August 15, 2005 - #46
St Barth's traditional sailboats
Fishing and sailing are two of the most popular activities in the lives of the people of Saint Barth. Many islands in the Caribbean have their own flotillas of traditional sailboats; each built in a different style. Summer in Saint Barth is the perfect time to celebrate this tradition, with a series of regattas held in conjunction with local events.
In the 1950s, Saint Barth's professional fisherman set forth in small pirogues, 15 to 18 feet long, carved out of wood from the "gum" tree, using paddles and a small sail to help them get out to sea. Many inhabitants from the neighborhoods of St. Jean, Saline and Cul-de-Sac owned a small dory of 9 to 12 feet, used primarily to fish along the coast, or retrieve their fish traps. For the little regattas, or "boulines" that were organized during the summer festivities held in the various neighborhoods, the dories were equipped with a false keel, a mast, and a sail. Saint Barth probably had about a dozen pirogues and at least 30 dories, certain of which still exist.
The first traditional sailboats:
In the 1960s, the pirogues were replaced, little by little, by small square-front wooden boats with motors. These boats were 15' long with a keel and a V-shaped bottom. In Flamands, the old timers still remember Titanic, King of the Sea, and the Normand, while others remember Lisette of Corossol or the "Sans Pareil" of Gustavia. For the regattas, these wooden boats were equipped with a mast and a sail, as well as rocks in the bottom to serve as ballast. The next generation of traditional sailboats, such as Eclair, Flash, and Patsy, were built especially as little racing boats.
Arrival of the "Santoise" boats:
In 1975, fishermen from Les Saintes (islands off of Guadeloupe), settled in Saint Barth and brought their own style wooden boats with flat bottoms and powerful motors. Larger and more practical for fishing, these boats rapidly replaced the traditional boats of Saint Barth, which were henceforth reserved just for regattas. But as of the 1970s, the Saint Barth sailors turned away from these little boats and opted for more modern sailboats, measuring 24 to 30 feet, that were more comfortable and easier to maneuver. Friendly competitions were organized for these boats, as well as visiting boats, on a regular basis. In 1977, a dozen of these sailboats decided to sail around the little islands of Boulanger and Fourchu. Back on dry land, the sailors sat around a table at Le Select and decided to meet again at the same time the next year. They left the organization of the next regatta Loulou Magras, and that annual race became Loulou's Saint Barth Regatta. The last of these races was held in 1983, hosting over 120 sailboats of all sizes in the harbor of Gustavia.
The next generation of traditional sailboats:
In 1988, Michel Geoffrin, who was a great sailing fan, ordered a small sailboat from the Forbin boatyard in Guadeloupe. Baptized M. Korbo, the boat was based on the style of small sailboats popular in Guadeloupe: 20 feet long, 5 feet wide, with a mast 28 feet high, and a total weight of 1300 pounds. M. Korbo was the only boat of its kind in Saint Barth until the next year when Raymond Magras ordered Puchotte from the same boatyard. The same year, the Cultural Center of Saint Barth ordered four of the same boats, one for each of the non-profit sports/cultural organizations on the island. La Belle du Vent was for AJOE in Lorient, and Dauphin destined for ASCCO in Colombier. In 1990 Eagle was donated the Ouanalao association in Gustavia, and Joshua to ALC in Corossol. At the same time, Théophile Peter, a fisherman from Les Saintes living in Saint Barth, built Flamme, a small sailboat in the same style, but not exactly alike, the ones from Guadeloupe. A seasonal championship was organized for two consecutive years. Crews from Guadeloupe and Les Saintes came to participate in the races… exciting regattas, followed by long discussions… In return, the boats from Saint Barth would take their boats to race in Guadeloupe and Les Saintes. They began to notice that their competitor's boats were lighter and newer than theirs. When they got back to Saint Barth, sailor Luc Poupon designed a new version of the traditional wooden sailboat. Two boats, Dedet's Girl and Budget, were built in 1994 using his plans, and ushering in a new generation of traditional sailboats in Saint Barth. These boats are lighter and faster, but within the same size and weight class as the traditional sailboats from Guadeloupe.
Dedet’s Girl and Budget race against La Belle du Vent, Dauphin, Eagle,
Joshua, Poisson Volant, and Eclair II, the last traditional sailboat built in the style of the little boats from the 60s. A formula was devised based on the various characteristics of each boat in order to give each style a racing handicap. Since 2004, the Saint Barth Yacht Club has organized a seasonal championship for the traditional sailboats, with races one Sunday per month for these little boats. Last year the winner was La Belle du Vent. This year, the championship ran from October through June, with Dedet’s Girl the winner.
This summer's festivities included that of ASCCO on July 30, followed by the fair in Lorient on the weekend of August 6 and 7, with a regatta for traditional sailboats held on Sunday morning. Among the various crew members there were two rather well-known French sailors: Philippe Poupon at the helm of Dedet’s Girl, and Marc Guillemot, a frequent visitor to Saint Barth, aboard Joshua.
More to come