The Model Room of the New York YC was filled to capacity to honor two very special sailors. Augie Diaz, 49, from Miami and Hannah Swett, 34, from New York have garnered plenty of media attention for their sailing accomplishments over the past decade, but today the athletes glowed in the national spotlight as US SAILING's Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year. Honored with the sport's highest accolade at a luncheon at the club's 44th street clubhouse, Diaz and Swett graciously accepted engraved Rolex timepieces, symbols of outstanding on-water achievement in the calendar year just concluded.
Diaz has been nominated for this prestigious award many times before; however this was his best year ever, competing in what are perhaps three of the most competitive fleets in the world (Laser, Snipe and Star). Diaz is the first U.S. sailor to win the Snipe World Championship since 1981. His list of achievements also includes victories at the Snipe Midwinters and the Don Q Regatta, as well as top-five finishes at the Bacardi Cup, Snipe Nationals and Rolex Laser Masters North American Championships, where he also finished second in his age division. "I have so many people to thank, from my folks to my crew. I've been fortunate to sail with Jon Rogers, Christian Finsgärd, Mark Strube and Hal Haenel. I get so much pleasure from sailing; this is just so special."
From a very young age, Augie was inspired by his father's love of sailing and the sacrifices that his parents made for their children. The Diaz family sacrificed a successful family business to leave Cuba in 1963 and settle in Clearwater, Fla., with very little money. One of the few things that the family brought to their new home was the elder Diaz's beloved wooden Snipe, which would be instrumental in Augie's life. Through a stroke of luck, 9-year-old Augie was given sailing lessons instead of swimming lessons. He quickly developed a love of Optimist sailing, but outgrew the boat a few years later and started competing with his brother at Snipe junior regattas using their father's boat. Soon the Diaz boys were competing against legendary sailors of the day - Earl Elms, Dave Ullman and Jeff Lenhart - and making an impression on everyone with whom they came in contact.
Diaz went on to Tulane University where he earned ICSA All-American honors three times (1975, '74, '73). After graduation and three unsuccessful bids for an Olympic berth in the Flying Dutchman and Star classes, he joined the family business and took a 15-year hiatus from sailing to dedicate time to his family. In 1997 he returned to sailing with one goal in mind. "I decided that I was going to work and sail," Diaz said. "I figured that the feeling would pass in two to three years, but now it's literally to the point where all I do is work and sail. Luckily my kids and my girlfriend put up with it. And at this stage the feeling isn't going away!" Now co-owner of his family's medical equipment supply company, Diaz is the father of 26-year-old Daniela, 24-year-old Lucas and 22-year-old Adrian.
Hannah Swett's impressive record in the very competitive Yngling class, which will make its debut at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, includes her victory at the Yngling World Championship, where her team competed among a fleet of 40. Other wins include the Yngling Olympic Pre-Trials and Scandinavian Race Week Raised in Brookline, MA, Swett started sailing in Jamestown, RI, where her parents own a summer home. Her sailing career blossomed at St. George's School (Middletown, RI) when she won the High School Nationals as a freshman. At Brown University Swett won the 1989 College Nationals as a freshman, which earned her All-American honors. She again made the All-American list in 1991. She met Melissa Purdy, one of her crew, during her senior year when both were on the sailing team and they forged a strong friendship that eventually led them to sail aboard the Mighty Mary, the all-women's team in the 1995 America's Cup Challenger Series. There they met Joan Touchette, who ultimately filled the third position in their current quest for an Olympic berth.
In 2000 when ISAF did not select match racing as the format for the new women's keelboat event at the 2004 Olympic Games, Swett decided to return to her family's real estate business full-time. That decision was soon interrupted by a phone call from Purdy who persuaded her old friend to take up the helm of an Yngling. "I couldn't turn down an offer like that," said Swett. "It's been great to be so completely involved with something. I've never had an experience like this before, not in sailing, not in business, and it is thrilling."
Swett recalled that her love of sailing started as a child when she decided to emulate her mother, Eleanor Burgess, who was once a celebrated Finn sailor. "I heard all these great stories about how awesome my mother was and just like her, I like to compete against the boys. My parents are incredibly supportive. I cannot imagine doing this without them." In addition to her mother, Swett notes that she gets a lot of advice from her father, Brad Swett. "When I get home from a training camp, he always asks for the details and we talk over everything." In addition to her parents, Swett's sailing lineage includes her aunt Jan O'Malley, Rolex and Women's World Champ, her grandfather Brit Chance who won the Olympic Gold in 1952, and her great-grandfather and his brother who introduced E Scows to Barnegat Bay.
Acknowledged as the sport's highest honor in the United States, the Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year awards have honored such sailing standouts as Betsy Alison, Liz Baylis, Paul Cayard, Dennis Conner, Steve Fossett, John Kostecki, Buddy Melges, Dawn Riley, Cory Sertl and Ted Turner.
The 63rd edition of North America's premier winter ocean racing regatta, the Acura SORC (Southern Ocean Racing Conference) is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 25-Sunday, Feb. 29 in South Beach, FL. Registration can be completed online and the deadline is Feb. 18. "The 2004 Acura SORC will be another great regatta, with Miami's South Beach once again offering a great backdrop to perfect ocean sailing conditions," promises Scott MacLeod, senior vice president of event manager Octagon. "With the continued increase in participation by international teams and the return of America's Cup and Volvo personalities we're expecting to have some of the best competition in recent memory." For more information and to register: www.acurasorc.com.