblock, think: “That Optimist she’s sailing is a Tool, not a Toy.”

The Rats down in Tiga know this; of course they decided to build an Optimist. When I last mentioned this here at the end of January, I showed you pictures of the fresh-out-of-the-oven Sculptie hull they had created. I thought the choice of the Optimist was brilliant, since it made the boat instantly recognizable to nearly all sailors as well as a large part of the non-sailing public. Many sailors like myself have fond memories and affection for Optis, and would jump at the chance to use this boat to teach others how to sail.

 Shelly Fizz Beta and RJ Kikuchiyo Optimist

The picture above shows the new boat alongside an old RJ Kikuchiyo Optimist creation that contains Tako 2.x scripts.  Although I love them both, the Schiffsratten have upgraded that classic Optimist boat design and they’ve brought it into the new millennium!  Nice job!  

Beauty is only skin deep however, and it takes more than a cute hull and a tight vang to catch a sailor’s eye and keep their attention. The boat I showed you back in January was pretty, but it wasn’t scripted. In fact, it didn’t even have a name.

When I wrote about it, I proposed “Tigger” as a good name for the boat. The Rats politely listened to my suggestion and my pseudo-reasoning, and then, to their credit, promptly crossed “Tigger” off their list. The name they came up with is “Shelly.” I’m not sure if they mean Percy Bysshe Shelly, but it’s a nice name nonetheless.

Hull in hand, they took their idea to Mothgirl Dibou. Moth was at that point embroiled in a huge pile of Fizz 3 issues, trying to harmoniously package a host of cutting-edge advances in her new boat. Even for someone with all of Moth’s energy, that was no easy process; as we all know, it took the better part of eight months to get Fizz 3 the way she wanted it.

So… in walk the Schiffratten, asking Moth to do another boat in her spare time, an Optimist-style teaching boat… and for free. Actually, I thought Moth would have been within her rights to just shoot them there on the spot. Instead, she loved the idea and jumped on board the project with one provision: the boat’s name. It’s now the Shelly Fizz!


In pretty much record time, yesterday the Shelly Fizz beta hit the water. There was an immediate huge amount of interest. I was about to start a race when Moth announced the release, and instead of the usual 10 boats, we sailed with only two or three– everyone else was darting around in a Shelly! No surprise, as soon as we finished the race, so was I.

Based on just a few hours a sailing, I think this boat is an absolute delight. It’s very easy to sail, with a wind vane on the bow and no HUD. It has a centerboard and a single main, true to the Opti heritage.  As you might imagine, despite the ease of use it handles and feels a lot like a Fizz. As a teaching boat I think it is brilliantly positioned. Fizz 3 is a wonderful, cutting-edge boat, but particularly for new sailors I’m concerned it’s close to “bleeding edge.” It’s easy to envision new students getting discouraged by the steep learning curve Fizz 3 demands, even in “Fun mode.” Three or four capsizes in a row and new students will start thinking the term “Fun mode” was intentional sailing sarcasm.

Julia bangs into Jane

 The Shelly Fizz changes all that! If the released version looks anything like this beta, The Shelly will be a great way to learn basic sailing skills while building confidence with a simplified version of the Fizz platform. Sailors can then advance to the Fizz 3 when they feel ready for the real challenge.

  I have to reiterate that this is just the first beta, so it is totally unfair to complain about any bugs or issues. Actually, so far I’ve found very few.  However, it’s worth commenting that the Shelly does share a problem with several other boats that use sculpted hulls and spars: the collision shell is different from the visible boat. It looks like this is primarily a problem with the boom. The boom has a center of rotation at the mast; that means the visible boom is joined to a second, invisible part of the boom on the exact, opposite side of the mast. If you look at the picture above right, you’ll see that Julia Cere’s boat bumps into mine while still a couple meters away. That’s because the sculptie ‘anti-boom’ sticks out over the front of the boat. however, if you let the sheet out so the boom hangs over the side of the boat (see below), the boat can come all the way up to the dock before bumping. Be cautious, however: any boat within a couple meters on the starboard side will get hit.

  Phantom boom is parallel to dock.

 Moth is well aware of this issue, and she’s evaluating it.  Although there are ways to work around the problem, she thinks the boat actually handles best the way it is and that the sculptie collision mesh issue should not be a problem in a teaching boat used for practice and fun sailing.

I think we’d all agree with that too, except for one thing.  Many sailors seem to have a genetic defect that distorts their perception of the world. Show them something that floats, and an idea pops into their head: “I bet I could race that.”  Within five minutes they’ve taped an ID number to the hull and dropped the boat on a raceline… any raceline.

The Shelly Fizz is no different! I’m pretty sure yesterday this boat set an all-time record. Within a couple hours of the announcement of the first Beta Release, Jeremia Spotter had enthusiastically convened a large fleet of Shellys that were bouncing on the waves in Plum Gut. it was a remarkable sight seeing the skippers  crank up the little boats and put them through their paces racing. These are indeed wonderful Little boats and I think it’s going to be very very hard to tell everyone to put their toys away, the Shelly is only for teaching…

Yesterday, within two or three minutes of me sending a notice that Schiffsratten were sailing Shellys in Plum Gut, Epicurus Emmons reported the sim was full (and this is a first-release Beta, remember…). I can’t wait to see what will happen when the boat actually launches… 

Oh! In case I forgot:

Moth? Ship Rats?


 plum gut sell out crowd


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