OHCC is the headquarters for 505 sailing in Toronto with a fleet of keen and experienced sailors. As you watch these sleek craft planing by you are looking at probably the best dinghy never to have become an Olympic class. (In 2009 Dinghy Sailing magazine voted the 505 to be the best British dinghy of all time). But what is the background to the boat? Why does the class burgee of the 505 have a crown and a duckling on it? Therein lies the history of this famous dinghy.
Back in 1993 the English designer, John Westell, designed a boat to compete in the IYRU trials in La Baule, France, to find “the best possible two-man centreboarder”. It was called the Coronet, an 18’ moulded plywood boat, narrow at the waterline and with odd-looking (for the time) flared gunwales. The boat proved superior to all other dinghies at the trials, including the Flying Dutchman.
That winter the French Caneton (duckling) Association – one of the foremost dinghy organisations in Europe – asked the designer to modify the Coronet for their needs. Six inches was taken off the bow, a foot from the stern, the boat was made lighter and the sail area was reduced to 14 sq. metres (now 17sq. metres). At first it was called the “Franco-British One- Design” but the new hull length, 5.05 metres, inspired the name 505. The Caneton Association in 1954 adopted the new boat and the 505 class was born and kept as its insignia the emblems of
its two founding elements: the coronet and the duckling. With the strong backing of the French organisation, the 505 began on a multi-country basis and expanded rapidly. In November 1955 the IYRU accorded it international status and fleets developed in many parts of the world.
The early boats were made of wood, with wooden spars, but gradually fibreglass took over although many boats were built with a fibreglass hull and wooden deck – notably by Parker Bros. of Boston, England. In the late 1970’s American experimentation revolutionised the building methods. Knowledge from the aerospace industry was used with space-age epoxies and carbon fibre to build light and very stiff hulls which would remain competitive for many years. The extent to which this can be seen to be true is evident in recent World Championships where
three boats at least 10 years old placed in the top 10 of an 85 –boat fleet in Hamilton Island, Australia in March 2011 and a 10-year old boat won the 2009 Worlds in San Francisco. There are few other dinghy classes where boats of this age can hold their own with brand new craft in a world championship fleet.
But longevity is not just a feature of the hulls. The 505 is sailed by people ranging from teenagers to devotees in their 60’s and 70’s. The late Marcel Buffet of France sailed in world championship events into his 80’s. There are many mixed crews sailing at all levels as the 505 can be adjusted to equalize a wide range of crew weights, so wives and girl-friends needn’t be left out of the excitement. In fact, many competitive boats are skippered by women. A lady-skippered boat was 5th in a 125-boat fleet at the 2010 Worlds in Denmark.
With the advent of light, overcanvassed dinghies such as the 49’er, the 505 no longer rules as the ultimate speed monohull as it did for nearly 40 years. The famous class T-shirt “Overbearing in Victory – Surly in Defeat” has, perhaps, been laid to rest. But despite its historic design, the 505still remains one of the most competitive monohulls: fast, yet forgiving; comfortable; fun to sail and affordable with a friendly, knowledgeable and helpful fleet structure. It is a development boat, which means rule changes that permit a larger spinnaker than before, or fittings changes with twin spinnaker poles on launchers with separate sheets and guys to make the crew’s job even easier, so it remains totally up-to-date.
Visit the websites – Canada at www.505.ca, or the international site at www.int505.org. Watch some of the videos from recent world championships and you too will be tempted to FLY A 505!
Angus Ross – aging owner of CAN8288, built in 1990