Mission accomplished for Augie Diaz

Published on October 25th, 2022

by Craig Leweck, Scuttlebutt Sailing News
Our crew had gathered for lunch, the first sit down with a team assembled to help National Sailing Hall of Famer Augie Diaz compete in the 2022 International Masters Regatta on October 21-23 in San Diego, CA. It was practice day in the J/105, a boat we had all sailed but never together.

It was Augie’s third time at the event which assembles an elite field of invited 60+ year old champions for a round robin fleet race series. After winning in 2014 and finishing fifth in 2015, the Miami native sought to be the first two-time winner in San Diego. While the crew need be only 45 years of age, I was the youngest on our team at 60. Bring on the Advil!

After discussing our positions, we got on the water and exhibited aged memory. Short course sets and douses couldn’t have gone much worse, painfully highlighting the work ahead. Nobody brought a timer for practice starts, with my analogue watch ripped off my wrist on the first gybe. Yikes!

We were the only team to do a man overboard drill… unintentionally. When my San Diego Padres hat went into the water, out came the boat hook to retrieve it, but I trusted my hand better and leaned out for the grab. Big mistake, as it was just out of reach, and when I reached further, I was now with the hat. When word leaked of my swim, I had no more margin for error.

The following morning got started with a 0900 Competitor’s Meeting. After the anticipated comments from Event Chair and PRO, the question and answer segment with Chief Umpire Mark Townsend was epic. Two-time Olympian Nigel Cochrane and two-time America’s Cup winner Peter Isler could have kept us there all day as they challenged the event rules. Very educational!

The event requires a volunteer army for many aspects, with massive hours invested in preparing and maintaining the donated boats. To ensure fairness, the 11 teams sail each boat once. That’s 11 races in three days, hopping on and off a dock island that accommodates all boats, carrying spinnaker and gear to the next assignment. It is a college format for grey hairs, with little time to prepare for the next race.

The venue within San Diego Bay southeast of the Coronado Bridge is noted for flat water and the strongest wind for the area, but an approaching rain storm had shuffled the deck, delivering a massively shifty southerly for all three days. Winds barely reached double digit gusts by the final races. Nothing simple about it, and of course, a beautiful westerly arrived after the event. So typical!

Doing jib trim, I realized too late my need for shin guards. I was bleeding out, taping wounds between tacks. I then badly twisted my ankle when switching boats, an injury I didn’t reveal. I screwed up too much on the practice day, and fought through the pain for the martini and bag of ice waiting for me.

I was a bit of an outlier, as Augie had recruited fellow Hall of Famer Mark Reynolds for tactician. This duo was podium bound in the Flying Dutchman before the 1980 Olympic Boycott, along with sharing a long history in the Snipe and Star Class. Ben Mitchell (mainsheet), Chuck Sinks (spin trim), and Al Pleskus (bow) are all elite and a frequent trio. My job was to avoid being the weak link.

If you’ve wondered how people like Augie and Mark excel at such a high level, there are no big answers. Their trust in each other is key, but Augie’s openness to input and self-deprecating approach helped us all to step up. As for Mark, his sailing time has scaled way back, but he remains a three-time Olympic medalist. He is calm, patient, decisive, and sees things us mortals don’t. And they both are always thinking about the next situation.

The collection of boats are as evenly matched as is possible, with club-owned sails removing that variable. But some J/105s are ‘more even’ than others, and getting good scores with the best boats is imperative. When I mentioned how a conservative start with a fast boat was a good move, Reynolds offered, “Sounds like the story of my life.” Speed is always king.

We rumbled through the first three races on day one before an early start and a failed recovery dropped us to third, but just two points out of first. We had another OCS on day two, but with a better recovery and our second bullet, we entered the final day with the lead though just eight points separated the top four. Only three races remained, and no room for another early start.

With the bulk of his achievement in boats with hiking straps, steering a keelboat is not something Augie does often, and the conditions on the last day were brutally shifty and unpredictable. Worse, two of our three boats had a wheel, which Augie had earlier admitted to occasionally turning the wrong way.

But we were fully jelled now as a team, though our three point lead going into the final race offered little comfort. Augie and Mark reached deep into their championship DNA, with a solid start that got us to second around the first lap, but we dropped a boat on the second upwind leg, and the final downwind leg had the pack behind now pinning us to leeward, unable to gybe for the finish.

Just then the biggest left shift of the event arrived, and this massive puff header allowed us to push forward and soak across their bows for the victory. Amid our elation and cheers I hear Mark say, “This is harder than the Olympics. They just keep coming.”

It was a massively talented fleet in a difficult venue, but we had no weak links, and with Augie, were led by one of the most humble, devoted, and admired people in sailing who is now the first two-time winner of the International Masters Regatta in San Diego. How sweet it is!

Final results: https://sdyc.org/assets/results/results22/masters21-res.htm
Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAcoDD

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