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On the Bay, Travel/Sports

Rolex honors the top sailors of the year at St. Francis Yacht Club

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For the first time in its 50-year history, the Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards were presented on the west coast in a ceremony at the St. Francis Yacht Club.

The process of determining the 2011 award winners began last September when U.S. Sailing, the national governing body for the sport, invited their membership to make nominations. A shortlist of nominees was reviewed by a panel of noted sailing journalists who discussed the merits of each nominee. Their voting determined the 2011 honorees: Bill Hardesty, a first-time winner, and Anna Tunnicliffe, a four-time consecutive winner who hopes to represent the USA in the Olympic Games later this year. The winners were honored on Feb. 22 during a luncheon at the St. Francis Yacht Club where, surrounded by family, friends, sailing dignitaries, and fellow sailors, they were presented with Rolex timepieces.

Anna Tunnicliffe, the 29-year-old International Sailing Federation World Champion from Plantation, Fla., was named the 2011 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. Shortlisted for the honor for the seventh consecutive year, she is the first woman in the award’s history to earn it in four consecutive years. She joins the rare company of four-time winners JJ Fetter Isler and Ted Turner. Only five-time award winner Betsy Alison, who was on hand to present Anna her award, has eclipsed them.

“I’m honored to win the 2011 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year award,” said Tunnicliffe in an emotional acceptance speech. “It is a great acknowledgment of Team Maclaren’s success in 2011. Molly [Vandemoer], Debbie [Capozzi] and I worked incredibly hard to achieve our 2011 goals and we are now focused on our 2012 goal – to win a gold medal in Weymouth. We are a team in every sense of the word; we need each other, and if we are going to achieve our goal this year, it will be because we are competing as a team. This award also belongs to Molly and Debbie, the best teammates I could ever hope for.”

Bill Hardesty (San Diego, Calif.) was named the 2011 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year. The 36-year old was first shortlisted for the award in 2008, when he won the Etchells World Championship. Hardesty reclaimed that class’s top title in 2011 after a dominating performance in an 81-strong fleet. Hardesty grew up sailing in San Diego and learned to sail with his father, Bill Hardesty Sr., on Hobie beach cats prior to joining the junior sailing program at Mission Bay Yacht Club and being named to the Rolex Junior Olympic Sailing Team in 1990. During the awards ceremony, he gave his watch to his father, making good on a childhood promise that if one day he won a coveted Rolex watch as a prize for sailing, he would do just that.

“It really comes down to the people you sail with, the teams with whom you surround yourself and how much support you have outside of that, because really, these regatta victories don’t come together without the team,” said Hardesty, singling out his Etchells World Championship crew of Steve Hunt, Mandi Markee and Craig Leweck, who were in the audience.

Established in 1961, the presentation of the annual awards is considered the sport’s ultimate recognition of an individual’s outstanding on-the-water achievements for the calendar year. Over its history, the coveted award has been presented to 38 men and 32 women, including the San Francisco Bay Area’s own Liz Baylis, Paul Cayard and Stan Honey, who presented Hardesty with the 2011 award.

While Rolex has long been a partner with the St. Francis Yacht Club, this first-time presentation of the award west of the Mississippi takes that partnership to a new level. As Rolex Watch CEO Stewart Wicht looked out the window of the club to watch AC45’s cruising the bay under crystal blue skies, he commented that this may have been the first time for the awards in San Francisco, but it would surely be returning in the near future!

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