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US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards

by Jan Harley
22 February 2012

© Tom O’Neal / Rolex
(l to r) Rolex Watch U.S.A.’s President and CEO Stewart Wicht, 2011 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Anna Tunnicliffe, 2011 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Bill Hardesty, US Sailing President Gary Jobson

Bill Hardesty and Anna Tunnicliffe honoured

The sailing accomplishments of Bill Hardesty (San Diego, Calif.) and Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.) were celebrated today at US Sailing's Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards in San Francisco. The honorees, formally announced in January after being chosen for their outstanding on-water sailing accomplishments in 2011, were joined by family, friends, sailing dignitaries, fellow sailors and members of the media at the St. Francis Yacht Club, marking the first time in the 50-year history of the awards that they were presented on the west coast.

Five-time winner Betsy Alison (1981, '82, '84, '93 and ‘98) and 2010 winner Stan Honey were on hand to introduce Tunnicliffe and Hardesty, while Gary Jobson, President of US Sailing and long-time emcee for the event, opened the ceremony with a multi-media retrospective on the sailing careers of the two winners. Before delivering emotional acceptance speeches, Tunnicliffe and Hardesty received specially engraved stainless steel and platinum Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Masters, symbolic of their achievements in excellence, from Rolex Watch U.S.A. President and CEO Stewart Wicht. Also in the audience were Liz Baylis, 2002Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and two-time winner Sally Lindsay Honey (1973, '74).

"When I heard I was nominated and then I had won, in all honestly I was a bit surprised and thoroughly, thoroughly honored," said the 29-year-old Tunnicliffe, who has been shortlisted for the honor seven years in a row and is the first woman in the award's history to earn it for four years consecutively. "Team Maclaren has had a great year and this award is a great recognition of all the things we have accomplished over 2011."

Tunnicliffe, the 2008 Laser Radial Olympic Gold Medalist, committed to a match racing campaign in the Elliott 6m two years ago with a goal of representing the U.S.A. at the Olympic Games for a second time. During 2011, she skippered Team Maclaren – with fellow US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics members Molly Vandemoer (Redwood City, Calif.) and Debbie Capozzi (Bayport, N.Y.) as crew – to podium finishes in three ISAF Sailing World Cup events: US Sailing's Rolex Miami OCR in Florida (silver); Princess Sofia Trophy in Spain (bronze); and Skandia Sail for Gold in England (gold). The year culminated with a victory at the ISAF Sailing World Championship, which qualified the U.S.A. for its berth in the Women's Match Racing event at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

"For many of you (in this room) the idea of having to beat one boat at a time instead of the 50 or 60 in a regular fleet race may seem a little simple," said Tunnicliffe, referring to match racing, "but it is about mastering a complex task. 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 – of winning gold at the Olympics – 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."

Also notable were Tunnicliffe's victory at the Santa Maria Cup and her second-place finish at the Rolex International Women's Keelboat Championship, both of which were sailed in J/22s with Vandemoer and Capozzi crewing.

Tunnicliffe, a native of England, grew up in Perrysburg, Ohio, sailing from the North Cape Yacht Club in Michigan. She attended Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.), where she earned ICSA All-American honors three times (2003, '04, '05), and was named the 2005 Quantum Female College Sailor of the Year. Tunnicliffe currently holds the number one ranking for women on the ISAF World Match Race Rankings, and by earning the 2011 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year honors, she joins the rare company of four-time winners JJ Fetter Isler (1986, ‘91, '97, '00) and Ted Turner (1970, '73, '77, '79). Only five-time award winner Betsy Alison has eclipsed them.

The 36-year-old Hardesty was cited for skippering to victory over 81 boats in the Etchells World Championship, which he also won in 2008 when he was first shortlisted for this award. Though he also won several other Etchells class events, including the Etchells Midwinters West Championship, he capitalized on his exceptionally diverse sailing talents when he smoothly transitioned from skipper to tactician to win the ISAF Match Racing World Championship aboard Team GAC Pindar after turning in series victories at the Portimão Portugal Match Cup in Portugal, the Stena Match Cup in Sweden, and the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia. As a tactician, he also won the 47th Congressional Cup in Catalina 37s and the CMRC Grade 2 Invitational in Tom 28s and finished second at the Rolex Big Boat Series in Express 37 class and fourth at the Rolex Farr 40 World Championships.

"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. "They really worked as a tight unit in getting things accomplished."

Moments earlier he had given his watch to his father, Bill Hardesty, Sr., to make 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. The promise had been made in 1990, when Hardesty was named to the Rolex Junior Olympic Sailing Team. "At the time, I didn't know what it meant, but I want to thank Rolex because the events they sponsor –and I tried to count how many of them I've been to – are so special," said Hardesty.

Hardesty graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 1998, the same year he was named ICSA College Sailor of the Year. A native of Council Bluffs, Iowa, Hardesty grew up sailing in San Diego and learned to sail with his father on Hobie beach cats prior to joining the junior sailing program at Mission Bay Yacht Club and subsequently San Diego Yacht Club. After college graduation and a brief Laser campaign for the Olympics, Hardesty worked for a power plant in Los Angeles and then a solar tube company in San Diego. Now a professional sailor, he spends more than half the year living aboard a Wauquiez Hood 38 on which he is currently cruising Central America.

Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. since 1980, US Sailing's Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards are considered the sport's ultimate recognition of an individual's outstanding on-the-water achievements for the calendar year. The process of determining the recipients starts each September when US Sailing invites its membership to make online nominations. A shortlist of nominees is then reviewed by a panel of noted sailing journalists who discuss the merits of each nominee and vote to determine the winners. Over its history the coveted award has been presented to 40 men and 33 women.

A video podcast from the 2011 awards luncheon, produced by Gary Jobson, will be available by Thursday at about.ussailing.org/Awards/Rolex.htm

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