Local Saintoise boats, built in Les Saintes, Guadeloupe, have always held a fascination for me. When my friend, Yves Cohen, owner of Maogany Boutique, suggested that I write an article about Alain Foy Jr, a young artist/designer/builder of these strong and beautiful vessels, I jumped at the chance.
Alain hails from a boating ancestry. His father, Alain Sr., has a passion for Santoise boats and is still quite a skilled sailor, one who knows the islands around Guadeloupe like the back of his hand. His boats were fast and powerful and have often been seen “slicing the sea of the sometimes difficult Chenals Passage between Guadeloupe’s southern islands.” Although he is now retired, Alain Sr. is his son’s number one fan in the crafting of Santoise boats for the twenty-first century – giving him tips from time to time on his new projects. These amazing boats, built by the senior Foy, still continue to be a source of inspiration for his son as well as other shipwrights.
Historically, fishing and agriculture have been the main occupations of Guadeloupe, an archipelago of eight inhabited islands in the Lesser Antilles, known for their delicious Creole cuisine that features numerous ways in which to cook the local ‘catch of the day’ The famed Saintoise boats of Les Saintes are picture perfect as seen beached, or on moorings. In these sturdy vessels, fishermen have been practicing their trade since the island was reclaimed by the French in the era of Napoleon I (Bonaparte) at the beginning of the 18th century. Even today, fishermen can be seen daily from early morning until late afternoon.
Originally, the Santoise boats had a single mast and long boom and were capable of transporting large loads of freight between Guadeloupe Point, 3 Rivers, Marie Gallante and St. Barth. They carried a large mainsail usually sewed at home or on the banks of the harbor. Like Alain’s family, fishermen from Les Saintes have always been excellent sailors, as well as fishermen, so it is not surprising that it is now “racing” that captures the spirit and attention of Alain Jr. and other sailors.
Alain says, “At seventeen I constructed my first Saintoise boat – it was 4.50 meters. Since that time I have built twelve other Saintoise boats. First I seek out the wood, locally called Ylang Ylang, a tree whose blossoms are used for perfumes. When I have found exactly what I want, my intuition comes into play and, as an artist, I begin the creation of a new vessel. This is a very personal passion with me and I want for everything to be exact.
“I have the wood cut in Guadeloupe according to the phases of the moon. All of my measurements have to be precise as we have very tough competitions for the Sailing Champion of Guadeloupe every year. The competing boats are to be scaled to a maximum of 5.35 meters in length with a beam of 1.8 meters and a mast of 7.25 meters. The ‘Bamboo Boom’ measures 6.50 meters in length. Hopefully, I will compete and win in my newest Saintoise, Ibiscus LA.”
Alain is a most talented artist as well. Environmentally involved, he creates wooden sculptures of sea animals that show his love for marine life. He is greatly concerned that his boat-building techniques, which include hundreds of hours of single-handed craftsmanship, will be carried on by up-coming generations.
“I would like to have a sponsor who could assist me in helping to open a school for building the Santoise boats according to our ancestral designs. Their construction is unique and is deeply influenced through our ancestry. This is an art that must be preserved for the future of both fishing and racing, as well as for our national heritage.”
Author’s note: My sincere thanks to Yves Cohen who interviewed Alain in French and provided the photos for this article. I couldn’t have written this article without him.
Nancy Terrell is a freelance writer who has lived in the Caribbean for 22 years. She holds an MA Degree in Literature and is currently cruising on her trawler, Swan Song, throughout the Caribbean.