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An interview with Travis Yates on the second 2024 Sarasota Viper Winter Series Event

by David Schmidt 10 Jan 08:00 PST January 13-14, 2024
Racecourse action, Viper style © Vladimir Kulinichenko

If you're seeking fast One Designs, warm water, and sunshine, the Sarasota Sailing Squadron's 2023-2024 Sarasota Viper Winter Series is a great place to go looking. The three-regatta event began last year (December 9-10) with nine races scored and perfect conditions, and it continues this weekend (January 13-14), before concluding next month (February 10-11, 2024).

Careful students of winter's drudgery and regatta-series veterans will note that this provides something great to look forward to in each of winter's dreariest months.

For the rest of us, there's FOMO and the snow shovel.

Racing is set to unfurl on the waters of Sarasota Bay, with all shoreside action happening at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. According to the regatta series' NOR, the RC will leverage Windward-Leeward courses that will be delineated by MarkSetBots.

I checked in with Travis Yates, regatta chair of the 2024 Sarasota Viper Winter Series, via email, to learn more about this competitive One Design series.

Can you please tell us a bit about the Sarasota Viper Series, its history, and its culture? I am very proud to say that this the is 10th running of the Sarasota Viper Winter Series. It has taken us 11 years to make it happen, but as of February, the event will crown its 10th Series Champion.

What kind of entry numbers are you seeing ahead of the 2023-2024 season's second event? How does this number stack-up against previous recent editions? In previous years we have seen 30 teams lined for many of the series events. This year we capped registration at 20 boats for each event, and we have all three events registered to max capacity.

At one point after Covid, the Sarasota Sailing Squadron just got too rammed with big fleet series events from visiting classes and there was a need for limitations to allow members to enjoy their own club through the winter.

Vipers are the only class running a series this winter as the Squadron looks to find the balance between series/larger hosted events and member use.

We are a very unique type of organization and good stewardship of the amazing resource The Squadron has is the goal.

Weather-wise, what kind of conditions can sailors expect to encounter on the waters off of Sarasota in mid-January? What are the best-case and worst-case weather scenarios? Generally speaking, January produces consist great sailing on the southwest coast of Florida. We can even get warm enough to generate a sea breeze on occasion.

While we can end up with a breezy cold front that drops the weather into the 50s during the day....we can just as easily see [temperatures in] the 70s.

The breeze in the winter is really all based on cold fronts passing through the Southern U.S., if a big front passes through the U.S. Southern States, we can count on some sporty, full-planning wet rides downwind, and some hard hiking upwind.

Without a cold front we will usually see 8-14 knots most weekends.

Do you see local knowledge playing a big or small role in the regatta's outcome? Can you please explain? Sarasota is not too tricky unless it is blowing from the east. We have very mild tides so the local knowledge is not generally a big factor.

Since we have moved to running the events with robot marks (MarkSetBots managed by Ed Furry with Sail22), the courses are generally dead square and it really comes down to boat speed and boat handling.

The Viper as a boat is very even playing field from a one-design standpoint. The class has evolved and boats have changed in construction over the years, yet in half of the last North American Championships in recent years good team have won with old boats.

If you could offer one piece of advice to visiting (and local) sailors, what would it be?

Generally, for all [three] events, bring your family and get a house for a week. The beaches, restaurants and town are spectacular and spending time here in the winter is awesome.

I am very lucky to get to live here.

Based on what you saw at the 2023-2024 season's first event, do you have any teams that you're eyeing for podium finishes at the second event?

We have a very nice mix of veterans of the class and those new to the class joining us this winter. The current North American champions are on a streak, so Team Robot Flamingo will be the ones to watch.

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?

The Sarasota Viper Winter series works hard to abide by the guidelines of the Sailors for the Sea organization. We are very fortunate to have drinking water stations installed at The Sarasota Sailing Squadron, and, as an organizer, I work hard to keep as much of the regatta management paperless and discourage all dependence on single-use plastics.

Is there anything else that you'd like to add about the 2023-2024 Sarasota Viper Series (either the second event, or the series), for the record?

I would like to shine a very bright light on an organization founded by one of our long-time Viper sailors, Mary Ewenson.

The EWE Spirit Foundation she created in memory of her husband Geoff Ewenson (whom many readers will know) works towards its mission of helping those facing immediate hardship bridge financial and social support gaps through mentorship, outreach and financial assistance, thus creating a kind world where everyone has the resources and opportunity to live with dignity, hope and joy.

Mary's Viper Team on Evil Hiss continues to sail events and work in locations that she and Geoff sailed in, and in those locations The EWE Spirit Foundation works to carry out its mission by making financial contributions to local charities that support those in need in the local community.

At the December event daily fleet debrief, Mary presented a $10,000 check to a local non-profit called Mothers Helping Mothers ( to help them in their mission to provide support of upwards of 2,500 local mothers/families in need.

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