by Gonzalo “Old Man” Diaz
(Originally published on “SnipeTales by a Great Group of Snipe Sailors”, edited and censored by Buzz Levinson, 1996)
This is my favorite story and is a little long – please bear with me. This happened in Havana in approximately 1958. I was working on a Saturday at a Hospital on a hill west of Havana and had a beautiful view of the Atlantic Ocean. It was honking! The trade winds that are ever present in the North Coast of Cuba were at heir best! I was about two or three miles away from the ocean but could clearly see the white caps.
I called a friend whom I was trying to get interested in Snipes asked him to meet me at the Miramar Yacht Club. I wanted to demonstrate him how nicely the Snipes plane on a reach with that breeze. My friend had never been on a sailboat before!
We went sailing and, of course, planing like you would not believe it! It was just a great day! We were about two miles from the shore when suddenly, my rudder broke right below the lower pintle. Have you seen that before?
My Snipe, Jupiter II, spinner around and pointed back to the shore. I told my friend, “Don’t worry, we can sail back to the Club using the paddle.” I took the paddle in my left hand and pulled out what was left of the rudder with my right. In the process, I lost the paddle. It was floating right there! My fingers could almost touch the paddle, but I could not reach it! Suddenly, it was three feet away! What do you do in a case like this?
I jumped in the water to catch the paddle immediately. But, Oh My God! When I went for the boat, she was moving at quite a good speed considering the sails were luffing. I tried to swim with the paddle in my hand and the boat just moved faster away.
I threw the paddle away and sprinted towards the boat in my best freestyle swimming. The boat just moved farther away. My friend was looking at me and expressing himself with his hands, “What do you want me to do?” I got ready for bigger effort and pulled out my shirt and my shoes and sprinted to exhaustion. At this point, the boat was more than 50 yards away and moving fast and I was exhausted, My friend still questioning me with his hands what to do.I shouted about dropping sails but he could not hear me because of the wind.
Suddendly, I was on the water, a couple of miles from the shore, with a depth of about 1000 feet and that day as you can guess, it was blowing so hard that there were no boats around to help us. I had to start thinking in my survival for the first time in my life. I did not think I was in danger of drowning as I had a lot of confidence in my ability to swim. I thought about how I was going to lose my boat if it landed on the coastal reef and my friend would not be able to hold the boat on a reef with the wave action as it was. The temperature of the water was no concern, It was very warm, but I had to switch to my relaxed mode of swimming: backstroke.
At the time, wow were not carrying life jackets on the Snipes. We never carried them. I had recently installed a self bailing cockpit on my Gerber Snipe, Jupiter II, and my friend did not have easy access to the halyard cleats. He did not even know where they were. However, my friend was not dumb and the next time I turned around from my backstroke to look at the boat, my friend had somehow found the main halyard cleat and had dropped the main.
That changed the situation and then I know I could eventually swim to catch the boat. In a few more minutes things got a lot better as a crash boat from a neighbor club showed up on the scene to retrieve my boat. They knew me and were asking my friend, “What is “Gonzalito” doing swimming out there?” They picked me up and towed us back to the Miramar Yacht Club. My friend never called me again.
This experience taught me that to race Snipes I had to be in goos shape. On the water, you could get cornered in a situation where you have to fight for your life. Based on that, I always rejected smoking, although I had opportunities to get hooked on it. And, I have always tried to keep myself in good shape! I owe that much to our little boat.