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On the Harbor: Getting to know Carolyn Smith, the new BCYC sailing director

By LEN BOSE

At this year’s opening day at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club (BCYC), I heard across the dock that Carolyn Smith had become the new sailing director. This was welcome news, because I have always noticed and enjoyed her passion for sailing while competing against her in Harbor 20s. I got to know her a lot better when she passed me. The last time I looked, I still had a comfortable lead on her, going into the second to last mark in this year’s Flight of Newport. Of course, at the end of the race, she gave me her big smile and said, “good race.” I mumbled something under my breath, but how long can one be disappointed when engaging with Carolyn Smith?

Smith’s family has plenty of history on our harbor. Newport Beach Hall of Fame sailor Nina Nielsen was her mother, and her father is none other than Tom “Smitty” Smith. I recall Smitty and I sailing in as many as three long-distance Mexico races together. Not many people have the harbor in their blood as Smith has.

On the Harbor nina

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Larry Parker

(L-R) Carolyn Smith sailing with good friend Bayley Davidson aboard her Lehman 12 named after her mom “NINA”

“I started sailing as an infant; Mom and Dad would place me in a bassinet in the front of the Etchells when they did their twilight sailing – we were on the water almost every night in the summer. As I was getting older and doing more sailing myself, my Mom would sail Lehmans with a friend and me as crew. This was a good introduction to racing as well. Mom would also sit in the sabot with me.”

Nielsen was the 1969 Jr. Sabot National Champion, just to name a few of her many achievements. Smith started sailing the starfish program at BCYC at the age of 5 and racing sabots caught on. By the age of 7, she was a C1, and at the age of 9, she was a top competitor in A fleet.

Smith sailed at Newport Harbor High School and was the captain of her sailing team during her senior year. She was busy her last year of high school, because she also played water polo. She then attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland and sailed all four years there. “That was a lot of competition, a lot of racing in that span of eight years,” Smith said.

One of the many things I found interesting about Smith is that her crew in college was a psych major who taught her how to deal with her nerves, recognizing her nervousness was a form of excitement. “I was not nervous, I was just super excited to be out on the water competing. What I keep reminding myself is that I am not out here to win every race; I go sailing for fun now. I am still going to give it my best and keep it positive,” Smith said.

She started coaching at NHYC just out of high school. After college, she returned to NHYC and ran that program for a couple of years. I then asked her how her phone call went when she was asked if she wanted to run the BCYC.

“When I received the phone call, it felt super nice to be thought of for this position. This is a passion for me, so accepting this position was a no-brainer,” Smith said.

When asked about her first season and taking the position, she shared: “It was a baptism by fire. The parents and volunteers are so helpful in making this program a great success. The timing on arriving on the racecourse was a change, along with understanding the flow of traffic. Here again, the coaches and family were very helpful. We are constantly recruiting coaches from our local high school teams and across the country. Fortunately, we are based in Newport Beach, because who wouldn’t want to come here? Our program is a full week which allows us to not only concentrate on racing, but we have time in the week for other activities that are also fun. It makes it easier for the kids to enjoy their time on the harbor and allows you more time to get to know each student.

“Our fall program has started which is racing on Friday afternoons and we are getting ready for our winter program. At the same time, we are working on our traveling schedule for next season, and hoping to schedule trips to San Diego and Long Beach a couple of times next season. BCYC excels in its 420 double-handed program and we have scheduled a lot of time for double handing sailing.”

I then asked her what separates BCYC from the other clubs across the harbor? “What separates BCYC from the other clubs is our five-day-a-week schedule, and we have Mark Guido. His knowledge about the sabots is unequaled and to watch him around the kids while controlling the room is something you just have to experience. I learned a lot from Guido this last season. He is definitely one of our biggest assets to our program,” Smith said.

If you would like to sign up your kids into the BCYC program, Carolyn Smith is your contact at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. There is a beginning sailing course starting up very soon for ages 7-11. If you are considering next summer, the best way to join is to contact her now and become a member or junior member at BCYC. This will place you at the top of the list when sign-ups start.

As I was leaving the interview, Smith came up with the quote of the year. After I had told her this story would be running in Stu News’ Fridays edition, she said with a huge smile, “Stu News, that’s where I get all my Newport news.”

Sea ya.

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Len Bose is a yachting enthusiast, yacht broker and harbor columnist for Stu News Newport.

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