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An interview with Stuart Hebb on the 2021 Star Midwinter Championship

by David Schmidt 16 Feb 16:00 GMT February 18-21, 2021
Star Midwinter Championship in Miami © Kathleen Tocke

Call me biased, but I've long thought that when it comes to One Design keelboats, the Star is the prettiest girl at the dance. One of my big regrets as a sailor is that I've never had a chance to sail aboard a Star, but this certainly hasn't stopped me from admiring the boats from afar, both at local regattas and at international affairs. I was lucky to witness the Star class' final showing at the London 2012 Olympics, which I attended and covered for Sail-World, and while there are certainly faster and more modern designs out there, the simple fact that the Star class continues to draw top-notch international sailing talent is testament to the fact that the boat has a lot more going for it than just aesthetics.

Take this year's Star Midwinter Championship (February 18-21), which is being hosted by the Coral Reef Yacht Club (CRYC), and which will unfurl on the waters of Florida's beautiful Biscayne Bay. While the world is gripped with the still-raging coronavirus pandemic, the class has still mustered a competitive fleet for this late-February regatta.

I checked in with Stuart Hebb, regatta chairman for the 2021 Star Midwinter Championship, via email, to learn more about this competitive regatta.

Can you tell us about the regatta's history and culture?

I started the SWS back in the fall of 2012 as bridge for the Star class [after it got] kicked out of the Olympics. There had always been a few Star weekend regattas scattered throughout the winter, so I packaged them together and added a four-day midwinters as the grand finale.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? Also, how do these stack up to previous editions of the regatta?

This year, due to COVID, we expect around 20 boats. [This is] down from usual participation in the mid 40s.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Biscayne Bay in mid-to-late February? Also, what are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Well, in a perfect world, we would have all the races between eight and 22 knots of true wind speed.

That's the best case. Any windier [and] we go to triangle courses and some folks stay on shore as the boat has massive sail area.

Etchells, being under powered, can handle that wind range much easier.

How important do you think local knowledge will be? Also, do you expect most visiting teams to arrive early and acclimatize to conditions?

We have a lot of repeat customers but I find wherever you sail, the good guys figure it out pretty quickly.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) teams, what would it be?

We are following follow [the club's] COVID protocol. We are lucky they are letting us race this winter unlike the Etchells class.

Of all the events held at [the] CRYC this winter, including the Orange Bowl, there has not been one case [of COVID] reported. Being outside is key to [thwarting] the spread of the virus. It's a natural good COVID sport due to small teams as well.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, how many races will you run per day?

[We're aiming at a] total of eight races, two per day, unless we fall behind or see a no-race day in front. There are no drop races in any Star Winter Series events, including the Midwinters.

What kinds of safe-play pandemic tactics are you expecting from the racers on the water? Also, what kind of shoreside COVID precautions will the CRYC employ?

We are following the county guidelines. We will have our annual dinner Friday night at the outside boathouse bar on the top floor. We have to cap the capacity to 30 people so the top 15 boats will be invited.

Personally, I was determined that the show must go on safely as staying at home in isolation has its own negative consequences at a much higher hit rate. There needs to be a balance. If you think you are at high risk for COVID, [it's] best to stay at home.

Can you tell us about any efforts that you and the other regatta organizers have made to try to lower the regatta's environmental footprint or otherwise green-up the regatta?

[The] CRYC installed a water dispenser for competitors. We cut out PR boat more for cost savings as entries are way down. The rest [of the boats] stay for safety reasons. [We're] looking forward to electric outboards, trust me on that one.

Personally, I drive a hybrid car.

Anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

To get this whole season off during these trying times is huge.

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