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A Q&A session with Ethan Bixby about the 2024 505 Midwinter Championship

by David Schmidt 20 Feb 16:00 GMT February 23-35, 2024
2017 SAP 5O5 Worlds at Annapolis © Bill Wagne

The International 5O5 Class has long enjoyed a strong reputation for delivering competitive and technical racing. Sail and hull shapes are strict One Design, but two-person teams are free to innovate foils, spars, and their running rigging. The boat carries a big sail plan but only a single trapeze. Enter the technical, athletic One Design sailing game.

For example, most teams leverage rigs with adjustable shrouds, forestays, and mast rams whose settings can be changed on the water. Most teams also sail with twin spinnaker poles, so gybing requires tight communication between the forward hand and the driver to maintain good speed throughout the maneuver.

These technical and athletic challenges add to the class's complexities, but contribute to its grin-factor returns on investment.

These dividends, class veterans say, begin at around 10 knots of windspeed when the boat begins planning, and only improves as the true windspeed increases.

This year's 5O5 Midwinter Championship is being hosted by the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, in Clearwater, Florida from February 23-35, with racing taking place on the Gulf of Mexico.

I checked in with Ethan Bixby, event chair, to learn more about this competitive, warm-water One Design regatta.

Can you please bring us up to speed on any changes or updates to the regatta, since we corresponded last year?

The only real change this year is that we are sailing February 23-25th, which is a bit later in the winter. Last year's event was a month earlier, which helps a bit moving it away from the holidays, and potentially a bit warmer!

The 2024 Worlds are in Varberg, Sweden in August. Do you expect that a lot of competitors at this year's Midwinters are using this regatta as part of their bigger training program for the Worlds?

I am not sure about that. Many teams spent their time and financial budgets focused on last year's Worlds in San Francisco, and they are not yet wound up for Sweden.

Do you tend to see bigger numbers at the Midwinters when the Worlds are contested on North American waters?

Not really. It depends on the shipping cycle and locations of the events.

A major East Coast event will increase the participation, but other factors need to align to get the West Coast and Canadians to travel.

How would you describe the scene at the 505 Midwinters to someone who sails competitively in a different fleet?

An immediate difference is that the 505 class always uses Gate Starts, otherwise known as rabbit starts. After a few, you appreciate how good they are, and it is really rare to have a restart.

The next difference is the friendly open nature of the class. The daily debriefs are the most obvious example of that, with everyone helping to improve all levels of the fleet.

Are you seeing any up-and-comers in the class that readers should look out for on the results sheet? What about any returning aces?

We have the usual old suspects, but some younger teams to pay attention to are Charlie Curtis and Ben Coker of Florida, and Keenan Hilsinger and Ian Mathiesen of Maryland.

Do you guys have any interesting weather briefings or post-racing debriefings planned? What about social post-racing gatherings?

As you may know, the Clearwater Community Sailing Center is a very relaxed place! We will have some training days prior to the regatta, and the normal debriefs every day, except packing Sunday afternoon.

Sailing 505's in a wonderful venue, with great food and friends! It doesn't get much better!

As event chair and a competitor, what parts of this year's Midwinters are you the most looking forward to?

Obviously once the racing starts, it gets easier, but it's just so much fun just to see everyone again. That's the best part!

Is there anything else about this year's 505 Midwinters that you'd like to add, for the record?

This is the 53rd running of the 505 Midwinters! It was started in Melbourne, Florida in 1969, by the late John MacNeil. Only two years have been missed, one [of which was] due to Covid. It's been held on Florida's east coast in three locations, and four different locations in the Tampa Bay area.

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