J/70 World Champion Jud Smith of Gloucester, MA and Girl’s International 420 Youth Sailing World Champions Carmen and Emma Cowles (Larchmont, NY) are US Sailing’s 2018 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswomen of the Year. Smith and the Cowles were honored at a ceremony at St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, CA in February, where each received specially engraved Rolex timepieces and custom picture frames commemorating their outstanding accomplishments in the sport.

From left to right are US Sailing President Cory Sertl, Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Jud Smith, Rolex Yachtswomen of the Year Emma and Carmen Cowles, and Rolex Watch USA CEO and President Luca Bernasconi. © Christine Robin Photography

At 62, Jud Smith is the oldest winner of this esteemed award (he was 61 when he and teammates Lucas Calabrese, Will Felder and Marc Gauthier won the 2018 West Marine J/70 World Championships). He’s now a two-time Yachtsman of the Year, having earned the honor 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.”

“To be competitive at the top level requires sailing with the best young sailors in the world,” Smith continued. “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.”

Smith grew up in Marblehead, MA and is a member of Eastern Yacht Club, which hosted the 2018 West Marine J/70 World Championships. “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,” he said, “and I met my wife, Cindy, frostbiting in Marblehead. 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.”

Representing Larchmont Yacht Club in Larchmont, NY, 18-year-old identical twins Carmen and Emma Cowles captured a second consecutive gold medal at the Youth Sailing World Championships in the Girl’s International 420 Doublehanded Dinghy event. “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, allow 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 & 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 sisters began sailing at Larchmont YC at age 9, with the intention of simply learning how to sail and being comfortable on the water. “We hated our first regatta,” said Carmen. “We were too hot, it was too long of a day, and we were getting nauseous. 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. As twin sisters, we love that we can share this experience with our best friend. 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.”

“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.” ■

Jake Fish, US Sailing’s Communications Director, contributed to
this report.