In March 1931, RUDDER magazine Editor and small boat designer William F. (“Bill”) Crosby from Pelham, New York, attended a meeting of the Florida West Coast Racing Association in Sarasota, Florida. To answer a need for a class of small racing sailboats suitable for trailering to regattas, Crosby promised to give the proposed class a send-off by designing and publishing plans for such a boat in his magazine. The name Snipe was chosen in accord with RUDDER’s custom of naming all its designs for sea birds.
Snipe plans appeared in the July, 1931 issue of RUDDER, which quickly sold out. The Snipe was designed as a 15 foot 6 inch hard chine hull, to conform to the standard 16 foot plank, and was designed originally for home building. The original sail plan had an area of 100 square feet with a mainsail and working jib.
By early September, 1931, reports of boats being completed from the plans were received. The first Snipe was built by 14 year-old Jimmy Brown of Pass Christian, Mississippi, who had built the boat with the help of his father. A system of registration and numbering Snipes was established so that owners living near each other could be put in touch. Snipe Number 1 was assigned to Jimmy Brown.
By May 1932, 150 boats had been registered, and racing became general as several of the large racing associations recognized the Snipe class by giving official starts. Owners asked for information on a forming a national class organization for Snipes.
In November 1932, the Snipe Class International Racing Association (SCIRA) was formed with Dr. Hub E. Isaacks of Dallas, Texas, as the first SCIRA Commodore. A constitution and by-laws were drawn up and the first rulebook was published. At the end of the year there were 250 numbered boats, and Dallas was awarded the first fleet charter – which is still active.
The first fleet outside the United States was chartered in March 1933 in Dover, England. In July 1936, the Class reached the status of world’s largest racing class with fleets all over the world. Although the Snipe World Championships had been held since 1934, it was not until 1946 that this Championship actually became international. The event was held at Lake Chautauqua, New York. Contestants from Brazil, Newfoundland, Portugal and Switzerland participated as well as many from USA fleets. This had an impact on the Class and it was decided that international competition should be promoted.
SCIRA Commodore Charles Heinzerling announced that he would design a separate trophy for the USA champion, while retaining the Hub Isaacks Trophy for international competition.
Dr. Martin Dupan representing Switzerland, was so impressed with the Championship at Chautauqua, that he became the instigator for the first World Championship to be held outside of the USA. It was held in Geneva, Switzerland in 1947, with Ted Wells of the USA winning over champions from 13 countries.
In 1949, the decision was made to hold Hemisphere Championships and World Championships in alternate years.
The SCIRA Board of Governors bought the Snipe plans from RUDDER in 1948 and SCIRA was incorporated in 1954. In 1958, the Snipe received IYRU’s recognition as an international class.
The hull has remained essentially unchanged through the history of the class with only slight changes due to tightening of tolerances. The original 100 square feet of sail area was increased to 116 feet, with the introduction of the overlapping jib which replaced the working jib in 1932. Currently the sail area is 128 square feet in mainsail and overlapping jib. Spinnakers are not permitted. All early Snipes were wood plank hull construction, but in the 1950s, plywood and fiberglass were accepted as building materials for the hull and deck. The largest single change made in the class history was the weight reduction from 425 pounds to 381 pounds in the early 1970s.
Most Snipes are now built in fiberglass by professional builders, but plank and plywood Snipes are still built occasionally. Amateurs can build Snipes from plans available from the SCIRA headquarters. Fiberglass Snipes in various stages of completion may be offered by some builders, for home finishing. All boats are required to be measured and to carry current SCIRA decals in Snipe class competition.
News and developments of the Snipe class were originally published in monthly issues of RUDDER magazine until the late 1940s. In the mid-1940s, SCIRA began publishing its own monthly newsletter, the JIB SHEET which continued to the early 1950s when it was replaced by the SNIPE BULLETIN to cover international activities of the Snipe class, while US SNIPE SAILOR, covered Snipe activities in the USA. Today SCIRA publishes a quarterly e-snipe bulletin with past issues posted on the website snipe.org
Over 30,800 Snipes have been registered by SCIRA in over thirty countries around the world — making it one of the largest and oldest one-design classes in the world. The Snipe class celebrates its 90th anniversary in 2021.