Since compiling my annual Jobson Junior All-Star lists since 2001, I’ve been combing through results of hundreds of junior championship regattas and speaking with parents, coaches and young sailors about their astounding performances. The All-Stars from that first class are now in their 30s, and many who followed have gone on to become collegiate champions, world champions, America’s Cup sailors, Olympic medalists, and Rolex yachtsmen and yachtswomen of the year. A few names you should recognize include Andrew Campbell, Paige and Zach Railey, Briana Provancha, Caleb Paine, Charlie Buckingham, Clay Johnson, Stephanie Roble and Molly Carapiet. As I have with my All-Star finalists in the past, I’ve discovered a common thread with this year’s class: They each have a strong desire to excel, appreciate the support of their parents, and work closely with coaches to improve their skills.
Stephen Baker, 13, of Coconut Grove, Florida, was the first to cross my radar thanks to recommendations from professional sailors Steve Benjamin and Mike Toppa. This superstar Optimist sailor is only in the eighth grade at Ransom Everglades School and has been sailing for only four years. Baker won the 35th Lake Garda Optimist Meeting in April 2017 against 770 boats, and at the Optimist World Championship in Thailand, in July, he finished fourth of 281 boats.
“I wish I had been a bit more aggressive on the first days,” says Baker, who also defended his Optimist North American title in Canada. And if that isn’t enough to impress, he won the 2017 U.S. Optimist Nationals, topping 307 competitors.
When not sailing, he plays golf and is on a club swimming team. “Golf and sailing both test my patience and focus,” he says. “You have to take one race at a time, like one hole at a time. Swimming prepares me physically and mentally for the long hours on the water.”
Chase Carraway, 17, of Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, started sailing Optimists at the age of 6 and now races a Laser Radial. In 2017, Carraway won the Radial Laser Nationals and the Cressy Trophy (Interscholastic Sailing Association Singlehanded Championship) and placed fifth at the U.S. Youth Champs in the Radial. When Carraway is not racing with the Cape Fear sailing team, he travels to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to practice on many weekends. Carraway hopes to be accepted to Hobart and William Smith Colleges to join its sailing team before considering an Olympic campaign after college.
When asked if he ever had an embarrassing moment in sailing, he recalls an incident at an Optimist regatta several years ago, one he’d perhaps soon rather forget. “We were being towed through a sewage spill on Long Island Sound,” he says, “and somehow I capsized when the coach let go of my tow rope. I was in my drysuit, but I still needed to be completely cleaned up.”
Carmen and Emma Cowles, 17, Larchmont, New York, are twin sisters who race for the Mamaroneck High School sailing team. They both started sailing at the age of 9 in Optimists. Today they race the International 420, Interclubs and occasionally Flying Juniors. Emma and Carmen both spend time as skipper and crew. They won the 2016 International 420 Nationals at the Orange Bowl and placed third at the International 420 North Americans. Both sailors are considering graduating to either the International 470 or 49erFX in the near future. They credit their Optimist coach, Pepe Bettini and, more recently, their coach Steve Keen for rapid improvements in recent years. While it’s yet to be determined whether they’ll attend the same college, they do share a common desire to attend a school that is highly competitive academically and with a strong varsity sailing program.
“Sailing has given me the opportunity to learn critical life lessons such as dealing with stress, performing under pressure and learning to be successful,” says Emma. Carmen adds, “Being confident with who and where you are as a sailor is crucial to becoming a successful athlete.” Studious as well, they recently read Wind Strategy by David Houghton and Fiona Campbell, and the book gave them a better understanding of wind.
Cameron Feves, 17, of Long Beach, California, started sailing as a 1-year-old, riding along with his father on the family Olson 30 in Southern California. Four years later, Feves was skippering a Lido 14. This past summer, along with his teammates Tristan Richmond and Brock Paquin, Feves won the Sears Cup in Flying Scots on Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. The trio won five of 10 races. In addition to racing FJs, 420s and Lasers, Feves enjoys the J/22 and plans to race with his Sears Cup crew in the J/22 World Championships in Annapolis in 2018. He has also raced Nacra 15s and 17s with Nico Martin.
Feves gleans sailing information from the online resource portal of the Southern California Youth Yacht Racing Association every day. “I find it to be my biggest resource for organizing my time,” says Feves, who placed third in the Laser Midwinters West and seventh in the U.S. Sailing Singlehanded Championship for the O’Day Trophy. He is currently the captain of the Long Beach Polytechnic High School sailing team and plans to race in college.
Maddie Hawkins, 15, of Annapolis, Maryland, races out of the Annapolis YC and is a member of the Severn School sailing team. As a sophomore, Hawkins hasn’t yet focused on a specific college, but she plans to join a good sailing team after high school. In their first year of racing together, Hawkins and her regular crew, Kimmie Leonard, 17, also of Annapolis, won the 2017 Chubb U.S. Junior Championship for the Bemis Trophy in the Club 420, the Club 420 North Americans and the U.S. Sailing Junior Women’s Championship. Leonard, who is considering attending the Naval Academy, or perhaps St. Mary’s College of Maryland or the College of Charleston, credits Naval Academy sailing coach, Dillon Paiva, for helping to improve their skills.
“Last summer, Dillon saw how much potential Maddie and I had before we could even realize it ourselves,” says Leonard. “He helped us with the technical aspects as well as the mental part. Dillon was our biggest fan — besides our parents, of course.”
Hawkins intends to race International 420s in 2018, and admits that she he doesn’t have much spare time for other sports. She does, however, proudly claim to have performed in her school’s winter musical.
Jamie Paul, 16, of Fairfield, Connecticut, is like the other All-Stars on our list this year in that he started his sailing career in the Optimist. Today, he races both International and Club 420s, Flying Juniors and Lasers. In 2017, Paul won the U.S. Junior Championship for the Smythe Trophy in Lasers. While he finds the Laser to be physically demanding and the I420 to be technically complex, it’s team racing that gets his competitive juices flowing. “What I love most about high school sailing is team racing,” says Paul. “I was lucky to represent the United States in team racing regattas in Berlin and Venice. For me and my teammates, it was the highlight of our sailing careers, and I look forward to more team racing in college.”
During the winter offseason Paul transitions to skiing, a sport with which he sees parallels. “They both require constant effort and focus. On both racecourses, I work every second to be the fastest I can be. In skiing, like sailing, you need to be fast and go the least distance possible around gates, like having a high VMG.”
In college, he says, he’s aiming to be All American and All Academic, saying, “I do not know where sailing will take me, but I plan on making it a lifetime sport.”
His most memorable sailing moment was at an Optimist regatta in Mar del Plata, Argentina. “A submarine surfaced by the top mark, drifted down into it and pulled the mark away,” he says. “The fleet was shocked, and racing was canceled for the day.”