Published on June 21st, 2021
by Lynn Fitzpatrick Four Miami Snipe fleet crews rarely posted a double-digit score during the 2021 Snipe U.S. National Championship as they took the top four positions during the nine race series held June 17 to 20 in Annapolis, MD.
Ernesto Rodriguez and Kathleen Tocke (1), Raul Rios and Andrea Riefkohl Gonzalez (2), Enrique Quintero and Charlie Bess (3), Augie Diaz and Barbie Brotons (4) were already world class sailors in the class, with the teams owing a good portion of their success to one man who was over 1,000 miles south of Annapolis throughout the week, at home in Miami – Gonzalo Diaz Sr., affectionately known as “Viejo” or “Old Man”.
At 91-years old, The Old Man got his first Snipe in the mid-1940s and also learned a valuable lesson about fleet building that he and his immediate family and the Snipe “family” have perpetuated.
Old Man sailed out of Miramar Yacht Club in Havana, Cuba, and for a number of years in a row, the club’s Commodore Manuel Rasco would donate a Snipe as the prize for Miramar YC’s juniors who did not already have a Snipe, to compete for. Everyone was motivated to sail regularly and improve their skills with such a valuable prize at stake. Soon the fleet grew from a 10-boat to a 20-boat fleet and set the stage for Old Man and his brother to qualify for and do well in Snipe World Championship.
In the early 1960s, Old Man secured a way to get his Snipe and family to flee Cuba. Initially, they landed in Clearwater but eventually moved to Miami where they grew the Snipe fleet on Biscayne Bay. At one point or another, all three of Old Man’s children crewed for him. Numerous times, The Old Man crewed for his children – even at Western Hemisphere and World Championships.
The Diaz family also were collecting a large fleet of their own Snipe hulls, spars, and used sails, and with their desire to keep the level of competition high in the local fleet, it sparked Old Man’s ‘Loan To Own Program’ that many good sailors had taken advantage of once they find themselves in Southeast Florida … or close enough to commute, as in the case of Puerto Rican Raul Rios. When Ernesto Rodriguez (above photo), who was among the top Laser sailors on Cuba’s Olympic sailing squad, defected to the United States, he found his way to the Snipe fleet … or was he recruited?
In any event, when he, or anyone else, signed up for Old Man’s program, he/she committed to sail a certain number of days and race a certain number of days. The bogies are intentionally set high and they produce results.
Raul Rios, from Club Nautico de San Juan, Puerto Rico, and a former All-American sailor from Boston College, is currently finishing his doctoral residency in Puerto Rico. When he finds the time, he commutes to Miami, where he takes advantage of another Diaz family mechanism for growing competition.
Rios stores his boat in Augie Diaz’s warehouse, and you can bet when Rios or any other talented sailor suggests he wants to sail a Snipe, the Diaz family and the Miami Snipe fleet will find him or her a crew or skipper, hospitality, and world class competition.
Enrique Qunitero’s association with the Diaz family and Snipes tops them all. Old Man fought hard for years to have a Special Juniors division at the U.S. National Championship in which juniors could sail with adults as crew against all junior crews. He argued that if the U.S. Junior champions were going to represent the U.S. at the Junior World Championships, they should be world class and be chosen from a large and highly competitive fleet. At 13 years old, Qunitero took the helm of a Snipe for the first time at the Florida State Snipe Jr. Championship, with Snipe World Champion Augie Diaz as crew. They won the Championship and in no time, he had his own Snipe. Qunitero won the Snipe Worlds in 2007 as crew, and at the 2021 Snipe Nationals, went into the last day tied with Augie Diaz in third place.
When asked about the Diaz family programs, Augie admits it’s a little selfish. “We want to sail against good competition.” Selfish? As one who signed up for the Diaz family loan to own program when I landed in Miami, “Thank you for your generosity … you created a whole lot of amazing sailing careers and sailors who want to give back.”