Katy Campbell: Dinghy Sailor Turned Keel Boat Goddess

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Katy Campbell, from Vancouver, Canada, grew up racing dinghies competitively – Laser 2s back in the day – to the end of high school at which point she found herself somewhat stuck for the next racing “thing”. She ended up in a full rig Laser but not weighing enough to make that work she went from doing really well to doing very badly. She had started coaching by then so shifted her dinghy sailing focus into beginner coaching and race coaching for kids. She was never a huge fan of big boat sailing until she dropped her biases and surprised herself by really enjoying it.

“For me it regained that teamwork element that I was missing after sailing in double-handed dinghies,” Campbell said. “I love the people aspect and trying to figure out how to make everyone work together as one team.”

With this approach, a strong coaching background behind her, and a two-year stint in Hamble, England where she got involved with racing skipper work, she was ready to start her own business on her return to Canada. Today she runs Sea to Sky Sailing, a sailing school and race training program in Vancouver, the only Royal Yachting Association training center on the west coast of North America. But she’s a racer who needs to go racing so she started a learn-to-race program for beginners through intermediate sailors in Vancouver…and the Caribbean side of her program hatched.

“The Caribbean racing is the progression – where you go with that training and how can you keep developing your racing skills in a more competitive – and windier – environment than we get at home,” Campbell explained.

She started out doing select portions of the Caribbean season by chartering boats – she chartered Emily of Cowes in 2020 and came second in the RORC 600 with an all-beginner crew before taking on the Heineken Regatta the same year with good success. Realizing this was something she could do, and it was workable, at the end of 2021 she bought Panacea, a Salona 45, online (the boat was in Croatia), to be her Caribbean-based boat.

“I bought a boat virtually – I still can’t believe it!” she laughed. “These boats have a good reputation overall – an identical boat won Sydney Hobart, so they are definitely capable and generally strongly built.”

This is her third Caribbean season with Panacea, and it’s been fantastic, Campbell said. By this time of the year, she is usually headed back to Canada however she decided to escape the cold and stay in the Caribbean this winter making this her first-time racing BVI Spring Regatta. This week she has nine crew on board with a mix of abilities.

“I don’t want to really say it…but our practice day yesterday went perfectly,” Campbell said. “I’m looking forward to the sailing conditions – flat water and pretty steady breeze – it is not as shifty as some venues can be which is awesome. We have a really good group of people with a broad range of experience, and they work really well together. We’ve been racing against Emily of Cowes the whole season – Neil and Katy are friends so it’s cool to race against people you know. We have also raced against Avanti this year and last year. That is one of the nice parts – you are away from home, but you still have a community because many of the same people come back every year – it’s awesome!”