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Conversations within the sport of sailing - Carrie Howe

It is often said how sailing is unique as a sport, where the opportunity is readiliy available to compete against the very best in the sport. Occassionally we get the chance to chat with them too.

Carrie Howe
(May 21, 2009) Leading into the 2008 Olympics, the successes within the US Team largely occurred with its top Yngling team, sailed by Sally Barkow, Debbie Capozzi, and Carrie Howe. As consensus medal favorites at the Games, they failed to fulfill expectations, with a horrific medal race dropping them to seventh.

Since then, the team has gone their separate ways, with Carrie catching the Scuttlebutt spotlight with her second place finish in the Tybee 500 (May 11-16), a 24-team catamaran endurance event that started at the Southern tip of Florida and finished just short of the Georgia-South Carolina border at Tybee Island, GA. Here is our chat with Carrie:

  • The final chapter of your Olympic campaign lacked a story book ending. What are the lessons you hope to hold onto?

  • The ending wasn't story book but the lessons I learned in peaking, preparation, and pressure will stay with me forever. We were at our best when we were confident in our equipment and focused on racing and fine tuning our skills.

    Looking back, we were at our best when we had an edge on the others in all aspects early in the quad in terms of our equipment, speed, and time in the boat. We lacked the recipe to maintain this over the long haul as tough, close regattas and strong opponents will always test a teamís strength. Throughout the four years, while the other teams came closer to parity, everything seemed more difficult for us as a team. Measuring and taking risks and testing new ideas became the winning and losing battles and it was quite a fine line. Have confidence in yourself and your teammates, keep it simple, and keep fighting...never give up.

  • The Tybee 500 is a long way from Ynglings in the Olympics. How did you get involved in this event?

  • I have always had an attraction to extreme sports; skiing, kiting, hockey, all things fast and...furious! Here and there throughout the five years I learned to sail Catamarans from Mischa Heemskerk from the Netherlands (boyfriend). He is all about the fast side of our sport based in the European catamaran scene. I was learning a tremendous amount about my natural instincts as a sailor, rigging, and building boats - and at the same time I couldn't wipe the smile off my face anytime I was on the boat or even watching. It was perfect!

    While at Key West racing Farr 40's, I was challenged to take on the Tybee 500. I said yes without thought (it was in the Mount Gay tent!). At this point I had spent maybe eight hours on the helm of a small catamaran, more on the Extreme 40's but on those you don't have to trapeze or trim your own main! I had three months to get ready. In the meantime, I had a new full time job in Holland as the Marketing Manager for Magic Marine, I was sailing the Farr 40 Med regattas on Flash Gordon and the team racing Wilson Trophy, and had a new language to learn. I was a bit...overbooked. I like a challenge!

  • We know the Tybee 500 race is 540 miles, divided into six legs that are held on six consecutive days. Okay, so what doesn't the travel agent tells us about this event?

  • Running lights are not on the boats but sailing in the dark is completely normal, trapezing and everything. Consider coming up to a beach with rollers in the pitch black and all you can see is the light they call "blinky" and the voices singing "Happy Birthday" and you have been sailing 13 hours. Not to mention trying to eat, drink, and look at your GPS while traveling at an average of 18 -20 knots easy while trapezing and keeping your hull at a perfect height from the water.

    Another thing I learned - it doesn't matter how broken you become, you will finish each leg because it is an eight hour penalty. I broke my leeward rudder four times and windward bottom pintle at the same time and was forced to learn how to sail on only the windward rudder, as high as possible to make the breakwaters and finish and not flip. I thought I broke my left arm. I cried when I hit the beach and then laid in the water. I also have never sailed so fast on sand in my life. It was incredible. Full kite up flying through the finishing gate (which is just at the edge of the water)! People act like this is just a long distance race but actually I treated each leg just like buoy racing. The tactics were intense using all of the weather and positioning I have learned over the years and combining it with the abilities and strengths of the smaller, more efficient Hobie Tiger.

  • What kind of preparation is needed to do the Tybee 500?

  • I was involved with a group called Team Velocity who made this race ultimately possible for me. My crew John Casey and Mischa were critical to my preparation. Hotels up the coast, all safety gear, thorough boat preparation, EPIRBS, transportation, charts, and ground crew are just a few of the necessities.

    Most importantly is a healthy body, a strong crew, and a borrowed boat (that stayed in one piece besides rudders) is what helped me arrive in Tybee safe. I had the flu when the race started so all of my support team pulled my weight on the beach so I could focus on sailing.

  • What were your expectations going into the event?

  • I was incredibly nervous about my limited time helming before the race. One small steering mistake and it is quite the wipeout. I had to focus myself and get rid of all fears as quickly as possible. I trained every night after work the week before on the North Sea in big swell and I even practiced outrunning police boats. I didn't get to practice nearly as much as I liked, but that was how it was going to be. I had to get tough and see what I could do. Once the scared feeling would leave my stomach, I was all set. We felt fast. Sailing with John, who is one of the best, and with tips from Mischa, I knew that if I could keep it together tactically and focused on boat speed, then we could do well.

  • What's next?

  • I am writing from Capri, Italy where I am racing the Rolex Capri Sailing Week as a trimmer on the Farr 40, Flash Gordon. We are being coached by one of my old Olympic coaches here, Ed Adams, and I am continuing to learn and continuing to smile.

    In the business world, I am actively marketing the new Magic Marine coastal collection from 2009 in addition to the catamaran, dinghy gear, and apparel. I have been spending every moment I am not sailing in my office helping others stay comfortable while they sail.

    Photo courtesy of Tybee 500

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