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Traditional Sailing on Martinique with the 25th Tour of the Yoles

A magnificent 25th Martinique Tour of the Yoles took place from July 26 to August 2 and had great number of Martiniquais enthused. The traditional sailing event is a very sporting challenge in Martinique, and the colors on display are magnificent for the full eight days. Vauclin was the welcoming town this year for18 Yoles that signed up to complete the tour of the island by regatta.

The yole is light boat without keel, ballast, centerboard or rudder. With barely any draft, she can sail with one or two sails. The hull is based on an assembly of planks or boards attached horizontally to a central framework, inspired by the “Gommier” and the European yole.

It was the Martinique fishermen from the towns Robert and Francois who made it popular. They used the yole to return from their fishing grounds and threw down challenges to each other. The one to arrive last would lose his catch. Later on, races were organized on Sundays or on holidays. In 1984, the Yole society was created.

The annual event is very popular on the island, attracting between 20,000 and 40,000 spectators kitted out in t-shirts bearing the name of their preferred Yole, and following each race with passion. It takes some organization, too, with each welcoming town taking care of access routes, parking, police, fire engines and Red Cross.

As in every year, the local television station RFO broadcast the various stages live with commentary from journalist Nathalie William and well-known sailor Eric Barray. The radio station also organized podium events hosted by Polo and Jean-Emmanuel Emile with artists performing, games and prizes.

A Prologue was competed for on Sunday, July 26 at Vauclin. At 10 a.m., there was a beach-start at Vauclin in a sustained force five wind with a heavy sea. Victory went to the Francois Yole Rosette/Orange, which hurtled away from the start buoy and remained out of reach of all the others right up to the finish. She won this stage ahead of UFR/Siapoc, Joseph Cottrell/Optika, and Mirsa/Dr Roots. Certain yoles already had damage: FISER sank, Monetik/Alizes broke her mast and Tremplin/Ville Fort de France tore a sail.

For the first stage on Monday, July 27 starting in Vauclin, there was a fantastic stampede from a quartet of yoles, in a heavy sea running in the direction of Francois. The four leading yoles danced towards the Pointe du Vauclin and gave the impression of impressive speed.

Rosette/Orange was in the lead, having decided to change sails for a smaller sail, but was passed by Joseph-Cottrel/Optika when the wind strengthened, followed by UFR/Siapo carrying 54m2 of sail, and Mizra/Dr Roots. The wind was less sustained than on Sunday, with several yoles opting for larger sails, and others sticking for safety with less sail.
With a delicate rounding of Pointe du Vauclin to be made (where there is always a heavy swell), a huge wave managed to capsize After Beach Café/ Faby’s Nails. Joseph-Cottrel/Optika finished first after two hours’ racing, taking up the blue jersey of the winner and the red jersey of overall leader, followed by UFR/Siapoc. Worthy of note was the good 13th place finish of the youngsters on Mr Bricolage/ PMU.

Tuesday, 28 July offered the chance for a magnificent spectacle for those on foot, or perched on the clifftops at Caravelle or at the lighthouse at Pointe Caracoli. After an ominous weather forecast called for a meeting and consultation among organizers and participants, it was decided to take to the water but without competition and to head in a flotilla towards the bay at Ceron, then to race towards Precheur.

So it was that the 18-yole flotilla left together, with 32m2 of sail. The sailing conditions revealed themselves to be difficult enough to leave from Ste Marie and only the leading four yoles arrived at Ceron: Joseph-Cottrel, Rosette, Mirsa and Monétik. Of these, only Joseph –Cottrel and Rosette re-took the sea for the town of Precheur.

There were those who bounced back during the third stage from Precheur to Schoelcher, which is riddled with traps and windless holes; two yoles sank, Brasserie Lorraine dominated. For the sixth and seventh stages, UFR/Siapoc took the lead with the Yole from Robert cheered on by all the ‘Robertins’ who are enormous fans of yoles.
  
On Thursday, July 30, the racing became tighter. The fourth stage from Schoelcher to Diamant had a 15 knot wind blowing with gusts up to 25 knots. All crews were running with reduced sail, but the real difficulty came from the ‘Passe des Fours’ where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. This was a good, technical stage where it was necessary to tack often. Joseph-Cottrel won, followed closely by Mirsa, UFR and Rosette.

It was Joseph-Cottrel/Optika who would eventually secure the overall win of this 2009 tour, followed closely by UFR/Siapoc. The former from Francois, the latter from Robert, two towns with a passion for yole sailing.

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