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US Sailing announces 2018 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year

by US Sailing 21 Feb 09:48 PST
Jud Smith, Carmen and Emma Cowles Selected US Sailing's 2018 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswomen of the Year © US Sailing

Over the past six decades, the sailing community has had the unique opportunity to discuss and analyze the fascinating contrasts between the winners of US Sailing's Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year.

The 2018 award winners will once again offer us, as fans and stewards of the sport, the chance to reflect and appreciate their respective 2018 achievements, but perhaps more importantly, how they got to this special place in their careers and what the future holds.

J/70 World Champion, Jud Smith (Gloucester, Mass.), and Girl's International 420 Youth Sailing World Champions, Carmen and Emma Cowles (Larchmont, N.Y.), today were selected as Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswomen of the Year for their remarkable sailing performances in 2018.

The selection follows the announcement in January of the three men and three women who were shortlisted for these prestigious awards and recognized as sailing's top performers of the year by US Sailing.

The slate of finalists, nominated by members of US Sailing and determined by US Sailing, was presented to a panel of 28 accomplished sailing media professionals and past winners of the awards, who analyzed the merits of each finalist and individually voted to determine the ultimate winners using a weighted point system (1st place vote – 5 points; 2nd place vote – 3 points; 3rd place vote – 1 point).

Jud Smith tallied 116 points, including 20 first place votes. Placing second was 2018 J/22 World Champion, Zeke Horowitz (Annapolis, Md.), with 86 points and seven first place votes. Will Welles (Portsmouth, R.I.), 2018 J/24 World Champion, finished third with 50 points and one first place vote.

Carmen and Emma Cowles collected 88 points and nine first place votes. The sister tandem narrowly edged a pair of past winners of the award, Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.), 2018 Laser European Championship Silver Medalist, and Daniela Moroz (Lafayette, Calif.), 2018 Women's Formula Kiteboard Sailing World Champion. Railey and Moroz each had 82 points. Railey led all Yachtswomen finalists with 11 first place votes and Moroz had eight first place votes.

Smith and the Cowles sisters will be honored on Thursday, February 28, 2019, at the Awards Ceremony hosted by the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, where they will be celebrated by family and friends, teammates and crew, past winners, 2018 finalists, sailing dignitaries, and representatives from US Sailing and Rolex. They will also be presented with specially-engraved Rolex timepieces and designed picture frames of the winners commemorating their outstanding 2018 accomplishments.

The partnership between Rolex and US Sailing is natural considering the Swiss watchmaker's more than 60-year commitment to fostering yachting excellence worldwide. Rolex is a committed partner of the most prestigious yacht clubs around the country, including the St. Francis Yacht Club. Rolex shares the highest standards of excellence and superior performance with US Sailing, acting together as joint custodians of yachting's finest spirit.

Jud Smith – US Sailing's 2018 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year

At the age of 62, Jud Smith (Gloucester, Mass.), becomes the oldest winner of this esteemed award. He was 61 at the time of his team's win at the 2018 J/70 World Championships. In 2015, Steve Benjamin became the oldest recipient at the age of 60. Smith is now a two-time winner of the award, earning his first Yachtsman of the Year award in 2006.

"I do consider my age as my biggest challenge," said Smith. "However, I just have to work on my fitness and health much more than in years' past. Instead of worrying if I'm good enough to be competitive, I worry if I am fit enough to be competitive. I now spend much more time in the gym since that's my limiting factor. Mentally, the game is less daunting than when I was younger."

Smith continued his assessment of where he is in his competitive sailing career and how it remains, more than ever, a team sport to him. "To be competitive at the top level requires sailing with the best young sailors in the world. There a lot of 25 to 50-year-old talented sailors that make it possible for my generation to continue to compete. It's a pleasure to be able to race with such a talented and committed group of young sailors. If it wasn't for them, we'd be playing shuffleboard."

The win at J/70 Worlds in 2018 was his second consecutive win at this highly competitive regatta. In 2017, Smith won the J/70 Worlds as crew for Peter Duncan, who went on to win Yachtsman of the Year honors in 2017.

"I had the opportunity to campaign in 2017 with Peter Duncan, along with Willem van Waay and Victor Diaz for the J/70 Worlds in Porto Cervo (Italy). It was not only a privilege, but a daily clinic with such a talented team, and it served as an ideal vantage point to know how to prepare my own team and boat for the 2018 Worlds at my home club."

The 2018 J/70 Worlds, once again, featured a deep fleet, including 91 teams from 18 countries. On the final day of the event, the wind failed to deliver sufficient breeze and the standings were deemed official. The top three teams in the final standings were separated by only three points through 11 races. Consistency truly paid off for Smith and his crew aboard, Africa. They didn't win any races, but they placed in the top 10 in five races and top five in two. Smith edged Bruno Pasquinelli by one point and Jack Franco by three. Duncan, last year's winning skipper, placed fourth overall.

"We have the utmost respect for all of the other teams," said Smith. "Anybody could have won this regatta, and we respected that. I would like to thank my team. We have worked really hard, training for this event all year long, and we have been together through thick and thin. It was a real privilege to race with such a talented group of sailors in a World Championship at my home club for an opportunity of a lifetime."

Smith posted podium results at other top J/70 events in 2018, including first place out of 57 boats at the Helly Hansen NOOD Regatta in Marblehead; second place out of 47 boats at the Bacardi Cup Invitational Regatta; and third place out of 27 boats at the Newport Regatta.

Sailing has always played an important role Smith's life. He grew up in Marblehead, Mass. and started sailing with his father, David Smith, at a young age. David was also an accomplished racing sailor. He won an Olympic Gold Medal at the Rome 1960 Games in the 5.5 meter event as crew.

"Sailing was such a big part of my life growing up at Pleon Junior Yacht Club during the summers and frostbiting Interclub dinghies in the winters," added Smith. "I met my wife, Cindy, frostbiting in Marblehead. She's a very good sailor herself and serves as our J/70 fleet secretary. We continue to race the J/70 together in Marblehead every chance we get. Massachusetts Bay and Salem Sound is still my favorite place to sail, where no two days are the same. There's always a new wrinkle to work out, which makes it challenging."

Carmen and Emma Cowles – US Sailing's 2018 Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year

Carmen and Emma Cowles' (Larchmont, N.Y.) selection as the year's best in women's sailing is symbolic to the progress and growth of the youth sailing movement sweeping across the United States over the past several years. The 18-year-old identical twins became the second youngest winners in the award's long history. In 2016, Daniela Moroz was tapped for the award at the age of 16 for her accomplishments as a 15-year-old, becoming the youngest award winner.

For the second straight year, the Cowles captured a gold medal at the Youth Sailing World Championships, hosted by the Corpus Christi Yacht Club (Texas), in the Girl's International 420 Doublehanded Dinghy event. They were dominant over the 21-boat fleet by placing first in seven of the nine races and winning by a 13-point margin over Great Britain's Vita Heathcote and Emilia Boyle. They were instrumental in leading the 2018 U.S. Youth Worlds Team to the Nations Trophy, awarded to the best overall performing country at Youth Worlds. The U.S. Youth Worlds Sailing Team hauled in four gold medals and a silver.

"There were several key aspects that enabled our success including sticking to our routine, having a solid support system, and training partners," said Carmen. "We built a plan for our training designed to peak at the time of the event, so we incorporated weekend training, training camps, and practice regattas."

"A strong support system helped keep our nerves at bay and our training partners were crucial as they provided a constant source of good competition," said Emma. "In an event where stress is inevitable, sticking to our routine is essential. We wake up early, check the forecasts, allowed ourselves enough time to thoroughly check over our boat, listen to music in the boat park before launching, and even stick to our on-the-water fuel of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Glacier Freeze Gatorade. With this, we can concentrate solely on the sailing and competition without being distracted by the differences in the venue. Our approach is that it just becomes another day on the water, or just another regatta."

The Cowles are a proud product of Project Pipeline, the strategy behind a new-look Olympic Development Program, organized by US Sailing, that aims to better serve young sailors, lead them into high-performance boats earlier in their development, and build well-rounded sailors with complete skill sets. Providing training and racing opportunities with world-class coaching and the highest level of technical standards are the core principles of the initiative.

They also placed third overall out of 39 boats at the International 420 North American Championships in Miami and were the top all-girls team in the fleet. They also finished fourth overall out of 96 boats in the International 420 fleet at Kieler Woche (Kiel Week) in Germany and were the top all-girls team.

The Cowles have their sights set on another podium finish on the grandest stage as they are committed to campaigning for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in the Women's 470. They are also looking forward to racing on the college sailing circuit starting in the fall of 2020 for Yale University.

The Cowles sisters began sailing at the age of nine at the family's home club, the Larchmont Yacht Club (New York), with the intention of simply learning how to sail and being comfortable on the water.

"We hated our first regatta. We were too hot, it was too long of a day, and we were getting nauseous," said Carmen. "However, we loved learning to sail as it was fun to drive our own machine and we were in charge. For the next two summers, we agreed to continue the junior sailing program under the condition that we had to compete in only one regatta each summer."

"In our third summer, I just missed out on a trophy at the first regatta of the summer program," said Emma. "This gave us the incentive to race in the second event of the summer. We both came back with a trophy and we were hooked."

The joy of being on the water and being in their element, along with the consistent knowledge sharing they experience in their training has spirited their love of sailing.

"We love sailing because of the freedom of being on the water," said Carmen. "The constant learning process also draws us in. We continuously test sail setup, settings, and different equipment. It's really exciting to test and discover different technical aspects of the boat to see how they affect our speed and maneuvers. We like the discovery."

"As twin sisters, we love that we can share this experience with our best friend," added Emma. "It is also one of the very few sports where we can compete against boys and girls, as well as with people of different ages."

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