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Gommier Racing Anything but Plain Sailing

Isn’t it nice to see continuing traditions, especially at Christmas, especially in sailing? Take the single-hulled Gommiers of Martinique, arriving in St Lucia at the same time the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC), quicker, and of course nearer, yet poles apart . . . quite literally.

A dozen boats took part in December’s Gommier race and the blustery two and a half hour crossing from Sainte Luce in Martinique to Gros Islet in the St Lucia’s north surely burnished the 8-10ft poles used to balance the craft to a mirror finish for the weekend of racing—and, of course, some relaxation.

Crews from the Racing Association Club Des Gommiers began the annual race on Friday, December 15 and, with the usual well-supported local following, heaved their dozen or so craft onto the soft sand of St Lucia’s Gros Islet after their crossing. I was surprised to see a glass-fibre hybrid of the single-trunk craft and asked if this was now a production hull.

"The hull is still formed from the Gommier tree, I’ve one growing in the back yard," said restaurant Somewhere Special’s owner Phillip Joules, who catered for the crew’s refreshments. "Some are now externally covered in fibre glass, others remain traditional," he said. Evidently Gommier wood is preferred, either from St Lucia or Dominica, where it’s taken to Martinique and formed into the racing/white knuckle ride that is the traditional Gommier.

The crew of nine, four on each side and a helmsman (there were less but persuasion is a wonderful thing), cast off for a day’s racing. Launching from Gros Islet, albeit a little (four hours) late, they headed for the ramp a little down from St Lucia’s Yacht Club . . . and then carried on to the Rex St Lucia, an all-inclusive resort, who must have wondered what all-inclusive ride they were in for next! However, the square-sailed vessels made an impressive sight as they raced across the bay to Pigeon Island and were probably glad of the light winds, after the severe conditions which made the two and a half hours pole-polishing such a necessity!

Someone once described sailing to me as ‘stone age technology’ and I suppose he was right. However, when you see a Gommier with its 8-10ft poles, agile crew, bamboo main and boom supporting a brightly-coloured square sail flashing across the bay I don’t see them as dinosaurs . . . do you? Vive la differance!

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