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A Q&A with Mary Ellen Brown on the 2023 Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Clinic and Regatta

by David Schmidt 7 Feb 08:00 PST February 10-12, 2023
Racecourse action at the 2021 Sunfish Women's North Americans, at Columbia Yacht Club © Mark Alexander

If you've ever sailed a Sunfish on a warm, windy afternoon, you know the attraction to the hard-chined, lateen-rigged dinghy. Sure, the design heralds from (circa) 1952, but it's not like the wind, water, or physics of sailing have changed, nor have the great times that this timeless dinghy—and its active local fleets—consistently delivers.

Take, for example, the 2023 Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Clinic and Regatta, which is being hosted by Sunfish Fleet 154 at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, in Sarasota, Florida, from February 10-12.

The event is set to feature a one-day clinic on Friday (February 10), followed by two days of racing and post-sailing socializing.

I checked in with Mary Ellen Brown, Regatta and Clinic chair of the 2023 Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Clinic and Regatta, via email, to learn more about this mid-winter One Design racing and learning event.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Clinic and Regatta's history and culture?

So, the idea of hosting a clinic in Sarasota came about in 2020. We hosted a small clinic that year and it was basically attended by local sailors. The clinic was so popular and the learning was so great that we were asked to do it again in 2021.

Since then, the clinic has become a tradition and the regatta was an added feature since so many athletes were already in Sarasota and they were looking to put their newly learned skills to work on the race course.

Our mission statement for 2023 is Serious Fun! We selected these two words carefully as it really reflects the culture of our fleet. We are all committed to learning and getting faster as sailors but we are also all really good friends.

So, whenever we have an "issue" on the water, we discuss the circumstance at our debrief and use the "issue" as a learning opportunity. When you get faster as a sailor and learn from your friends it really is Serious Fun!

What (ballpark) percentage of the weekend is spent on clinic work and what percentage is spent racing?

Friday Feb 10 is dedicated to the clinic and February 11-12 Saturday and Sunday are dedicated racing days.

What kinds of new or practiced skills can sailors expect to leave the event having learned or maybe even mastered?

So, a portion of the clinic will be onshore with an explanation of the current "go fast" rigging techniques. This is really important in a sunfish as you want to be able to make "on the water" adjustments easily as the wind and wave conditions change.

Sailors can expect many practice starts and various practice drills. Keeping the water "flow" around the daggerboard is essential in a Sunfish.

So, we hope that participants will learn the "feel" of stalling or losing flow vs going fast forward. You want to keep the sunfish moving fast forward all the time.

What kinds of sailors one can expect to meet at this one-design event? Are we talking about polished racing sailors, people who are new to the Sunfish, or people who are new to sailing in general?

We anticipate a wide range of talent. We will have participants that finished Top Three in the Sunfish worlds, and/or North American Championships all the way down to folks that have only raced in a local club fleet race.

How many boats, total, are you expecting? Also, are there any geographical concentrations of registrants?

We anticipate over 70 boats from all over the USA. We have one athlete traveling from Puerto Rico.

Because this is a Florida Regionals championship, we have a lot of athletes from Florida. However, whoever wins the event overall will represent the USA [at] the 2024 Sunfish World Championships.

Generally speaking, what kinds of conditions can sailors expect on the waters of Sarasota Bay in mid-February?

We expect the winds to be "fresh" from the north with a fair amount of velocity. Sarasota Bay is shallow and therefore it produces a short and compact wave set (choppy waters).

We have advised athletes to bring [cold-]weather gear just in case we get a cold front from the north, which can happen at any time in February.

What kind of onshore entertainment can sailors look forward to once the finishing guns have gone silent each day?

Shore entertainment will be minimal. We plan to incorporate video in our debrief at the clinic. We [also] plan to share stories, relax, and hang with friends after racing Saturday and Sunday.

Can you please tell us about any efforts that the club has made to green-up the regatta and generally lower its environmental wake?

Participants and all race committee volunteers are encouraged to bring their own water bottles. We will not be offering plastic water bottles on the race course. We will also have "trash" boats on the water for any athlete that needs to discard anything.

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