A Lovely Tribute to Carlos Vilar Castex

by Luis Soubie

I have the sad honor to write about the life of my friend and fellow Snipe sailor, Carlos Vilar Castex. He was a person whom I loved and admired very much.

Carlos (1930-2021) was a genius of sailing, and an even greater human. After he and his brother Jorge (1931-2014) taught themselves to sail, their father built them a wooden Snipe.

In 1946 at the age of 16, they finished 2nd against a large and challenging fleet at the Argentine Championship, even though they were kids who hadn’t yet finished High school. The one who took the 1946 title from them by 1 point, Jorge Brauer, was runner-up in the 1947 Worlds in Switzerland.

In 1947 the brothers became Argentine champions, a title repeated in 1948/49/50/51/52/57. In 1948 and 1951 they won the World championships as well.

The 1948 title was a milestone in the country, as it was the first world championship ever achieved in sailing by an Argentine athlete.

In 1949 they also finished second in the Worlds, and in 1951 they won gold at the Pan American Games.

One curiosity was that they alternated at the helm. Of the 7 Argentine Championships that they won in the 10 years they competed, Carlos helmed in 4 and crewed in 3, while Jorge helmed in 3 and crewed in 4. Similarly, Carlos helmed in the 1948 World Championship while Jorge steered in 1949 and 1951.

It may be easy from a 2021 perspective to look back to 1948 and think that the class was easier. It wasn’t in any way! Think of badly dressed sailors, with cotton clothes and leather shoes, hard and rigid lines, sailing boats without hiking straps, tiller extensions, bailers, vangs or spreaders—and awooden mast bending off half a meter. Then try to compete against 20 or 30 expert crews with similar boats. Winning in the Snipe has NEVER been easy!

Carlos ended his Snipe career more than 60 years ago. In 1957, after he and Jorge finished their architectural studies, he married and stop sailing Snipes. But he stayed close to the class all this years.

It was normal for him to call me and ask me something about current boats, such as adjustable spreaders or new sail shapes; we would end up talking about tuning as if he had used the new system for 30 years. Another day he saw me in a photo and asked why I was sailing the boat so flat, or why the jib was so open or the main so full, or whatever else had caught his attention. He had an expert eye and listening to him was a smart thing to do.

Each sailor who had the pleasure of sharing a boat with Carlos has a story that speaks of his brilliance, his goodness and above all his humility. It was almost impossible to get  him to tell a story of a championship, unless someone insisted several times. When he finally began to speak, he did so with incredible humility, always attributing his achievements to other sailors or to luck.

In 2016 I won my 7th Argentine Championship, equaling his own record. The Championship was 1500km away from where Carlos lived. He called me on the phone and congratulated me, and then he told me he was very happy that I had achieved it and said it was a shame that we have sail so far from Buenos Aires because he would have liked to have the honor of giving me the trophy. I remember that I was speechless and I felt very small… The following year we won the South American Championship in Buenos Aires, and Carlos asked to give me the cup himself. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life.

The last time I saw him in person was in December 2019 when I presented him with the SCIRA diploma for his inclusion in the Hall of Fame. Two months later came the damn Covid that yesterday extinguished his life but ignited his legend.

He wrote me on June 19th, from the hospital, to congratulate me on Father’s Day. That was him.

I’ll miss him. I will miss the constant encouragement from him every time I go to compete and his hand shake at the regattas in Buenos Aires.

But above all, I will miss that unique presence, which exalted our sport everywhere and in every aspect, as very few champions do.

He will be remembered forever.

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