US yachtspeople of the year awarded

Top yachtsman and woman announced as Rolex-sponsored awarded

Friday January 9th 2004, Author: Barby MacGowan, Location: United States
Augie Diaz and Hannah Swett today were named the 2003 Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year, respectively. A panel of sailing journalists selected the two accomplished sailors for the distinction from a shortlist of seven nominees for the Rolex Yachtsman and five nominees for the Rolex Yachtswoman.

Established in 1961 by US Sailing and sponsored by Rolex Watch USA since 1980, the Rolex Yachtsman and Yachtswoman of the Year Awards recognise outstanding on-the-water achievement in the calendar year just concluded.

The winners will be honoured and presented with specially engraved Rolex timepieces at a February 6, 2004, luncheon at the New York Yacht Club in Manhattan.

Rolex Yachtsman of the Year

Augie Diaz, age 49, was recognised for his achievements as a skipper in three different one-design classes - Laser, Snipe and Star. Many of the panellists noted that Diaz has been nominated many times before; however this was his best year ever, competing in what are perhaps three of the most competitive fleets in the world. A string of regional regatta successes culminated in his win of the Snipe World Championship title and one panelist noted "his versatility in one-designs, not just one class, continues to be impressive."

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 won his division.

"I am very honoured," said a humble Diaz upon learning the news. "The magnitude of the award hasn’t really hit me. 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, Florida, 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, nine-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 (New Orleans, La.) 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.

Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year

Hannah Swett, age 34, was cited by the panel for full-time dedication to her Olympic campaign in the very competitive Yngling class, which will make its debut at the 2004 Olympic Regatta in Athens, Greece. Swett’s list of achievements in the Yngling is topped with victory at the Yngling World Championship, where her team competed among a fleet of 40.

"I am truly honoured to accept this prestigious award," said Swett. "I accept it on behalf of my teammates Melissa Purdy and Joan Touchette. Together we accomplished a great deal in the past year."

The banner year includes an impressive string of first-place finishes at the Yngling Olympic Pre-Trials, Scandinavian Race Week and Danish Nationals, as well as a second out of 85 boats at the Yngling Open World Championship.

Swett is also recognised as one of the best match racers in the world and in 2003 she participated in two events, finishing second at the ISAF Grade 1 Rolex Osprey Cup and third at US SAILING’s U.S. Women’s Match Race Championship. This prompted one panelist to note that "even though she spends almost all of her time in the Yngling, she found the time to have fun and do very, very well in match racing. Impressive."

Raised in Brookline, MA, Swett started sailing in Jamestown, R.I., where her parents own a summer home. Her sailing career blossomed at St. George's School (Middletown, R.I.) when she won the High School Nationals as a freshman.

At Brown University (Providence, R.I.) Swett won the 1989 College Nationals as a freshman, which earned her All-American honours. She again made the All-American list in 1991. She met Purdy 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 historic 'Mighty Mary' women’s team in the 1995 America's Cup Challenger Series. There they met 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."

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