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An interview with Ethan Bixby on the 2023 505 Midwinter Championship

by David Schmidt 17 Jan 2023 08:00 PST January 20-22, 2023
505 Pre-Worlds at Crosshaven Day 2 © Christophe Favreau /

The International 505 Class isn't new. In fact, it dates back to the early-to-mid 1950s, when designer John Westell created the lines for what he hoped would become a high-performance Olympic class dinghy; instead, and a year later, he was asked to modify the design, shortening its waterline to 5.05 meters. International class status came the next year, and the trapeze-powered class hosted its first world-championship regatta in 1956.

Since then, the class has consistently delivered high-level racing. In turn, the class enjoys dedicated fleets across the country. If there's a nearby fleet, it's usually a good bet that many of the area's top talent either actively competes in it, or has roots stretching back to its starting lines.

The East Coast is no exception, and the 2023 505 Midwinter Championship is being hosted by the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, in Clearwater, Florida from January 20-22.

I checked in with Ethan Bixby, who is serving as the regatta's event chair, via email, to learn more about this exciting One Design regatta.

Can you please tell us a bit about the current state of the 505 class, its culture and competition levels, and the kinds of sailors that one can expect to encounter at this year's Midwinter Championship?

The 505 has maintained its position as the preeminent high-performance adult dinghy, with strong U.S. and global fleets. The level of sailing remains high, with a mix of Olympic and professional sailors and high-level amateurs. Last year's Midwinters immediately preceded the North American Championships (also held at CCSC), so there was more nationwide representation in last year's fleet than there will be this year, but this will be a competitive event for sure.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing this year? How does this compare to other recent midwinters, and are there any notable geographical concentrations to this entry list?

We expect somewhere between 12 and 16 boats this year, mostly from the East Coast. This will be a mix of local boats, plus significant concentrations from the Chesapeake Bay, New England, and Ontario.

With the Worlds in San Francisco, some are budgeting their time carefully.

Weather-wise, what kind conditions can sailors expect to encounter off of Clearwater in mid-to-late January? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios?

Sailors should be prepared for a full range of conditions, both wind and temperature. 505s are able to sail in one of the broadest wind ranges of any class.

As recent conditions have shown, cold can sneak down at this time of year, but we hope to get a lot of nice warm conditions with sea breezes.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain?

Clearwater is a fairly open venue, meaning that while wind shifts and tidal conditions can play a role, there aren't many well-kept secrets. Most competitors will have sailed at Clearwater and know a bit about what to expect. The class has also organized three days of coached training before the event, which should get people used to the local conditions before racing starts.

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

Bring your relaxed casual attitude and enjoy the venue! It's unique.

In the ideal world, how many races do you and the other organizers hope to score? Also, how will you guys be managing the racecourse? Traditional marks, or GPS-guided autonomous robotic marks?

While the sailing instructions will finalize the racing schedule, people come to the 505 Midwinters to sail. Three to four races per day is ideal.

Clearwater usually has fairly steady wind and is a relatively easy place for managing ground tackle, so traditional [racing] marks work well. The class is a bit unique in that it utilizes gate starts, which the race committee loves!

What kinds of post-racing/onshore entertainment can sailors look forward to?

Hopefully a lot of sore muscles and strategic hydration techniques after warm windy days on the water! But one unique staple of the 505 Class is to have a daily debrief where the day's stronger teams share their lessons. The [505] Class is invested in seeing everyone improve to keep sailing fun and rewarding for all, and to [see] the U.S. fleet at the top of the world rankings.

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?

Sailors have become quite conscious about environmental issues, encompassing everything from avoiding single-use plastics to transporting boats as efficiently as possible, to using blue-friendly sun-care products. Managing a 505 regatta can be done with fewer support boats than most other regattas, which is also a benefit.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add, for the record?

This is the 52st running of the 505 Midwinters! It started in Melbourne, Florida in 1969, and only two years have been missed, one due to Covid. It moved to the St. Petersburg area in the mid-1980s.

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