Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year
The two sailors topped a shortlist of nine men and six women who were nominated by members of US Sailing and then evaluated by a panel of sailing journalists to determine who was most worthy of America’s highest sailing distinction for the calendar year.
Porter, a first-time nominee, skippered to win the Sperry-Top Sider Melges 24 World Championship, and Starck (nee Swanson), already a two-time winner of the Rolex honour, won the Lightning World Championship as crew and the Lightning Atlantic Coast Championship as skipper.
Porter and Starck will be formally recognised on Tuesday, 25 February during a luncheon at the S. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco where they will be presented with specially engraved Rolex timepieces.
“The sport needs heroes, and this is our way to certify heroes and inspire others to follow in their footsteps,” said US Sailing President Tom Hubbell.
Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. since 1980, the annual presentation of 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. Over its history the coveted award has been presented to 40 men and 33 women.
2013 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year: Brian Porter
Brian Porter (Fontana, Wisc.), age 55, was named US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman of the Year for 2013 after being evaluated against six other one-design world champions, the Moth World Champion and a North American kiteboard champion. Porter topped 58 boats at the Sperry Top-Sider Melges 24 World Championship in San Francisco, in what was described by one panel member as “white-hot competition at an incredibly difficult venue.” Another member noted that Porter’s impressive win was in a fleet comprised of the “who’s who” of sailing. He scored an additional Melges 24 victory at Quantum Key West 2013 (23 boats) and finished third at both the Rolex Big Boat Series (35 boats) in San Francisco and the E Scow National Championship (84 boats) in Lake Geneva, Wis.
“I was so thrilled to be nominated, but to actually win it…it’s hard to describe how I feel,” said Porter about being chosen from among so many sailors with stellar performances this year. “This award was not really my focus; instead, I was always thinking about our next race or our next regatta. I am incredibly grateful for all the tough competitors I have had the opportunity to race against in the Melges 24 and E Scow classes; to the US Sailing panel for recognising the quality of competition in those fleets; and to Rolex for its generous support of competitive sailing.”
At the Melges 24 Worlds, Porter enlisted his regular Full Throttle crew of Andy Burdick and Matt Woodworth, adding Federico Michetti as a first-time replacement for Sam Rogers, whose wife was expecting a baby during the event. “I am the only amateur on the boat, and my crew always reminds me of that, especially when I make mistakes,” chuckled Porter, who trades futures for a living and had to fight tooth and nail for his crown, which came down to being determined in the last light-air minutes of the final race of the nine-race series.
“We’ve been sailing against these Melges 24 teams since 1993, and we have incredible respect for them,” said Porter, who has finished second at the Worlds three times. “We knew we had a great chance to win this time, but in this fleet you lose more than you win!”
Ever since his early days at Lake Geneva Yacht Club when Harry C. “Buddy” Melges, Jr. stepped onboard the then-eight-year-old Porter’s X Boat to tune it, Porter always has been humbled but not daunted by the sailing talent of others. “I grew up sailing against Buddy as a teen in the mid to late 1970s when he was at his peak, so I felt I always had the opportunity to sail against the best in the world.” (Melges, a three-time Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, is one of the most successful competitive sailors in history, with countless national and international championships, two Olympic medals and an America’s Cup campaign on his resume.) “He taught us that there was no reason we shouldn’t sail outside of Wisconsin,” added Porter, who for the record has won seven E Scow National championships to Melges’s five, “and we introduced that love of sailing to our kids. It has enriched our lives so much.”
Porter and his wife of 30 years, Dana, are the parents of four children: Brian, Grace, Davis and R.J.
2013 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year: Jody Starck
Jody Starck (Amherst, N.Y.), 48, first won the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Award in 1989, and in 2004 won a second time for becoming the first (and thus far, only) woman to skipper to victory at the Lightning North Americans, notorious for its large fleets and intense competition.
In 2013, she won the Lightning World Championship (46 boats) in Castiglione del Lago, Italy, crewing, along with Ian Jones, for her husband David Starck (himself one of the 2013 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year nominees). After that event, David encouraged her to steer the boat for the remainder of the Lightning season, which resulted in her having, in the words of one selection panel member, “big wins in tough, big fleets.” Most notably, she skippered to victory at the Lightning Atlantic Coast Championship (45 boats) in Wrightsville Beach, N.C. and was third at the Lightning North American Championship (58 boats) in Westport, Conn.
“I’m very thankful to my husband for encouraging me to sail my own boat again,” said Starck, whose two young daughters, Sabrina and Jamie, ages 7 and 6, came along after she had completed two 470 Women’s Olympic campaigns (1992 and ’96) and an Olympic Yngling campaign (2004).
“I had not been in the back of a boat for seven years. It was a family goal to win the 2013 Worlds with David at the helm, since he had fallen just short of the top podium step one too many times. I had held him back because it took me seven years to get comfortable in the front of the boat! Once we accomplished that, he was the one who said ‘I’ll handle the kids’ and made it possible for me to do what I did. He also said that at the next Lightning Worlds there was no way I wasn’t going to be entered and skippering my own boat!”
Reflecting on winning the Rolex award for her third time, Starck said, “I’m completely blown away by it; this time around, it’s more exciting than the other two times, because I am at a different stage in my life. Sailing isn’t my main focus, but I’m grateful to still be competitive.”
Starck, whose family sails out of the Buffalo Canoe Club on Lake Erie just across the Canadian border from her home, added, “Sailing is an incredible sport, allowing me to compete at any age, and it doesn’t matter what size or gender I am. It’s also very important to me to help continually bring juniors into the sport and expose them to the great opportunities sailing offers.”
To that point, Allie Jones, age 17, served as a crew member for Starck (along with Ian Jones) at the Lightning North Americans, while Abbie Probst, age 16, crewed for her (along with David Starck) for a victorious Wild Oyster Regatta (66 boats).