Snipe Class: reinventing and reimagining

Published on August 26th, 2023

By Dave Powlison
The International Snipe Class continues to reinvent and reimagine itself through initiatives that continue to make it one of sailing’s most iconic one-design classes. The class continues to fire on all cylinders, a lot of female involvement and a growing contingent of enthusiastic, post-collegiate sailors.

It’s early April on Miami’s Biscayne Bay, with an 18-knot easterly, gnarly chop and ribbons of sargassum seaweed, tough fare for racing any boat. We’re at the 2023 Don Q Snipe Regatta, heading uphill and racing against competitors with decades of experience in the class, as well as a slew of young hotshots and some first timers, 40 teams in all.

It’s baptism by fire, my first real experience racing a Snipe. And like many who jump into the boat for the first time, I’m being served heaps of humble pie. About the only time my crew, Danielle Wiletsky, and I see the top of the fleet is when we cross paths on opposite legs of the course.

The upside is that we have a ringside seat to their techniques. At one point, we watch as the eventual regatta-winning team of Ernesto Rodriguez and Kathleen Tocke round the weather mark. He hands her the tiller extension and mainsheet, slides back to clear weeds off the rudder, then takes over again. Blink and we’ll miss it. “It’s something we’ve practiced,” Rodriguez tells me afterward.

Then it’s back to the business of riding waves, Tocke at times with her face almost at the headstay when going down waves, then rapidly sliding aft as the ride nears its end. It’s the product of years of muscle memory, and Tocke and Rodriguez are clearly in sync.

Tocke, who first sailed the Snipe in 2008, says they don’t talk much on their boat. “Occasionally, he’ll tell me to hike harder,” she adds, “not because I’m not, but more as encouragement.” Soon they’re a speck on the horizon as we plod our way upwind to the mark.

We’re not alone at the humble-pie buffet. Here at the Don Q, scores of top-notch sailors, ex-collegiate and otherwise, come with high expectations only to leave with egos battered and bruised by class veterans, many old enough to be their parents. Rodriguez has been at this for more than two decades.

Plus, Rodriguez regularly trains with the likes of Hall of Famer Augie Diaz, who has been in the class for 56 years and won more Snipe championships than space allows here, and Peter Commette, 36 years in the class, a former Olympian, a Laser world champion, and keeper of his share of big-time Snipe titles as well. “They taught me a lot,” Rodriguez says. “I’m still part of that group, and we always go back and forth with information, sharing a lot about tuning and ways to best sail the boat.”

The Don Q was started by class icon Gonzalo Diaz in 1966 and named after its rum sponsor. It’s been held every year since, even during the pandemic. As boats set up at the host Coconut Grove Sailing Club, with the overflow at the US Sailing Center to the north, it’s impossible not to notice the number of 30-somethings—not only as crew, but also skippers.

At a gathering at a recent Snipe event, Augie Diaz asked, “How many here are under 30?” Over half raised their hands. – Full story

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