The Quantum Women’s Collegiate Sailor of the Year Award is presented annually to an individual who has performed at the highest level of competition in district and national championships. Quantum’s goal with this award is to not only acknowledge excellence in women’s sailing, but also to support and foster the growth of women in our sport in college and beyond. This year, the selection committee has chosen Carmen Cowles, a Yale Bulldog who, along with her team, won the ICSA Women’s Team Race National Championships. Coming off their win, we caught up with Carmen for a Q&A.
Quantum: How, when, and where did you learn to sail?
Carmen: I learned to sail when I was nine years old in the junior sailing program at the Larchmont Yacht Club in Larchmont, New York.
Why did you choose to sail in college?
I chose to sail in college because sailing had become a huge part of my life and I loved the competitive environment it provided. I also really gravitated towards being part of a larger team.
Your twin sister is your teammate at Yale, and you campaigned a 470 for the 2020 Olympics together. Tell us about competing together.
Emma and I have sailed a lot against each other and together since we began sailing. We were always each other's training partners and also each other's biggest cheerleaders. It's an interesting experience to sail with someone who has almost always been there on any day of training or racing. This has also proven beneficial for us when we teamed up to sail in the 420 (and eventually the 470). We came from the same place with fairly identical learning environments and experiences. And being twins, we can easily read each other. We’re able to understand and help support one another very well.
College sailing is a team-oriented sport. What do you consider to be the most important characteristics of a good teammate?
Patience, trust, and an encouraging/positive attitude. You never know what your teammate may be going through that day and a few words of encouragement can go a long way towards feeling “seen.” Also, everyone has different learning curves and processes as well as different backgrounds in sailing. Being patient and trusting your teammate to work their hardest, whatever that may be on a particular day, is crucial. This foundation of trust only benefits other aspects of a good team culture.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from college sailing so far?
I’d say two of the biggest lessons I’ve learned are big-picture lessons. The first is that there are a lot of races in a regatta. It’s best to learn, rinse and repeat, and not focus too much on a particular race or part of a race. It’s cliché to say, but don’t sweat the small mistakes. Just learn from them. You’ll probably have several more opportunities to continue to strengthen your skills and learn from your mistakes. My coach, Zack Leonard, has really helped me improve this skill. The second lesson is to “trust the process.” I used this methodology throughout my 420 and 470 sailing. The basic principle is that if you work hard and focus on the small parts of racing and sailing, the results and the rest will follow. This still very much holds true in college sailing. There are so many venues with dynamic wind and current patterns. Sometimes it’s a bit up to luck. But if you focus on the parts of a race − for example a good acceleration at the start or good, powerful boat handling− it can only help you when you’re faced with a challenging race day.
Do you have any favorite memories or races?
One of my favorite memories took place during this past post season. The practice wasn’t nearly as structured as normal. We did long upwind and downwind tuning runs that took us way out into the Long Island Sound, much farther than where we would normally practice. We even went for a destination cruise up Farm River at the end of practice. The goal was just to ease back into training after finals period. It was such a great way to get back into the groove and remind myself why I love the sport so much.
The Yale Bulldogs won Women’s Team Race Nationals this year. What stands out to you from that regatta?
What stands out to me is our whole team’s ability to keep a calm, cool mindset throughout the entire event. The sailing conditions varied over the weekend and the racing was super competitive. Keeping our energy and emotional levels stable and calm during racing proved essential to race with a clear mind and sail to our strengths.
What advice would you give younger sailors - particularly young female sailors?
Keep learning. Learning and seeing progress is what has made sailing fun and exciting for me.
What does winning this award mean to you?
I am proud to join an accomplished group of women who have won the Quantum Women’s College Sailor of the Year Award. Winning this award is a reflection of the hard work my teammates and I have put in this past year. This year has also been a historic one for women in college sailing. I’m proud to be a part of this current group of highly skilled women sailors.
You still have two years left to race in college. What are you looking forward to or hoping to accomplish in the next few years − sailing and non-sailing?
I’m looking forward to more days on the water with my team. I’m also looking forward to further exploring my major, Global Affairs.
Carmen joins the ranks of impressive female college sailors who have won the award since it was created in 2003. Congratulations, Carmen! Our team at Quantum looks forward to seeing what’s next on the horizon for you as you continue your collegiate career and beyond.