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A Q&A session with Mary Ellen Brown about the 2024 Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta

by David Schmidt 8 Feb 08:00 PST February 10-11, 2024
Racecourse action at the 2021 Sunfish Women's North Americans, at Columbia Yacht Club © Mark Alexander

There's a simple-yet-sophisticated beauty to the Sunfish, a One Design boat that started to come to life in 1945 thanks to the work of Alex Bryan and Cortlandt Heyniger. By 1960, the boats had adopted fiberglass hulls, but the design's classic Lateen sail and rig have been there from the beginning, as have its classic hard-chines and its definitive class logo.

So, too, have the smiles: to date, tens of thousands of Sunfish have been built and have plied the world's waters, lending themselves to great racing.

Take, for example, this weekend's Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta (February 10-11), which is being organized by Sarasota Sunfish Fleet 154, and which is being hosted by the Sarasota Sailing Squadron, with racing taking place on Sarasota Bay.

I checked in with Mary Ellen Brown, event chair of the 2024 Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta, to learn more about this 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?

Last year the Sarasota Sunshine regatta included a one-day clinic lead by Mike Ingham with assistance from other top Sunfish sailors. This year's Sarasota Sunshine Regatta will have two terrific days of racing in the Sarasota Bay, but without the clinic.

We wanted to give fleet members and volunteers the opportunity to catch their breath.

Next year, our fleet will host the 2025 Sunfish International Masters, Team Race and Nationals at Midwinters. This is a major World Qualifier event.

Here is the link to register:

How would you describe the scene at the Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta to someone who sails competitively in a different fleet?

The nicest people in the world sail and race sunfish. Fleet members are competitive, and we are all friends. In fact, our Sunfish Fleet 154 culture statement is "Serious Fun".

We welcome members from other fleets to come and race with us. We are all about learning and growing and encourage our fleet members to continually improve their sailing and racing skills.

We enjoy having fellow Sunfish sailors come to our regatta to get a mid-winter sailing fix in a pretty reliable breeze on beautiful Sarasota Bay.

Please go ahead and break the hearts of anyone living up north—what kinds of conditions can sailors expect to encounter on Sarasota Bay in mid-February?

February is one of the best months of the year to sail in Sarasota. The water is clear, the sun will be shining, and the warm southerly breeze will keep our temperatures in the mid 70s. You should come down and sail with us. The polar vortex is not allowed to cross the Florida state line!

That being said, as always, keep an eye on the weather and water temperatures, and dress appropriately.

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?

On the men's side, I would keep my eyes on Mike Ingham and Rich Chapman.

On the women's side, I would say Gail Heausler has a good chance of winning.

There are easily ten competitors that could win this event depending upon the wind conditions. It's always tight racing.

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

Our focus for this event is to have a nice dinner soon after everyone puts their boats away. Sunfish sailors are always hungry after racing all day, and [they] love to catch up with their friends!

We will not have a specific weather briefing. We will have a safety plan update for all athletes, which will take place during the skippers meeting.

Post racing festivities will be shared with the Viper fleet. They will be racing their third winter series event the same weekend. We are pleased to share this weekend with them.

As event chair and a competitor (go #5090!), what parts of this year's Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta are you the most looking forward to?

First and foremost, I am excited to sail with all my friends from the class. Some of these folks will be traveling over a thousand miles just to participate in this year's event, and it will be great to catch up with them.

But I also cannot wait to be on the water and compete. Racing Sunfish is just so much fun!

I'm also looking forward to showing off what Sarasota Sailing Squadron members can do to provide a welcoming, fun, safe, and competitive event. It's such a great venue.

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?

Yes, we are committed to keeping our beautiful Sarasota Bay clean. We encourage all race participants to use refillable water bottles. Every Race Committee vessel will accept trash from athletes on the water.

We are going to register as a Sailors for the Sea Regatta. Our club recycles, hosts environmental clean-up events and works hard to keep our waterfront free of washed-up trash.

Is there anything else about this year's Sarasota Sunshine Sunfish Regatta that you'd like to add, for the record?

We encourage sailors to join us in the fun at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. We have a wonderful beachfront that makes launching boats easy and we have solid race management which results in quality racing.

Our team of onshore volunteers are working hard to make sure we have great food and plenty of refreshing beverages. There is nothing better than a fun day of racing and then coming ashore to meet and catch up with friends.

Our goal is to make the Sunshine regatta a safe, competitive, and fun event on Sarasota Bay.

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