Laws passed recently in France have given their islands’ authorities more autonomy, allowing some direct economic and cultural links without the prior permission of Paris. Nevertheless, we all experience boundaries—for example, visa issues still exist for many East Caribbean citizens, though temporary visas may be given by the French authorities for those arriving for a short period by a private boat. Obviously language may be perceived as another hindrance.
The Caribbean Sailing Association created a Vice President position for the French Islands to help communication. This position is held by Jean Michel Marziou, based in Guadeloupe. Those who have visited or raced in Guadeloupe most probably have met Jean Michel through his involvement in the Triskell Association. They have opened in the heart of the Marina Bas du Fort, a yacht club with a bar where the sailing community can meet. Naturally, all visiting sailors are welcomed here.
In Martinique the Neptune club has renewed its activity and generally manages a number of the key racing events. The principal contact here is Jean Michel Figuieres. He is equally the owner of a B28 Credite Moderne seen at a number of Caribbean events. Another key player is Jean Michel Criquer who, more often than not, runs the committee boat in the most important French events. (One may think that the name Jean Michel is compulsory in French yachting circles.)
Beyond the keelboat activity, French sailing leads one’s thoughts to multihulls. Most races in the French Islands have multihull classes. Guadeloupe uses a calculated rating sytem from the mainland that makes for close racing. The measurer, Vincent DeMynard, in applying the multihull rule manages to get close racing between varied craft. Though sailing conditions obviously favour one multihull over another, more cruising cataramans can, on their day, hold their own against the out-and-out speed machines. Currently members of the French multihull community are pushing the Antigua Race week committee to open their event to multihulls as the Heineken regatta where this class seems to be a definite bonus for participants and onlookers alike.
For more than a decade Guadeloupe has had a very keen Hobie 16 fleet. Recently numbers have reduced but still the island can boast two world champions in this discipline. Claude Thelier, a well-respected Caribbean sailor, runs the training program for the Hobie. Claude at present is preparing a Route du Rhum campaign. He has the 60-ft trimaran owned by Laurent and Yvon Bourgnion. The boat has been totally refitted in Guadeloupe, from the engine, the hulls, rig, electronics, and sails. This boat, renamed “Region Guadeloupe,” has become a showcase for Guadeloupean know-how. Last week, while carrying out early tests, we were comfortably at 25 kts, 2 reefs in the main and a staysail. The fleet of nearly 80 multi and monohull open machines will leave St Malo, France October 29 to arrive in Guadeloupe early November. If you haven’t visited Guadeloupe, this may be a great time to do so, as a number of social events are organised as the boats arrive.
St. Barths has oragnised a number of Transat races in the Figaro Class. The Bucket for Super Yachts was absolutely spectacular in the number of boats and the organisation. Martinique will host the 2007 Tempest World Championships and in recent years has already successfully run the Optimist and Dragon World Championships.
So, as you sail the islands or are planning a race program, do give thought to what’s happening on the “French Side”
Andrew Dove is Area Manager for North Sails