How to setup and race the archetypal high-performance dinghy, the International 505.

By Scott Ikle'‚ (as printed in Sailing World)

Those of you who think 505 sailors are a group of gear-head, mad-scientist, speed-freak sailors out to spend a ton of money developing ultra-high tech boats, hopefully this article will set you straight. The 505 is really for the regular sailor just hooked on going fast. The boat is a natural progression for the Laser racer who is bored of sailing all alone, the college sailor who wants to learn more about sail and rig controls, and for Olympic sailors in search of some challenging cross-training. It's a great boat for women; some of our top skippers include Carol Buchan, Allison Jolly, and Ellen Ablow. As one of the strongest trapeze- boat classes in the country, and due to the high-performance nature of the boat itself, 505 events are extremely competitive yet the class champions are not house-hold names because they rarely sail outside the class. Most 505 sailors are regular nine- to-five folks who can go out and tear it up with the best sailors in the world.

Now, the boat itself is not a complex, space-age, high-budget craft, but it takes a bit of work to get going with the best. What follows is a summary of the ideas, hard numbers, and thoughts on sailing the boat from the following top sailors in the class: Howard Hamlin/Cam Lewis, '92 North American champions; Mike Punnett, former East Coast champion; Jeff Miller and Jim Maloney, '91 NA champs; Jeff Boyd/Martin TenHove, top Canadian 505 sailors: and Ethan Bixby, former world champ.

Hull and Blades

The two U.S. builders of 505s are Waterat Boats of Santa Cruz, Calif., and Lindsay Boats of Gloucester, Mass. Both produce, in my opinion, the best constructed 505s in the world. Through advanced composite construction these builders have produced a group of strong, tough, light boats that are still winning championships after 12 years of competition. The beauty of either boat is the fact that you can buy a new boat and keep it for a lifetime, or buy a used boat and know you'll still be competitive. Another option would be to buy a new European boat built by Parker or Rondar, or an Australian Kyrwood. These boats may not age as gracefully as an American 505 , but they are more affordable while still very competitive. The major choice when buying a boat is whether to get one with spinnaker bags or a bow launcher. A launcher boat is preferred by sailors who race in lots of wind , and is quite popular on San Francisco Bay and in Europe and Australia. The bow launcher allows for easier spinnaker sets and take-downs, and is more forgiving if there should be a mistake made in one of these maneuvers. A bag boat (with spinnaker bags next to the mast) puts a premium on good crew work. As far as speed difference around the race course, there is none. The only exception to this is on close, two-sail reaches, when a bag boat seems to be slightly faster, having the headstay all the way forward opens the slot between the jib and main.

Since the 505 is a development class, as opposed to a strict one-design, sailors are free to choose rudder and centerboard configurations. Over time most of the fleet has started to use the same shapes, and a stock rudder is a good place to start. The preferred centerboard design is a jibing, elliptical board. It's important that all the jibing surfaces be flat and parallel with their opposite side for the board to work efficiently.

Rigging and Sails

The most important pieces of equipment to choose when setting up your 505 are the mast and sails. Over the years the Proctor D mast has emerged as one of the best all-around masts here in North America and in Europe. For those of you getting into the class, the common advice is, "Don't try to reinvent the wheel, just use a D." There are other good masts to choose from, but all the sailmakers have a mainsail pattern that works with the bend characteristics of a Proctor D. If you rig the mast yourself, make sure it's all within the class rules. (I suggest you use the dimensions in the Rig Measurement box as a starting point.) In any case, the headstay and spinnaker halyard block should be at their maximum heights , so you can get the spinnaker up as high as possible. Also, locate the trapeze hounds as close as possible to the shroud hounds to minimize sideways S bend. If you race in heavy air a lot or if the crew is small, you could mount the shrouds lower, closer to the headstay, to allow the tip to bend side-ways more and let the top of the sails depower sooner. If you race in a light- to moderate- breeze area, a higher shroud setting will make the rig stiffer.

Spreader deflection is an important measurement in controlling the fore-and-aft bend of the mast and the shape of the mainsail. It is determined by drawing an imaginary line between the spreader tips, and measuring the distance from the middle of this line to the back of the mast. More spreader deflection (when spreaders are swept back more) makes the mast bend more when shroud tension is increased; less deflection will bend the mast less. If you position your spreader brackets 10'2" above the deck, a rough spreader deflection measurement of 4 1/2" to 4 3/4" with spreaders 17.5 in. long is a good starting point. However, spreader base, shroud height, and spreader length can vary from boat to boat.

Rig Measurements for Proctor D Mast

Distance from deck black band

Shroud Height 16' 4"

Trapeze Wire 10' 5"

Headstay 15' 6"

Spreaders 10'2"

Spinnaker Halyard Block 18' 9"

If your setup differs from the above dimensions, here's an easy way to see if the spreader deflection is in the right ballpark. If you can draw a straight line between the point at which the shroud exits the mast and the chainplate, the spreader should be approximately 1" forward of that line and 1" out to the side. If the trapeze hound is located near the shroud hound , you can test this easily by pulling the trapeze wire tight while holding the wire at the chainplate, and evaluating the distance between the trapeze wire and the spreader tip. This will give you a starting point to learn how much spreader deflection you'll need to induce the right amount of mast bend for your mainsail . Mainsails with less luff curve require less spreader deflection, so talk to your sailmaker and follow his advice when you get a new sail. Wherever your spreaders are located, it's a good idea to put a nico-press sleeve on the shroud below the spreader tip to keep it from sliding down. Also, if you buy a new mast with an adjustable spreader bracket, be sure it has an internal sleeve to reinforce this area of the mast. It 's also important for the mast to be centered in the boat and have the same bend from side to side for the same boat speed on both tacks. With the mast straight and some shroud tension on, measure the distance from the tip of the mast to each chainplate with a tape measure and make sure it's the same. Then go sailing and check the mast while underway. At the spreaders, your mast should have equal bend to leeward on each tack when the main is trimmed to the centerline. With the crew driving from the wire, the skipper can sight up the mast and see if there is about 1" of leeward bend on both tacks. When the main is eased so that the boom goes over the corner of the transom, the mast should go straight or poke slightly to weather to help de- power the rig.

The 505 class rules allow you to measure in two complete suits of sails for regattas, which could lead to a lot of variation. It's best to have one suit of all-purpose sails rather than an optimized suit for a given wind condition, given Murphy's law, you'll always pick the wrong suit in the parking lot. The leading U.S. sailmakers are Danger Sails in Signal Hill, Calif., and North Sails in St. Petersburg. Fla., and they both produce excellent all-purpose sails.


Since you can adjust anything you want on a 505, you can develop a rig setup that is fast in all conditions based on your sailing style. This is an important fact to remember. There are many ways to sail the boat correctly upwind. Sometimes you need to point, other times you can bear off and plane upwind when you want to get out to a corner of the course fast. The skipper and crew must set up the boat for the given weather conditions, as well as the current tactical situation. Specifically, mast rake, rig tension, and lower mast bend are the big three tuning variables in a 505. Mast rake is controlled by an adjustable forestay system, and controls pointing ability, rig power, and also aids in balancing of the helm. In general, a straightened mast in light air powers up the rig, while raking the mast back in windier conditions helps de-power and balance the helm. Rig tension, controlled by an adjustable shroud system, is important for controlling headstay tension and mast bend. Tighter shrouds bend the mast while tightening the headstay for windy races; looser shrouds allow for a straighter mast and more headstay sag, adding power to the jib for light air. The mast ram controls lower mast bend fore and aft: ram down straightens the mast and powers up the mainsail, and ram up allows the mast to bend and flattens the main.

To generalize, there are four modes in 505 sailing: light air, marginal trapezing, full trapezing, and de-powered conditions. In light air and flat water, you should set the mast one inch aft from straight upright with some lower mast pre-bend for a centerlined, flat mainsail with an open leech. Also, the jib should have some headstay sag. For light to moderate breeze with some chop, which is usually a marginal trapezing condition, the rig should be upright with loose shrouds for some headstay sag. The main should be deep and powerful with the outhaul and cunningham eased and the mast rammed straight. As the breeze builds to full trapping conditions, use a flatter mainsail shape and a tighter headstay to reduce sag and improve pointing. To de- power in heavy-air planing conditions, raise the centerboard one to two inches, and rake the mast back all the way to balance the helm. Then bend the lower part of the mast, pull the cunningham and outhaul on hard, and twist the leeches of both the main and jib to de-power. Finally, foot off and plane upwind as fast as you can! Just remember that a 505 sails best when the boat is flat and the helm is neutral in all conditions a balanced helm means you're in the groove!

Because mast rake and rig tension are the two most significant "crude" tuning variables, you have to know your numbers. To measure different mast-rake positions, hoist a tape measure to the black band at the top of a straightened mast, pass the tape through one of the transom cutouts, and read the number at the intersection of the bottom and transom and mark the headstay control so you can reproduce these positions. To measure shroud tension, use a tension gauge, and mark the shroud tension line as you pull it on so you can reproduce a specific tension for a given mast rake. The accompanying tuning chart has the basic numbers. Everyone uses the same tuning numbers, but lighter crews will de-power sooner than the heavier crews.

One of the reasons that competitive crew weights vary from a combined weight of 310 to 380 pounds is because the rig has a large range of adjustment, the boats can be equal in all conditions no matter what the crew weight. In general, if you're not pointing but going fast, decrease aft rake (straighten the mast up). If you are pointing too high, but lack speed, increase the rake. Also remember that a looser rig tension makes the headstay sag, allowing the jib to be fuller. Increased rig tension flattens the jib entry, and flattens the main with more bend.

Once these major adjustments are made and you start the race, the vang, mainsheet, jib lead, and jib-sheet tension become the major variables. It's important that all these systems work well, with enough purchase for easy adjustment any time. Locating major control lines on the side tank allows the skipper to make adjustments while hiking out.

One area critical to upwind speed is jib trim. You should have a window in your main so you can see a leech telltale on the jib. The telltale should be located one third of the way from the head down the jib leech. When sailing upwind, first set the jib lead so the luff breaks evenly from top to bottom, then trim in the sheet until the leech telltale is just on the verge of stalling. You can mark the jib sheet to duplicate this setting quickly after each tack. Also, adjustable jib leads that are led to the weather side are an important gross control, you can de-power the boat in a puff by dropping the lead back or you can pull the lead forward and pinch someone off.

Off the Wind

Downwind racing is 505 sailing at its best. The boat is so exhilarating to race off the wind, the class races on a double- triangle "worlds" course, with a total of four beats, four tight reaches, and one run in each race. The international class has its own rules on kinetics because these boats are meant to be worked hard off the wind there's no problem catching a wave; the challenge is usually getting over the backside of the wave in front of you and surfing down the next one!

When tight reaching, the 505 must be sailed flat with the spinnaker eased until just luffing. The crew must be very sensitive to weight placement, both inboard and outboard, and fore and aft. Some crews tend to move too far aft, sinking the stern of the boat and hindering planing. The vang is very important on a tight reach. Keep pulling the vang on to add power in the mainsail and to get the crew out on the trapeze as soon as possible, and when overpowered, ease the vang to keep the boat flat. Another de-powering technique is to move the spinnaker lead blocks aft for very heavy or very tight reaching conditions. (Some crews make this adjustment on the water by having different rope loops on the rail, into which the turning block is tied.) Light crews can also rig up a big-boat style flattening reef in the main to help keep the boom out of the water on heavy-air reaches. The centerboard should be pulled up to about a 45 degree angle for reaches, a little higher in windy conditions, and a little lower if you feel underpowered when you want to get the crew out on the wire a little sooner. Good reaching speed is a product of time in the boat. Sail trim, weight placement, and crew coordination in pumping the sails and working the boat must become second nature.

On the running legs, the 505 sensitive to apparent wind angle. Sail the boat on a hot (tight), broad-reaching angle to promote surfing on the waves , while playing the shifts downwind. Two things to watch out for on a 505: mainsail trim and weight placement. The main-trim problem can be due in part to having the skipper and crew sit on opposite side tanks - the preferred way to sail the 505 downwind in light air is to have both skipper and crew sit on the centerboard trunk inside the boat. If the skipper sits on the leeward side tank with his back to the main, he can't see the mainsail as easily. In the lightest conditions, give the skipper the spinnaker sheet so he can feel the pressure on the sheet and get a better feel for what angle he can steer. Once the breeze starts to build, the skipper can give the crew back the spinnaker and move to the weather rail while the crew remains in the center of the boat. This gives the skipper a better feel for the wave pattern, and he can see better than if he were on the leeward rail. When it's windier, remember to pre-bend the mast with the ram when running to prevent the mast from inverting and possibly breaking.

ln order to win races in a 505, you have to be fast and have good boathandling, both of which take time out on the water. lf you don't have the time, talk to the experienced teams. They'll teach you more tricks over a couple of beers than you can leam in an entire summer of solo practice. The sailors in the 505 class are always eager to get everyone up to speed , because that only makes for better racing. There are no hidden secrets in the class, and sailing a 505 is a lot simpler than people might believe.

At the same time, nobody just jumps into the 505 class and starts winning major regattas, it takes time. The first season is spent learning boathandling and rig control. The second season you keep refining tuning and boathandllng technique, and by the third season you're right in the thick of things. The best thing about this process is that as you are out there practicing and leaming, you're sailing a 505. There's no better boat to just go out and sail.

Wind         0-5           5-10          10-15        15-20     Over20
Rake         25'5"-7"      25'8"         25'7"        25'5"     25'2"

Rig Tension  250-300       300-500       350-600      500-800   650+ lbs.

Ram          Max.          Slight        Lower        1"        Don't 
             pre-bend      pre-bend      mast         pre-bend  over-bend

Vang         Top batten    Leech         Leech        Tight     Tight,
             parallel to   telltales     telltales    leech     twisted
             boom          flying 80%    flying 80%             leech

Cunningham/  Flat main     Off/Off       Tight/       Hard/     Max/
Outhaul                                  half off     Max on    Max

Board        Down, front   Down, front   Down, front  1" up     1"-2" up
             edge vertical edge vertical edge vertical