The Family of Snipe

This post first appeared on the blog.

Sailors know that summer in Annapolis means heat, humidity, motorboat chop, jellyfish—and no wind. So when a hundred and thirty Snipe sailors choose to spend a week of August vacation there, they must be counting on something more than just the sailing to make it worthwhile.

Cronin and Couranz round the leeward gate mark with another boat tight on their transom.

That something more is the chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones, and this year’s Snipe Nationals provided that opportunity in spite of the somewhat hot and humid atmosphere. We were also rewarded for our leap of geographical faith with surprisingly nice sailing conditions for most of the week, losing only the last day to no wind.

Best of all, the week proved to be a fantastic opportunity for me to look back at how far the Snipe and I have come in the past twenty years.

My very first Snipe Nationals was also in Annapolis, back in 1990. I was a newbie crew, trying to learn about the boat and my skipper and our competitors all at once. Several veterans befriended me, and many of those friendships persist to this day—though we only see each other at most three or four times each year.

This year I steered my own boat—and posted a top five finish, thanks in large part to my fantastic friend and teammate Kim Couranz. It also helped to have so much encouragement from those skippers and crews I’d been racing with and against for two decades. This is a class that encourages growth, which is a large part of why we will celebrate its 80th birthday next year.

The sharp eyes on Severn Sailing Association’s main committee boat, Favored End, kept everyone honest on the starting line.

Many predicted the demise of the Snipe Class in the mid-90’s, when two of the three US builders folded. (Jibetech is currently the only class builder in North America.) But a continued emphasis on family has revitalized the class once again.

This year’s Junior Nationals boasted sixteen teams. The Special Juniors (junior skipper, any age crew) was won by 12 year old Christian Filter (Annapolis, MD) with dad Henry in the front of the boat. In a few years Christian will trade in his father for a buddy closer to his own age and compete for the Junior Nationals, following in the footsteps of this year’s Junior champ Nick Voss (Miami, FL).

Nick’s a perfect example of a Snipe “brat;” after honing his sailing skills in college, he comes back to the Snipe in the summer. This year he and teammate Nicole Popp finished third in the Senior Nationals. His sister Kara finished tenth, and parents Ken and Kay Voss won the silver Wells fleet. (Kay also made lunch every day for her kids and helped with regatta scoring.)

As the wind grew lighter throughout the week, courses grew shorter – which meant crowded weather marks.

For those of us a few decades past college, the inspiration to keep sailing such physically and mentally challenging boats comes from the class oldsters. The best-loved is Gonzalo Diaz Sr., who everyone (and I mean everyone) calls “Old Man.” This octogenarian still shows up at all the major events and usually qualifies for the gold fleet. Between regattas, he keeps the Miami fleet strong by loaning boats, digging crews out of local junior programs, and helping newbies with boat setup and maintenance. Best of all, whenever he’s talking about Snipes, he’s smiling.

Old Man’s son Augie Diaz and teammate Kathleen Tocke won this year’s Nationals, though they said they were constantly looking over their shoulder at “the kids,” most of whom are products of the Miami Snipe fleet. The top four teams qualify for next year’s World Championship in Denmark, where the competition will be even fiercer but the attitude will still include some “serious fun.”

Kim and Carol await their fifth place trophy at the regatta dinner.

So it’s not just about the sailing—it’s about the people. Together we’ve turned year after year of shared regattas into another family, one that will help all of us master the next stages in life and sailing.

Stay tuned for more Snipe news from the Western Hemisphere and Orient Championship in Canada, where Kim and I will reunite with some of our international Snipe family.

Photos courtesy of Ted Morgan. For results and more info, visit the Snipe class website.