Jud Smith (Marblehead, Mass.) and Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) were named, respectively, US Sailing’s 2006 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year. A panel of noted sailing journalists selected the two sailors from a shortlist of nominees determined by the membership of US Sailing. The winners were announced Jan. 10.
Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex Watch U.S.A. since 1980, the Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards recognize outstanding on-the-water achievement in the calendar year just concluded. The winners will be honored and presented with specially engraved Rolex timepieces during a luncheon March 2 at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.
Nominated for the first time, Jud Smith was recognized for his victory at the Audi Etchells World Championship in Australia. The five-time North American champion of the class had previously been a four-time runner up at the worlds. Going into the final day of racing, Smith once again held the all-too-familiar position of second overall — after having led the standings in the 69-boat fleet for the first six races of the series. Fulfilling his prediction that the regatta champion would be determined by whoever got the best start in the seventh and final race, Smith powered across the starting line as the breeze climbed into the 20s, and ultimately clinched his first world championship as he led the fleet across the finish line.
“This award is a by-product of a year that came together well,” said Smith. “It’s awesome. I’m astonished and surprised, absolutely excited.”
A month before the world championship, Smith had claimed his third consecutive Etchells North American Championship. On the final day of racing Smith posted finishes of 2-1 as rain, 20- to 25-knots of breeze with gusts to 35, and a 6-foot chop whipped up Buzzard’s Bay in Massachusetts, causing 12 boats in the 46-strong fleet to experience equipment failures.
His domination of the Etchells class in 2006 also included victories at the Lands’ End Annapolis NOOD Regatta, Florida State Championship and Acura Miami Race Week.
At the helm of a Rhodes 19 he added to his resume wins of that class’ National and East Coast Championships. He also crewed on the class winners at the Rolex Big Boat Series (Sydney-38 Copernicus), the Lands’ End Chicago NOOD Regatta and the Verve Cup (both on the Farr 40 Inferno).
Born and raised in Marblehead, Smith, who turned 50 on Jan. 22, learned to sail with his father, 1960 5.5 Metre Olympic Gold Medalist David Smith. Hood Sails was a mile from his childhood home, and from the time he was 12 years old Smith spent his free time there while attending local schools, eventually completing his senior project at the loft as well as building Interclub dinghy sails. He spent a year at BabsonCollege before turning his attention to a full-time career as a sail maker. A member of Eastern Yacht Club (Marblehead, Mass.) and the Oriental Dinghy Club (North Carolina), Smith and his wife, Cindy, are the parents of two teenage daughters, Darby and Lindsay, both of whom crewed for their father at the 2006 Acura Miami Race Week.
Since her first nomination in 2002, Paige Railey has been short-listed for this award five years in a row. This is partly a testament to both early rise to the top of the sport by this sailor who will turn 20 in May as well as her staying power over the subsequent years in the Laser Radial. (The Laser Radial will make its Olympic debut in 2008 as the chosen equipment for the women’s single-handed event.)
Railey also made history by becoming the youngest woman ever to receive the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Award — breaking the 12-year record held by Danielle Brennan, who also was 19 when she received the award in 1994.
Railey’s most impressive performances in 2006 were victories on foreign waters, which also contributed to her being honored last November as the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2006. That award recognized her sailing achievements between Sept. 1, 2005, and Aug. 31, 2006.
“This was a great year for me,” said Railey, “and I’m extremely excited and happy to win this award. It is a huge honor to be chosen by the sailing community and to be included in such elite company.”
In April at Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères, France, the battle for gold in the 80-boat fleet culminated in a final-race showdown in which Railey was the ultimate victor over the defending champion, France’s Sophie de Turckheim.
Less than a month later, at the ISAF World Sailing Games in Neusiedl, Austria, Railey faced a repeat situation with the same competitor, who was again the defending champion. A match race for the title ensued as the final race began, with Railey holding a three-point advantage. Although de Turckheim rounded the top mark five seconds ahead, Railey turned on the downwind speed that has made her the competitor to beat in the Laser Radial, and eventually passed the Frenchwoman by the time they reached the gate. Railey crossed the finish line seventh in the 68-boat fleet to secure the championship win.
According to Railey, sub-par finishes in two major events led her to place more emphasis on her personal well-being prior to the Good Luck Beijing-2006 Qingdao International Regatta, the first test event in China at the venue of the 2008 Olympic Regatta. She focused on going into the regatta relaxed, a strategy that paid off as she amassed a substantial lead that secured her the gold medal before the final race of the series — a victory that she feels was her most important of the year. Winning an Olympic gold medal for the U.S.A. in 2008 is Railey’s ultimate goal.
Rounding out 2006, Railey triumphed at both the Laser Radial North American and Midwinters East Championships and placed second at two other hotly contested events: US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR and the US Sailing Pre-Trials.
A Florida native, Railey has a fraternal twin, Brooke, and an older brother, Zach, who is also campaigning to represent the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games (sailing in the Finn class). She graduated Magna Cum Laude from ClearwaterHigh School in 2005 and attends the University of South Florida.