On Watch - Carolyn Russell

Carolyn RussellAs a co-founder of a successful women’s sailing program, a varsity sailing coach at an all-girls’ school and a regatta chair, Carolyn Russell of Greenwich, CT is an accomplished sailor who relishes creating opportunities for women of all ages and abilities to enjoy the sport.

“I grew up in Rye, NY and started sailing as a kid by cruising with my parents, Lynn Leech and Miller Longbotham,” says Carolyn. “My great uncle, George Gibbons, was a typical salty old sailor who taught me that

© Molly Boskey

sailing is about working hard and having a good time, no matter your age or ability. He lives on with me when I’m on the water. My first boat was an Optimist and I went through JAYC [Junior American Yacht Club], the junior program at American Yacht Club. It’s a great program with great instructors. I loved sailing as a kid and sailed recreationally on an Etchells in high school, but did not sail in college. It didn’t click until my 20s, and I was lucky to have the JAYC foundation.”

Carolyn is a co-founder of a program at American called Women on the Water. “My friends Alix Hahn and Karen Quirke and I started it,” she explains. “Karen had been traveling overseas and saw a very active women’s racing team in Ireland. She came back and said, ‘We need to do this!’ At that time, Alix and I were looking at racing on the national level and going for US Sailing’s Adams Trophy. We looked at who the active women sailors at American were and started a committee. We started having women’s clinics on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and another member, Paula Schaefer, got involved and started running them. Another member offered a J/80, and we have an all-women crew for Friday night racing.”

“Women on the Water is about getting more women out sailing, whether it’s women sailing together, serving on the Race Committee or Safety & Rescue Committee. It builds confidence, and women can get on another boat with the ability to grind a winch or trim a main. It’s really taken off, and we have a lot of women engaged and active in the sailing community at American. In 2011, we started the Women’s Invitational Team Race. We sent invitations to clubs all over the country, and had eight teams that first year. We had our fourth ‘WITR’ in June and we’ve had participants from clubs as far away as San Francisco. A lot of other clubs now have their own women’s programs, and they’re showing up at events, racing and having a good time.”

Carolyn served as chair of US Sailing’s U.S. Junior Women’s Doublehanded Championship, hosted by American in June. “We spent over a year planning the event,” she says. “It was great fun, the coaches and volunteers were amazing, and having 82 young women with such a passion for sailing was one of the highlights of my sailing career. Their enthusiasm for being on the water was phenomenal, and it showcased American’s incredible volunteers that will do anything to put on a successful event and make it a memorable experience.”

US Sailing’s Hobie Sailor of the Month in July, Carolyn has served on the Race Committee and Safety & Rescue Committee for the American Yacht Club High Performance Dinghy Open sponsored by Heineken since its inception 11 years ago. She also co-chairs the Queen’s Cup, the Long Island Sound Women’s Championship. She and skipper Alix Hahn won that regatta, which is sailed in Ideal 18s, in 2010 and ‘14. In 2011, she and teammates Clemmie Everett and Susan Doyle finished second in the Adams Trophy. She’s also an American Yacht Club trustee. “Our membership has a strong commitment to sailing and making sure that we have young members coming up in the ranks,” she says. “I love how American and many other clubs are revamping junior sailing programs to offer both a competitive aspect and an adventure component to instill a passion for sailing that will stick with them for life.” 

Carolyn is the Varsity Sailing Head Coach at Greenwich Academy. Sailing out of Indian Harbor Yacht Club in Greenwich, the Gators compete in New England Schools Sailing Association (NESSA) regattas. “We do a lot of Fairfield County Sailing League team racing events, and we travel for fleet racing events,” she says, “and we try to get to the NESSA Women’s Championship for the Rebecca Herreshoff Trophy every year. We have 11 girls on the roster for the 2015 season. While they may not be winning every race, they’re certainly making gains in every race and we’re looking forward to the season.”

A veteran of several Newport Bermuda Races and Block Island Race Weeks, Carolyn is, in the words of her friends, ‘the unstoppable bow woman’ on Bill Ketcham’s J/44 Maxine. “I’ve sailed on Maxine since 2003,” she says. “Maxine’s a great boat, and our crew works very well together. The J/44 Class has a lot of very dedicated owners and committed crews. They’re great people to hang out with and there’s a lot of camaraderie.”

“My husband, Christopher Russell, and I grew up sailing at American,” says Carolyn, pictured with Christopher, son Parker, 11, and daughter Lane, 9. “We’ve been sailing as a couple forever, and Parker and Lane have been sailing since before they could walk. Parker has his own Blue Jay and Lane has an Opti, and they come out on Maxine on Friday nights. We enjoy Family Fun Days at American, and the kids had a blast on a recent cruise on the J/122 Wings. If they have an opportunity to get on a boat, they’ll get on a boat!”

“Since getting back on the water in my adult life, my peers and friends have become my role models and mentors and I am continuously learning,” says Carolyn. “Sailing is a lifetime sport that you can enjoy with family and friends, and I hope to be doing it for a long, long time!”

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