There are not many people who can say they’ve had a bucket list of sailing experiences by the age of 15. Yet, this describes BVI-born Victoria Rowlette. What’s more, the liveaboard baby, transatlantic teen, and now competitive dinghy sailor who’s currently attending school in the Cayman Islands is just getting started.
“I came straight from the hospital in Tortola to the Lakota, which is the 96-foot tugboat my dad (Kevin Rowlette) still runs as a marine salvage company. When I was little, we would go out, tow around boats, and do the jobs. It was definitely a unique start to life,” says Rowlette.
The family, with Victoria’s mom Becky Paull, moved off the tugboat when she was a toddler, but continued a way of life on the water. Rowlette says she remembers both parents sailing on the weekend, spending time with them in the boatyard, and sailing with her grandparents too when she visited them in England on vacations. Life in, on, and around the water was a natural part of family life. Soon, Victoria started making her own wake on the water when her parents enrolled her in Optimist sailing lessons at the Royal BVI Yacht Club in Tortola when she was age 7.
Skipper at Age 7
To be honest, says Rowlette, “I found it scary when I first started sailing by myself. I was a small kid, and even though I was sailing with a friend, I worried about keeping the boat upright. Slowly I learned more, gained confidence, and started to enjoy it. Looking back, I’m really glad I stuck to it.”
Summer sailing camps, paddleboarding, and exploring the islands made for an idyllic childhood afloat. Competition came later when Rowlette sailed in her first Optimist regatta at the St. Croix International Regatta, in tandem with her father racing in the event’s keelboat class. She certainly made a splash, winning the Optimist Green Fleet with seven first-place finishes in 15 races.
“I remember thinking ‘whoa, that’s cool’. I realized that I could do this and do well at it too. After that, we went to the Pan Pepin Regatta in Puerto Rico. That was my first big, big event. That’s when I first saw how big the sailing world could be,” she says.
During this same time, Rowlette raced bigger boats as well as dinghies. She first cast off as crew on her father’s Olson 30, Rushin Rowlette, sailing and winning both in the BVI and regattas in neighboring islands. In 2019, her father purchased the Corsair 27 trimaran, Whoop Whoop. Driving her in the Virgin’s Cup and Willy T Race, an event where women take the helm and the men crew, Rowlette took line honors in both 2019 and 2020.
In addition to racing, Rowlette got her feet wet in offshore sailing when after Hurricane Irma in 2017 she helped her father deliver a sailboat from the BVI to Florida for repairs. They leap-frogged north, stopping to see the Dominican Republic, Turks & Caicos, and Bahamas along the way, creating the foundation for what would become an even more incredible experience.
From Quarantine to Sailing Transatlantic
It was during the COVID quarantine that Rowlette started to think about forging her own path in sailing.
“I had followed Laura Dekker, the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe, and watched her movie, Maidentrip. I started searching the internet to find and watch the movie again when I stumbled on Laura’s Sailing Foundation page. I saw that they were going to do some trips on her boat, Guppy, and thought it would be amazing. After I talked to my mom, I sent an Email and asked if there was a spot open on the trip and received a response saying ‘yes’,” Rowlette says.
In November 2021, Rowlette joined the crew aboard the Scorpio 72, Guppy, in Portugal for a six-month transatlantic sail to the Caribbean and back to Europe. Preparation, logistics, and arranging to homeschool, took nearly as long beforehand. Although it all seemed surreal, Rowlette says that when she stepped on the boat in Lisbon and met the other teens and Laura, she knew instantly this was where she wanted to be and what she wanted to do. They cruised from Lisbon to Madeira, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde, and then a transatlantic sail spending Christmas in the middle of the Atlantic until they made landfall in St. Maarten.
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“Before the trip, I thought crossing the Atlantic seemed like this massive hurdle. Something full of danger. But, the atmosphere on board was very relaxed. Laura had sailed across the Atlantic numerous times. There was no fear. We were well prepared, and the whole way across seemed just like another sailing day. Actually, in the days that we were nearing St. Maarten ending the passage, we all wished it would keep going. We were so into the rhythm of being together, doing our chores like making meals and standing watch, doing our homework, and not having Wi-Fi, that it all seemed very normal,” she says.
The Guppy made stops in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique, and Rowlette’s home island of the BVI before cruising north to Bermuda for a transatlantic sail to the Azores and finally ending in the Netherlands.
The biggest takeaway from this voyage that’s now a part of Rowlette’s DNA is confidence, she says. “I grew up in a small community, everyone knew everyone, and I was generally a shy person. All of a sudden, I’m on this boat with people I didn’t know, who had come from all over the world, and who didn’t speak English as their first language. We all had different sailing experiences and different interests. Knowing how to act, getting comfortable outside of my comfort zone, learning to take responsibility, and realizing my capabilities matured me a lot. It gave me independence, the ability to face new challenges, and to also see the world from a different perspective.”
The Horizon is the Limit
Now in school in the Cayman Islands, Rowlette’s attention is focused on completing her education and competitive dinghy sailing. In March, she raced in Miami Sail Week – Youth, finishing 9th in a fleet of nearly 30 ILCA 4 sailors.
“In the future, after I graduate, I’ll definitely have my own boat. And I want to travel more. I’m looking at all these different aspects. I’m following the Ocean Race, and looking at Sail GP. Then there are all the cruising boats taking their time to see the world, and then the charter companies. Everything looks like such a good opportunity. I want a taste of all of it,” she says.
Finally, what might Rowlette’s advice be to other young sailors who’d like to follow in her bucket list wake? “If you really enjoy something, do it. Sailing is an amazing hobby, but it can also teach you a lot, open so many doors and change your life.”