Newport, R.I. — Carmen Cowles and Jenn Norwood are two of the 20 accomplished female skippers leading teams into the inaugural edition of the New York Yacht Club Women’s Championship, which starts tomorrow and runs through Sunday. The two sailors arrived at this historic event, however, via very different paths.
Cowles (above, with red hat) is one of America’s brightest young sailing stars. A prodigy as a youth sailor in Optimists and 420s, she just finished her freshman year at Yale University where she teamed with her identical twin sister Emma to win the inaugural InterCollegiate Women’s Team Race Championship and finish second in the ICSA Women’s Fleet Race Championship. Prior to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, held in Japan last summer, she and her sister were one of the top Women’s 470 teams and narrowly missed qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Team.
Norwood, a generation ahead of Cowles, took a more circuitous route. “I am much newer to driving than most in the fleet,” says Norwood, who hails from Annapolis, Md. “I didn’t sail in college like many of my competitors, though I always enjoyed crewing on various one-design boats, including Farr 40s, Melges 32s, IC37s and others. When the J/70 came out, I was inspired, by Annapolis racer Kathy Parks and other women drivers I knew, to get a J/70 and give driving a try.”
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Both sailors are excited for this new event and appreciative of the opportunity.
“This sailing community, that’s something both [Emma and I] really like,” says Carmen Cowles, from Larchmont, N.Y. “Also, it’s a women’s regatta and it’s not something that’s very common right now. We did the Women’s 2v2 Team Race [also hosted by the New York Yacht Club, in late May] with our home Larchmont Yacht Club, and so we said why not do this one too. This is such a great opportunity to keep sailing with this group.”
Cowles’ ability in a dinghy is obvious from her extensive resume. She, and her sister, excelled on the women’s college circuit over the past year. But the 23-foot Sonar, which is used for the Women’s Championship, is a different animal and presents an opportunity to broaden her skill set.
“The Sonar just brings a whole other dimension,” says Cowles. “The back stay, for example, that’s not something you have on a 420 or 470. Being able to continuously learn and having all these good sailors around you, that’s the best part of it.”
The inaugural edition of the Women’s Championship attracted more than 40 expressions of interest for 20 available slots. The result is a field packed with accomplished, talented sailors ranging from current college All Americans to former teammates on Bill Koch’s America3 program that competed in the 1995 America’s Cup to sailors who helped break trail for women-only Olympics classes in the 1980s and 1990s.
“There is a wealth of experience across all the teams,” says Norwood (at left, sailing in the 2019 Rolex New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup). “It’s really awesome to see so much talent—and fellow friends—racing in one event. Well done by the New York Yacht Club to start the Women’s 2v2 Team Race last year, and this national championship in 2022. It will be a tough regatta for certain.”
Racing in the inaugural Women’s Championship will start at 11 a.m. on Friday, June 17, in the area between Rose Island and Goat Island on the East Passage of Narragansett Bay. The regatta will run through Sunday, with the winning team receiving the Joan H. Towse Trophy, named in honor of the late wife of past New York Yacht Club Commodore Robert C. Towse Jr.
Photos: Stuart Streuli / New York Yacht Club, ROLEX / Daniel Forster