Dawn Riley is the woman who has most influenced the sailing community, and she is on its own merits in the Whitbread and America’s Cup gold pages. But Dawn is writing new golden pages of the Oakcliff Sailing center that she manages, with her undeniable talent and experience.
Do you learn a lot by teaching?
Dawn Riley: Absolutely, often the best learning comes from answering an unexpected question from an Oakcliff Acorn or Sapling. I love it when the answer is – I don’t know but let’s find out.
What do you teach different from what you were taught?
Dawn: Yes and no. I didn’t have any formal coaching until my 1st America’s Cup so learned strictly by doing, or having my Dad yell at me. Here at Oakcliff Sailing we have a combination, learning by doing but we also fast track it with top notch coaching.
Which of the races you had never won you would like to win?
Dawn: Hmmmm – that is a good question. I guess the Volvo would be nice. With Maiden we were 2nd but 1st is always better.
What do you think about the Whitbread vs the Volvo Ocean Race?
Dawn: I like the direction it is going back to, where the boats are going into the real Southern Ocean. Also with Volvo the event moved into pure commercial event. At first this made the teams super and aggressively competitive and unfriendly. The new structure has kept the benefit of the sponsors and put some of the fun and friendly back in with the bases being all together and open to each other and the public.
Can you compare your experiences between your four America´s Cup campaigns?
Dawn: 1992 – being a rookie and the only female was amazing and just 100% full focus on trying to achieve perfection: from being more physically fit than sailors used to be to asking every design question we could. Everything was new, we got to design a new class of boats and new deck layouts and then examined every fraction of every manoeuvre for maximum performance.
1995 – America 3 – The Women’s Team – was more about taking the platform and improving the team and thinking outside of the box. We also made a huge difference in the look of sailing. All of the sudden saying “girls don’t sail” was not OK. The response could be – “Have you seen the America’s Cup?!”
2000 – America True – was a special team – and the best combination of men and women sailing together. See below
2007 – Areva – was a challenge, leading a very multi cultural team and living in Europe. I’m happy to see so many of the people on that team still out there and being super successful, especially from our design team with Dimitri Nicolopoulos and KND Sailing Performance and of course Guillaume Verdier with VPLP.
It is so big the difference of being AC Defender and Challenger?
Dawn: Well, not right now when the Defender is racing in all but one of the Challenger events! In the past it was actually more fun to be a Challenger simply because there were more teams.
What was the best project/campaign of your sailing career?
Dawn: I think America True, it was a mixed team, we had a mission bigger than the Cup and even bigger than gender equality, we really reached out into the communities in America and asked them to find their passion and follow their dreams. Some of my best friends were made because of that team.
In which project would you have liked to be involved?
Dawn: The ones that I am designing right now. Oakcliff has some exciting things on the horizon.
Have you already foiled?
Dawn: Not yet but I will foil this summer on a Waspz, a Nacra 20 and a Nacra 17, all of the boats in the Oakcliff foiling fleet.
When was your last relaxed sailing?
Dawn: Few years ago! It was 65F in New York in February! We were to film with Shirley Robertson and CNN Mainsail on Monday but the Oakcliff team saw the forecast and put one of our Melges 24s in on Friday. We sailed in light jackets – with – a nice bottle of rosé!
Are you good at DIY?
Dawn: Of course, I have worked as a boat captain off and on since I was 15 years old and over the many years and evolutions of types and materials of boats, I have had to fix pretty much everything at least once.