Eight Bells: Robert Keefe

Published on December 6th, 2022

Robert Cotter “RC” Keefe passed through the Golden Gate for the last time on December 4th, 2022. Bob was 90 years old and the Senior Staff Commodore of the St Francis Yacht Club where he was a member since 1950.

His life was dedicated to the St. Francis and sailing, he lived and breathed everything that ever floated. He was the Club Historian for over 30 years, writing monthly articles in the Club’s Mainsheet magazine.

Bob joined the Barient Winch Company in the 1960s where he grew the company to the most prominent winch company in the world. While at Barient, he oversaw the development of the “self-tailing winch” which is the same basic design we used today.

After Barient, he founded the Keefe Pacific Company where he developed and built anchor windlasses. Not surprisingly, the license plate on his car was “Winch”.

Bob was part of the golden years of sailboat racing on San Francisco Bay. He raced aboard Bolero with Denny Jordan and then on Baruna with Jim Michael. It was during this time that he had the idea to have a large sailboat racing event on the Bay. The idea of the “Big Boat Series” was started with the first event in 1964.

He is credited as the father of Big Boat Series, and as the boats traveled up from Southern California, they would call him at home via the ship-to-shore radio. He would meet them at the St. Francis Yacht Club guest docks and welcome them into the Club for a drink in the Grill room, no matter the hour! In 1966, he was awarded the “Yachtsmen of the Year” award for his efforts with the Big Boat Series.

Bob was blessed to sail with the great yachtsmen of his era. In 1967 he was aboard the California 32 Andale with Bill Stewart winning the inaugural San Francisco Cup. With his beloved Big Boat Series, he ran the bow team on Baruna. It took three attempts but finally in 1966 they won the St. Francis Perpetual Trophy.

With Theo Stephens, he raced on the first aluminum sailboats on the Bay, the great S&S designed Alpha and Lightning. Both boats were built at Stephens Marine in Stockton, CA and went on to win the Big Boat Series.

His legacy includes bringing Six Metre racing back to life on San Francisco Bay. With support of the great members of the club, he raised the money to purchase a used boat. She was renamed St Francis IV which started the resurgence.

Bob supported Tom Blackaller’s efforts for more than 10 years in Six Metre racing, with new boats designed and built for Tom and his crew. The effort would go on to amass a record from 1970 to 1979 in the American-Australian Challenge Cup of 16 wins, no losses.

In 1980, Bob decided it was time for a change, so he handed over the Six Metre program to the club juniors. John Bertrand as skipper, with Paul Cayard, Craig Healy, Ken Keefe, and Steve Jeppesen as the crew for the 1981 World Championships in Switzerland and the 1982 American-Australian Challenge Cup in Sydney, Australia.

The program continued for many years with great junior skippers Paul Cayard and John Kostecki. It was Bob’s vision and foresight that allowed the St Francis junior program to grow to prominence in the USA through Six Metre racing.

A remembrance of life is being planned at the St Francis Yacht Club early in 2023.

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