Teen navigates her way with the help of sailing stars

Sixteen-year-old Carrington Brady is being mentored by the world's best navigators to realise her dream of sailing around the world, in the wake of her famous yachtie dad

Hunkered down in the navigator’s station below the decks of a rocketing 70ft trimaran, Carrington Brady holds on for dear life, while trying to focus on her job.

The multihull is screaming across the ocean at 45 knots – that’s 83km per hour – and it’s shuddering so violently, she can’t read the computer screen right in front of her.

She has to yell at the top of her lungs to be heard above the roar, relaying vital data to the crew guiding the yacht up Northland’s east coast. “The boat is really loud when it’s going fast,” she says.

One of the crew rushes down below, blood pouring out of a badly-gashed finger. Carrington stops what she’s doing to become a medic, tending to the man’s hand.

“It’s a bit shocking when there’s blood everywhere,” she says.

It’s a Friday, and Carrington would have normally been at school, studying for her Year 11 NCEA exams.

But the Takapuna Grammar student, who’s just turned 16, had been given the day off to help guide the trimaran, Beau Geste, on a record-breaking quest between Auckland and the Bay of Islands in the Coastal Classic race.

They set a new race record, sprinting the 119 nautical miles in 5 hours and 37 seconds – not too much longer than it would take to drive a family car that distance - and shaving 12 minutes off the old record. 

At the helm was Carrington’s dad, Gavin Brady - an America’s Cup tactician, round-the-world race helmsman and Olympic sailor. And he couldn’t have been prouder of his young daughter, in her first time navigating in an offshore race.

“I saw a very serious side of my daughter,” he admits. “It was pretty violent on board, and there was no goosing around. From the Wednesday night when she got the forecast, till we crossed the finish line on Friday afternoon, she was fully committed to doing a good job,” he says.

And despite all the rattling, roaring and gore, Carrington Brady loved it.

“It was quite rough, very windy – we weren’t expecting it to be that windy. But it was really cool – one of the races I will remember for a very long time,” she says, back at school now, and getting ready for her exams.

It was the first time she’d raced on the MOD70 trimaran – although she’s made delivery voyages on board before. She knew it was a swift having already claimed two race records this year, Brisbane to Gladstone, and Brisbane to Hamilton Island. 

She’s also sailed on other racing boats bearing the Beau Geste name – a TP52 and an 80-foot maxi - all owned by Hong Kong businessman Karl Kwok. Gavin Brady, now 45, has been driving Kwok’s yachts for around 25 years.

Carrington’s call-up came when Beau Geste’s regular navigator, British sailing veteran Matt Humphries, wasn’t around to do the Coastal Classic.

Humphries is a veteran of five round-the-world races – he first circumnavigated the globe at 18 and is the youngest skipper in the history of the race, at just 22 leading the Dolphin and Youth crew in the 1993-94 Whitbread.

Over the last couple of years, Humphries has been mentoring Carrington, after she showed a real interest in navigation.

The pair had prepared well for the race. “Matt went through all my notes beforehand, making sure I had all the right information,” she says.

She’s also been learning the ropes from another sailing legend, Adrienne Cahalan.

The Australian is recognised as one of the best navigators - man or woman - in world sailing. She was the first woman to sail in 25 Sydney-Hobart races, and the first - and only - woman to break a round-the-world speed record, as navigator of the maxi-cat Cheyenne in 2004. She still holds five world speed records.

“Girls are very good at navigation, and Adrienne has proved that,” Gavin Brady says. “Carrington is really lucky to have sailors with so much experience willing to teach her the ropes.”

But even with all the guidance and the preparation, Carrington Brady was nervous at the Waitemata Harbour start-line.

“I was very scared,” she admits.

“I have to feed information 24/7 to the boys, so they can decide where to put the boat to make the fastest time to the finish-line. I’m yelling as loud as I can so they can hear me over the boat noise.

“I’m putting my head down and doing my job.” Not to mention patching up an injured crew-mate.

But in the thick of the action, it all came naturally to her. Sailing is in her veins.  

Although she was born in the United States, Carrington and her sisters followed their professional sailor dad around the globe. Brady competed in four America’s Cups, two Volvo Ocean Races and at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, finishing ninth in the Star class.

Like many Kiwi kids, Carrington learned to sail in an Optimist dinghy – but not in your typical way.

“When we were cruising in the Bay of Islands, Dad bought an Opti that we took on board the boat. He just pushed me out into the ocean one day when I was five,” she says.

It’s not unlike the way Brady learned to sail. He grew up on the high seas - his family cruising around the Pacific for four years in a trimaran. He had a P Class dinghy that was towed behind the yacht, sometimes sailing it 50 miles offshore.

He made headlines as the first kid to sail a P-Class across the infamous Cook Strait, receiving a certificate signed by the prime minister for his bravery.

Gavin Brady (left) celebrating with daughters Carrington and Rye, and Beau Geste co-owner Pat Kong (right) and his family. Photo:  PIC Coastal Classic.

Carrington moved up through the classes - sailing a Sunburst with her dad at the Wakatere Boating Club on Auckland’s North Shore; then the Starling, the 29er and even a windsurfer.

Now she’s sailing a Nacra 15 – a mixed crew youth multihull – with her sailing partner, Francesco Kayrouz. They’re campaigning to make the New Zealand team for the 2020 Youth Worlds in Salvador, Brazil.

But she’s honest about where she truly wants to head. And it’s far from the safety of shore.

“Offshore sailing. That’s what I’m drawn to, rather than the Olympic pathway,” Carrington says.

“I find it really interesting and fun. It’s constantly a challenge, no sailing day is ever the same. And I love being part of a big team, where everyone has their role to play to make the boat go faster.”

Once she’s 18, she hopes to link up with other sailing teams and do more coastal races.

But her biggest goal, not surprisingly, is to sail in the round-the-world Ocean Race (formerly known as the Volvo).

“There are a lot more opportunities in offshore sailing now, especially for girls,” she says.

Her dad has been a central figure in her sailing evolution. “He was so good when I was learning in the Opti, even though I didn’t really like to listen to him,” she laughs. “As I got older, he would let me coach myself; he’d wait for me to tell him how I’d figure things out myself.”

Carrington’s 11-year-old sister, Rye, is now learning to sail an Optimist. She was also onboard Beau Geste for the record-breaking run up the coast.

“Now all the Brady girls are sailors,” Carrington says proudly. Their elder sister, Tegan, has also sailed, but she’s more invested in horse riding these days.

Carrington also plays rugby for school, and sevens for the North Shore Rugby Club. “I’ve always done other sports on the side – rugby, netball and tennis. But sailing has always been No. 1.”

Brady marvels at how different kids' sailing is today. “Nowadays, kids put helmets on to go sailing,” he laughs.

“Carrington has had a lot of great opportunities. I told her, ‘I can help you by introducing you to the team, but it’s up to you what you do with that’. There are no free lunches in life. It’s what you do with the opportunities.

“But she’s rolled up her sleeves and got stuck into it. She’s happy to get involved and learn.”

He’s just bought a Young 88 keelboat – “going back to basics” – where Carrington can further hone her craft on Auckland’s harbour.

“It’s nice to give her a range of sailing,” Brady says. “And it’s so good to see a lot of young sailors gravitating back to more traditional boats. There’s great team-work and camaraderie on small keelboats.”

Carrington is learning to splice ropes, and how to rig and park a boat.

“She’s embraced it all,” her father says. “And now she’s really earning her spots on boats.”

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