Kate WilsonRecently honored for her devotion to the future of sailing, Kate Wilson of North Kingstown, Rhode Island spends much of her time with youth sailors to keep them engaged and enthused about the sport.

© Bill Shea

At the 24th Annual Providence Boat Show, the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA) recognized Kate as the Rhode Island Boater of the Year. Named after the Ocean State’s 66th Governor, RIMTA’s John H. Chafee Boater of the Year award, a beautiful half hull with a plaque engraved with such names as Ted Hood, Halsey Herreshoff, Ken Read and Rome Kirby, acknowledges an individual who has contributed to the success of the recreational boating industry in Rhode Island or championed the cause of bringing recreational boating to the public.

Kate was acknowledged for the important grassroots work she has done to grow the sport by finding new ways of inspiring young people to go sailing. “This award is really for all the volunteers who are getting kids on the water,” she said in her acceptance speech. “To create lifelong sailors, we need to start with our youth.”

Growing up sailing in junior programs around the world, Kate was enthusiastic about getting on the water as much as possible. “I had the opportunity to move quite a lot growing up since my dad was in the Navy,” she explains. “I had many coaches, and all of them taught me a little bit more about what it is to be a good leader and coach.”

As a former sailing coach at Rogers High School in her hometown of Newport, Kate saw that many students with requisite skills and experience to join the school’s sailing team were choosing other sports instead. After years of competing, these young sailors were simply burnt out. “It was disheartening that a sailing mecca like Newport was not able to field a thriving high school sailing team,” says Kate, although she knew well the cause of their disinterest. Kate raced throughout high school and college and her teammates remain some of her closest friends, but took a break from racing after she graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “I just wasn’t having fun anymore,” she recalls. “The competition had zapped it from me.”

However, Kate certainly didn’t leave sailing. “I worked for ORACLE TEAM USA from 2012 to 2013,” she says. “I assisted them in Newport during the America’s Cup World Series, then moved to San Francisco for the 34th America’s Cup. I was part of the Marketing and Communications Team and I wore a lot of hats from support boat driver and graphic designer to clothing manager and social media content creator, but the main goal of my job was to support the whole the team and our sponsors.”

After trailing the Finals series 8-1, ORACLE rallied to win the Cup, and Kate recalls a pivotal team meeting. “We were one race away from losing it all (the first time), and Jimmy Spithill and Russell Coutts spoke to us about not giving up. Their determination set a tone that was uplifting and kept us all going.”

Offering advice for young job seekers, Kate says, “First, it never hurts to ask. Then, let your work ethic speak louder than your words. After I worked with OTUSA in Newport, I called them up and asked for a job in San Francisco and was told I could have it if I got there. I flew out, and showed up early and worked late every day. I was the newest member of the team with sometimes not the best duties, but I was part of a team. Knowing your place and working hard doesn’t go unrecognized.”

Kate is the Founder & Chief Designer of a marketing and web design company called risingT, and her clients include several marine companies and events. The company name derives from a phrase used by John F. Kennedy in a speech in 1963: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In accepting her Boater of the Year award, Kate urged those in the marine industry to recall why they’d first gotten into boating. “Remember, boating is all about the fun,” she enthused, “and I guarantee that if you focus on that you will be successful.”

Kate puts her own advice into practice with much success. As a member of Newport Yacht Club, she led the effort to revitalize the club’s junior sailing program. The program was renamed the Marine Adventure Camp, larger boats were added to the fleet, and she placed an emphasis on fun adventures with friends. In just two summers, a program that had dwindled to about a dozen kids grew to 120. “We’d have the kids go out and set their anchor, or sail over to Jamestown to get ice cream…it was not about competition,” says Kate. “The simple recipe for success is allowing time to have just have fun. No matter the sailors’ skill level, just sailing across the bay or playing sponge tag is fun, yet they are still improving their skills.”

Enacting a similar plan with high school sailors, Kate created an event called Friday Night Lights in the spring of 2014. “All the local schools were invited to do some fun round-robin racing,” she says. “We’d have cookouts, and parents could come and watch, too. It was like a Friday night football game! For me, the most gratifying part of what I do is seeing the huge smiles on the kids’ faces at the end of the day or watching one my high school sailor’s confidence grow.”

Noting that her approach is not meant to denigrate competitive sailing, but to give kids who are not motivated by racing other ways to develop a passion for the sport, Kate says, “Sailing is more than a sport or hobby. It’s a way of life, a community, a family, and teaches us skills that go beyond the water into our professional and personal lives.”

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