505 Worlds Come to Annapolis

Chesapeake Bay 505 sailors make a bid to bring their world championship to familiar territory, with hopes that light winds don’t spook the herd.

505 worlds
Weymouth, U.K., offered preferred conditions for the 505 with high winds at the 2016 World Championship.Christophe Favreau

International 505 sailors love big breeze. The enduring image of the high-performance dinghy is blasting downwind under spinnaker in 25 knot winds, so the class world championship should be held in a venue known for delivering heavy air, right? After all, a true and worthy 505 champion should be able to handle those types of conditions, right?

Or is all that a myth?

It is obvious from the selection of Annapolis, Maryland, with its notoriously fickle conditions, as site of the 2017 SAP 505 World Championship, that there are numerous other factors involved. Quality race-committee personnel, a suitable yacht club, an army of volunteers, and a location that is fun to visit are just as ­important as reliable breeze.

“People want to do Worlds at places that are fun to vacation,” says Carl Smit, an Annapolis resident and past world champion. “That’s why they picked Kingston, Barbados and Hamilton Island, Australia.”

Some of the most renowned heavy-air ­venues in the world have hosted 505 Worlds with Santa Cruz and San Francisco — a pair of class hotbeds — topping the list within the United States. According to several 505 veterans, Durban, South Africa, is among the windiest places the class has ever gone.

The majority of locations that have hosted the 505 World Championship, however, are more akin to Annapolis, unpredictable and just as apt to produce no wind as strong wind. Even Fremantle, Australia, famous for its reliable sea breeze, did not live up to its reputation when the 505 Worlds were held there in 2002.

“It seems like every venue that we go to, the locals say, ‘It’s never like this.’ Unless you go somewhere extremely predictable,” says Ali Meller, a lifelong 505 sailor and former class officer, “like Santa Cruz in midsummer or San Francisco in fall, you are going to get a mix.”

There are some teams at the top of the class that crave a world championship with multiple days of 20-plus knot winds. Mike Martin, who has won world titles as a skipper with Jeff Nelson (2009) and Adam Lowry (2016) is a heavy-air specialist. Mike Holt and Carl Smit, who teamed up to capture the 2015 crown, also tend to do well in a blow.

505 Worlds
Local favorites, Chris Behm and Jesse Falsone, prepare for Worlds in Annapolis; the range of conditions at the 2017 venue will force sailors to use many facets of their skill sets.Ted Morgan

“I think there is a cult of us that always looks for locations with windy conditions,” said Smit, an Annapolis resident who previously lived in northern California and routinely raced on San Francisco Bay. “Mike and I love heavy air, but we didn’t manage to win worlds until we got better in light air. For a long time, we were super-fast in a breeze and not very competitive in the lighter stuff.”

Truth be told, the majority of 505 sailors do not want to be battered for an entire week. For most, the time and expense involved with ­traveling to the world championship is not worth the risk of suffering a catastrophic boat breakdown a day or two into the regatta.

“I think the fleet, as a whole, wants to sail in a venue that won’t break the boat and won’t leave you so beat up that at the end of day you can’t enjoy dinner and drinks,” Smit says.

The 2017 SAP 505 World Championship is scheduled for late September in Annapolis and will be co-hosted by Severn Sailing ­Association and Eastport YC. It marks the first time 505 Worlds has been held on the East Coast since 1988 when Hyannis, ­Massachusetts, hosted.

That was the first 505 Worlds for Jesse ­Falsone and got him thinking that ­Annapolis would be an ideal host city the next time the class decided to come to the East Coast. ­Falsone, who was runner-up at the 2005 Worlds as crew for Martin, never imagined it would take almost two decades to come to fruition.

Falsone, who has raced 505s out of West River Sailing Club and Severn Sailing ­Association, got serious about putting together a formal bid on behalf of Annapolis in 2013. SSA had developed a solid 505 fleet and thus ­provided the core group of volunteers needed to serve on the organizing committee.

“I thought all the people and infrastructure was in place for Annapolis to conduct a top-notch world championship,” says Falsone, who is serving as regatta chairman. “­Sailing-wise, I think we’ll probably get a full range of ­conditions, which will reward versatility. You cannot be a one-trick pony and expect to win in ­Annapolis.”

In considering East Coast locales, the ­American section of the International 505 class also looked closely at Miami and Newport. However, neither city had enough active 505 sailors to spearhead the organization.

New York’s American YC made a spirited effort to host the 2013 505 World Championship and thought it had the bid locked up, but at the last minute, the class decided to go to Barbados instead. Spurned and disappointed, the Long Island fleet subsequently died out.

“For fleet-development purposes, I think it’s important for the class to mix it up when awarding Worlds,” Smit says.

Annapolis didn’t become known as one of the world’s premier sailboat-racing destinations for nothing. The Chesapeake Bay can certainly deliver a big blow in late September, but the nature of this particular body of water is that it can just as easily be light and shifty. Smit admits he’s heard some grumbling, mostly from the California sailors, about holding a 505 Worlds in Annapolis.

“It’s very polarized,” says Smit. “There are a lot of heavy-air gurus that joke about scheduling a regatta at a windy venue at the same time. There are a lot of other people who are super-excited about coming here. They know there will be good racing, challenging racing and fair racing.”