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Traditional Boulines Sailing Championship Underway

The third annual championship season for Saint Barth’s traditional—and colorful—wooden sailboats got underway on Sunday, October 22, 2006. Organized by the Saint Barth Yacht Club, the championship runs through May 2007, with races held one Sunday per month, starting at10 a.m.

Seven boats have signed up for the season: Budget, Dauphin, Dedet’s Girl, La Belle du Vent, Éclair, Joshua, and Poisson Volant, with an eighth possible competitor, Eagle, currently undergoing repairs. Each of these boats has a small wooden (or in some cases fiberglass) hull, often painted in bright shades of red, yellow, or green. With large sails, they are picturesque out on the water and represent one of the island’s traditional sports. This kind of sailing began many years ago when local fisherman added homemade sails to their small fishing boats and raced against each other on weekends. In the Saint Barth patois, these races are called “boulines.”

Today the boats are more sophisticated but retain their simple style. The current fleet varies slightly and handicaps are given to the faster boats to even things out. Each is required to have lifejackets on board, as well as buckets in case water needs to be bailed out of the bottom of the boat. The boats require a crew of six to seven people, according to the winds, and races are cancelled if there are gusts of more than 18 knots. The sailors can often been seen leaning dramatically off the side of a boat to keep it from tipping over (not always successfully either).

Markku Harmala, president of the yacht club, noted: “I hope that each crew remains consistent throughout the season. And that those who love sailing will come out to watch the races and support this discipline that we hope will never disappear.” That is not likely to happen anytime soon as there seems to be a renewed interest in the regattas for these charming little boats, with races on all the local holidays during the summer months, once the championship is over for the season

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