A Junior Program for the Ages

Published on January 10th, 2022

From the archives at St. Francis Yacht Club, a story of when a massive baton was handed to products of their junior program:

Beginning in 1969 and lasting through 1985, members of the St. Francis Yacht Club through the St. Francis Syndicate funded the design and construction of five new 6-Metres, the extensive modifications of two 6-Meters, and the charting of one 6-Metre.

We raced all across the United States in Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York and also in countries farther afield including Australia, France, Switzerland, Canada, and Sweden. We were well known and respected the world over in top-flight international yacht-racing circles.

Our various 6-Metres were of top design, construction, and maintenance, which contributed greatly to their success, but the real key to that success were the members who made up our crew. Our skippers and crews, and often our designers and builders, were all members of the Club.

Tom Blackaller, John Bertrand, Paul Cayard, and John Kostecki were all boat leaders and skippers at some point over the years. The crew lists read over 55 names and, while too extensive to list, above is a visual that pretty well tells the crew story at its best.

In 1981, our Syndicate leaders took the extraordinary action to send St. Francis VII on a two-season trip around the world under the command of John Bertrand, with four other junior members: Bill George, Steve Jeppesen, Paul Cayard, and Ken Keefe.

They raced the boat locally and in Southern California before shipping her to Romanshorn, Switzerland, for the 6-Metre World Championship. The week before Worlds, our team won the Swiss 6-Metre National Championship, which got them to be thought of as the favorite for the coming Worlds.

That was not to be. After winning the first two races at Worlds, the regatta became a non-event. There was no wind on Lake Constance.

The boat was then packaged and trucked to Genoa, Italy, for shipment to Australia. Five months later, they found her in Sydney at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club, where they were to defend the American Australian Challenge Trophy against the new Australian 6-Metre, which they successfully did in January 1982. This had been a junior program for the ages.

In 1984, we built St. Francis IX specifically to defend the American Australian Challenge Trophy in Sydney. She did just that in early 1985. Prior to that, we took delivery of the new boat. She was built in Sweden and we were to sail her in that year’s 6-Metre World Championship Regatta in Cannes.

Going into the last race, we were leading the regatta on points, but we couldn’t hold on to that lead in the light and confused wind conditions. So much for a second place. From Cannes we shipped IX to New York where we won a match race with a New York Yacht Club 6-Metre.

The next year we sent IX to Sweden for the World Championship regatta, which some say we won under the command of John Kostecki. The official records show us having finished in a tie for the championship.

IX was sold, and we retired from active 6-Metre racing after almost 20 years of successful competition. What happened? Most of our skippers and crew members shifted gear and joined Tom Blackaller in New Zealand for 12-Meter efforts and, eventually, the America’s Cup.

Above photo (from left): Kenneth Keefe, Billy George, John Bertrand, Steve Jeppesen, and Paul Cayard.

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