St. Barths Online

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Nov 16, 2001

TWO MEN IN A BOAT

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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.
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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 event.
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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,

 

Ellen Lampert-Greaux


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