Roll Tacks April 2011

It should have been one of the regattas of a lifetime, one to cross off the bucket list. But the 505 World Championships in Hamilton Island proved to be a bit of a damp squib. Look up pictures of Hamilton Island on the internet, and you will find paradise - bright blue skies shining on sparkling azure waters.

But alas, the international 505 fleet was greeted with a classic case of "It's not normally like this!" Overcast skies, and wind and waves that too much of the time were too big to go racing in. Still, one of the things that the 505 class is blessed with is a wealthy sponsor in SAP. Hasso Plattner, having spent many years racing the kind of multi-million dollar superyachts that befits his billionaire tycoon status, discovered the joys of 505 sailing relatively late in life. But having done so, he has become one of the most committed 505 racers on the circuit. And he has committed the global company that he founded, software business SAP,  to sponsoring his beloved 505 class.

So even on one of the days when it was too windy for racing, there was a  professional photographer and video team to record a wet and wild outing for Mike Martin, the 2009 world champion, and his crew Geoff Ewenson. You can find this and many other great videos on the official website here:

The adverse conditions meant it was impossible to complete a full series of races, and yet some familiar names still that made their way to the top of the leaderboard.  German team Wolfgang Hunger and Julian Kleiner successfully defended their world title from last year's event in Denmark, despite being one of the lighter teams in what was a predominantly windy worlds at Hamilton Island.  British expat Mike Hart has resided in San Francisco for the past few years, and his 505 sailing has thrived. He finished runner-up in 2009, and again this year Mike and his crew Carl Smit  pushed the Germans all the way for the world title.

Indeed the Germans implied that Mike and Carl pushed too hard, when Hunger and Kleiner were surprised to find themselves in a match race during the final heat. Hunger said: "I don't understand wanting to win so much. I don't do this to win, I sail always to see what more I can get out of the boat and do with the boat; that is what is important to me."
This seems pretty surprising, coming from someone of Hunger's calibre. A double 470 world champion, he is widely considered to be perhaps the greatest 470 sailor never to have won an Olympic medal. Perhaps his point is that Olympic competition is one thing, but 505 racing is an amateur pastime that should be conducted at a more gentlemanly level. The difference for Hunger and Hart, however, is that where the 505 is a form of  relaxation and retirement after the hype pressure world of Olympic campaigning, for Hart and many others in their 505 fleet, this IS their Olympics, the pinnacle of their careers. So Hart and Smit can hardly be blamed for using every trick in the book to try and win the Worlds.
Talking of the 505,  did you read about the experiment to fit the 505 with a bowsprit  and asymmetric gennaker?  if this news had had come out on April 1st, I would have spotted this as a joke. But I would have been wrong, because the experiment really has been taking place with some of the leading US sailors trialling a modified 505.
"I think with this change, the boat becomes easier to sail, makes the boat less expensive, and easier to rig," says Mike Martin, who as I mentioned earlier is a 505 World Champion, both as a crew and helm as it happens. So he could hardly be more qualified to make these observations. Mike continues: "Now that we have tested it with the sprit that Larry Tuttle built and the asymmetric spinnaker from Ethan Bixby, we have found that the boat sails great in this format.
"Some may contend that we will lose tactical ‘sit down sailing', but we actually only sail deep downwind angles in a 3 knot zone (around 8 knots). If it's light air, you're sailing tight angles. If it is windy enough to be trapezing, you're sailing tight angles. And I contend that the tighter angle sailing typical of asymmetrics is more tactical. You still need to call shifts but you also are choosing sides, whereas deep running you might be aiming close to the downwind mark the whole time." Still, this just shows you don't need an asymmetric gennaker to sail tactical angles downwind. The 505 is getting that already in its current form.

It seems foolish to argue with someone as well-qualified as Mike Martin, but I still think such a change would be a disaster for the 505. My views were best summed up by a comment I saw made by Jim Champ, a regular on the Yachts & Yachting forum, who said: "Isn't putting an asymmetric spinnaker on a 505 rather like putting wide wheels and a rear wing on a pre war supercharged Bentley? In both cases you're spoiling something that's glorious in itself and yet only ending up with a pale shadow of what a new design might be."
In the USA where there are fewer choices of dinghy, perhaps it makes sense to modify the 505. In this country, we're spoilt for asymmetric choice, and if talk turns to an asymmetric 505, then the immediate and more attractive option would be the Alto. I remember seeing early shots of the Alto at prototype stage, when it was basically a 505 hybrid. I couldn't bring myself to write about it at the time, as to my mind, it looked awful.
But more recently, during the past winter at some of the big handicap events, I've found myself racing around with the Alto, and I have to say the finished product is a very good looking piece of kit. So I say, leave the 505 be, and if you really fancy an asymmetric alternative, give the Alto a serious look instead.
Talking of boats with bowsprits, there are some interesting new boats emerging in anticipation of ISAF rubber-stamping the introduction of a women's skiff for the 2016 Olympics. Will such a boat be sufficient to attract Pippa Wilson back into the Olympic game? With Sarah Webb taking time out to be a new mum, and Sarah Ayton's recent shock retirement from Olympic campaigning, it seems staggering that none of the three Blondes in a Boat who won the gold medal in the Yngling in China three years ago will be contesting Weymouth 2012.
I spoke to Sarah Webb briefly about it during the Volvo RYA Dinghy Show, and it was clear she had plenty to keep her busy with her baby son. Sarah said everything had been so perfect last time round, the whole way the campaign had been conducted, the invaluable input of their coach Paul Brotherton, and so on, that it was hard envisaging doing a campaign in any other way. With both Sarahs now being mothers, there would have had to be compromises.

This must be a desperately frustrating situation for Stephen Park, Sparky the Olympic manager at the RYA who has more men's medal hopes than he knows what to do with, but who still struggles to find enough female talent to fill the women's boats.

Hopefully Pippa Wilson at the very least will come back to the Olympic fold at some point. Still only 24, she has time on her side, although she needs to rediscover the passion for sailing at the highest level. Pippa was recently invited along as a special guest to Bowmoor Sailing Club in Gloucestershire, for a family fun day. For the first time in a while, the gold medallist got back on the water and went sailing. "Sailing has been such a big part of my life that since I've stopped competing I have not been out," said Pippa. "I needed to get back out in a boat. I needed that encouragement. So thank you."

In a borrowed wetsuit, Pippa took delighted children out on the water, teaching them how to sail. "I'm most at home here, sailing at a local club. It is an incredible sport. It can become your hobby, your job - anything you want it to be. Don't be frightened of anything. You can make it happen - I'm proof of that!"

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