In Marin, Martinique, I met two young Martiniquais who were passionate about… the ‘Surprise’! When Emmanuel Velasquez (25) met Nicolas Gillet (21) last year on a regatta sailboat, a Surprise GFA Caraibes, they completed a clean sweep in Martinique: 1st in the Carnival Regatta and 1st in the Overnight Race. Each already had a passion for sailing; Nicolas was Martinique Optimist champion from 1998 to 2000 and winner of the Solo race to Bequia in 2004 and 2006; Emmanuel took 4th place in the Quebec-St Malo race in 2000, 1st in the Alma Mater in Italy in 2001 and 34d in the World University Championships.
So it was that in 2006, they came together on the crew of GFA Caraibes, and then dominated the Martinique Cruisers’ Championship with six victories in seven legs. As a result, they decided to buy ‘their’ boat, even if financing wasn’t possible. They put an advertisement on the internet and a 1988 Surprise caught their eye. They contacted their friends and managed to collect enough money in a few days to buy the boat.
The Surprise is a French regatta sailboat which celebrated its thirtieth birthday in 2006, with some 1,400 produced. It’s one of the most dynamic sailboats in Europe, thanks to its strong performances, modest budget, and easy handling. LOA: 7.65m, Beam: 2.48 m, Draft: 1.6m, Weight: 1,250kg, Sail area: 34m2, Spinnaker: 45m2.
Then left Martinique for metropolitan France. The boat may have looked good, but a total refit was in the offing, as well as a great deal of courage to get the boat ready: a complete renovation of deck gear, railing and stanchions as well as the construction of a metal cradle. All were indispensable before the delicate transport could be done between Rennes and Rouen. Then it would need to be tilted at 45 degrees in order to reduce its width from 2m50 to 2m10 in order to load into a container. Loading onto the container at Etts Rosette was delicate, but it went in.
Twenty days later, it arrived in Martinique, heading for Emmanuel’s garden, where the renovation was to be done. It took 7 weeks of intensive work to redo the fore structure of the boat, paint, anti-skid, deck gear, portholes, and keel. Through their enthusiasm, they managed to convince others and gain sponsorship from Clippers Ship (Multicap Caraibes) Ship chandlers, based in Marin, who agreed to cover the refit budget and provide materials up to 2009. What luck!
The first competition of the 2007 season was on January 20th, with the only training session for the crew taking place hours before the start. They started the regatta in third place, but still took the lead quickly. Following a duel with the Surprise Wind, they had to content themselves with second place.
“We’re happy with the early performances of the boat, considering the lack of training. We’re soon taking part in the most difficult regatta in the calendar for the Non-stop tournament on the 3rd and 4th February, since the majority of the race will take place against the trade winds and the current, but we’re hoping for a podium finish,” the sailors confirmed.