Charting New Courses: The Inspirational Journey of Kelsy Patnaude, Captain of the Classic 12 Meter Onawa
Kelsey at the helm of Onawa

Kelsy Patnaude's journey from a timid junior sailor to the captain of the prestigious classic 12 Meter, Onawa, is a testament to her resilience, hard work, and determination to succeed in a male-dominated industry.

Starting her sailing journey as a child at the Newport Yacht Club, just a stone's throw away from where Onawa is now moored, Kelsy's initial experiences weren't what one would typically expect. She recalls crying almost daily and dreading her sailing classes. However, her perseverance paid off as she grew into a seasoned sailor and eventually found herself at the helm of one of the most iconic vessels in the sailing world.

After graduating from Salve Regina in 2012, Kelsy pursued a career in graphic design but quickly realized it wasn't for her. Drawn back to Newport, she found herself working in a boatyard in Portsmouth, preparing 12 Meters for charter seasons. It was here that her love for sailing was reignited, and she began crewing on Columbia, starting her journey towards becoming a captain.

A broken wrist while wakeboarding in 2015 turned out to be a pivotal moment for Kelsy. Despite the setback, it led to her first opportunity to helm a boat, as it was the only task she could perform with a cast. This experience opened doors for her and accelerated her career as a professional sailor.

Balancing her passion for sailing with her artistic pursuits, Kelsy pursued a Master's in Fine Arts, exploring the role of women in the industry through her artwork. Her thesis, "Thalassic: Women, Gender, and the Sublime in Relation to Marine Art," reflected her deep connection to both sailing and art.

Kelsey's artwork from her Master in Fine Arts thesis

In 2019, Kelsy started working as a deckhand on Onawa's racing program under the leadership of Barb Krasinski, leading to numerous successes, including a 2nd place finish in the Vintage division of the 12 Metre World Championships that same year. Her leadership skills and strategic acumen earned her praise from her peers, with tactician Andy Green describing her as the perfect combination of captain, organizer, diplomat, and strategist.

“She keeps a classic crew and a variety of partners owners, charterers and guests happy and safe. While at the same time managing a 1928,12 meter that looks better shape than when it first hit the water,” adds Green.

Kelsey (center) with Andy Green calling the tactics on the stern at the 2023 12mR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP NEWPORT, RHODE ISLAND USA by Steve Cloutier

Looking ahead, Kelsy is passionate about creating more opportunities for women in sailing, especially in the classic boat community. She believes in giving women the helm and empowering them to take on leadership roles in the sport.

As she continues to navigate the waters both on and off the racecourse, Kelsy's message to her fellow sailors is clear: support women in sailing and embrace diversity to ensure the sport thrives for generations to come.

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