Ellen Lampert-Greaux lives in Petite Saline, and when she's not organizing the St. Barthelemy film festival, or supervising the local volleyball league, or writing for various magazines, she turns her sharp eye upon local happenings.
TWO MEN IN A BOAT
Actually it will be two men in each of two boats representing the
island of Saint Barthelemy, when the 6th edition of the Ag2r, an exciting
transatlantic race, sets sail in mid-April.
While April may seem many months
away, the local organizers of this race are already hard at work behind the
scenes, while four courageous local sailors (one wonders what gene pool
makes people want to do things like this) - Christian Deredec, Markku
Harmala, Jeff Ledee, and Luc Poupon - are training hard for this challenging
Two of the four, Poupon and Harmala, have competed in this bi-annual
race in the past, and each has teamed up with a first-timer this year, maybe hoping that a little bit of beginner's luck can't hurt. Poupon, a seasoned French sailor, will try his luck with Ledee, a talented surfer as well as sailor, and the only St-Barth native in the mix (Deredec is also from France and Harmala is a Finnish sailor and sail maker who now lives in St-Barth with his island-born wife).
The race begins in Lorient, France, where our
local heroes can be confronted with freezing weather even in April, forcing
them to don hats and gloves and other foul weather gear they never need at
home. They will head to France to complete their training as early as
February so that the cold weather doesn't take them too much by surprise.
Then they settle into their small, rather uncomfortable, 30' sailboat,
taking along just enough food and water for the Atlantic crossing. How much
is just enough is the 64 million dollar question, since the biggest unknown,
of course, is just how long that crossing might take. It all depends on the
wind, and there isn't much in this world that is less dependable than that.
Past winners have made the crossing in anywhere from 18 to 24 days, and the
mental preparation for almost a full month at sea must be monumental.
"I never thought I'd do another ocean crossing," admits Harmala, who
competed in the last edition of the Transat in 2000, sailing with another Saint-Barth native, Richard Ledee. But Harmala's sense of adventure has
gotten the better of him, and he is now training night and day with
Deredec, an experienced sailor who has crossed the Atlantic on several
occasions in the past. "He is also the best navigator on this island,"
points out Harmala. We'll see how his navigational skills pan out in the
mid-Atlantic when a fork in the ocean can mean winning or losing the race.
This is actually the first time in the history of the race that
there will be two local boats competing against some of the biggest names in
racing today. Both boats, St Barth Assurances and the Ile de St Barthelemy,
are being supported by the local government as well as a veritable boatload
of sponsors. And whether they come in first or last, and whether they arrive
at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, you can be sure that
island residents will be there in full force to welcome these local sailors
as they make their way into the port of Gustavia.
In fact, every two years, it seems like the entire island of
St-Barth pumps up for this race. It gets lots of attention in the local and
worldwide press and everyone from sailing fans to the island's
schoolchildren follow the race with great interest. So if you're thinking of
coming to St-Barth in 2002, keep the month of May in mind. It's great fun,
and if you find me on the dock waving my St-Barth flag, I'll be happy to
take you around the corner to Le Select and buy you a cold Carib or a
Perrier. And we can debate the race results until the cows come home, or at
least until the last boat has crossed the finish line.
More to come,
© 1996-2001 Editions Bassin
Laurent, B.P.65, 97095 St. Barthélemy, French West