ANTIGUA TEAM IN TRADITIONAL TOUR OF GUADELOUPETuesday 22nd July 2014
July 10, 2014 - Antigua dentist Bernie Evan-Wong reports on his recent participation in the Tour of Guadeloupe in Traditional Sailboats.
The Antigua team, headed by Captain Bernie Evan-Wong, returned home on July 10 after an amazing seven days in the beautiful country of Guadeloupe, where it had kindly been invited to participate as guests of the Organisation of the Tour of Guadeloupe in Traditional Sailboats.
The team was flown by private aircraft to Pointe-a-Pitre where it was met by a kind family group that who took care of its every need including language translation by Anthony. The team was provided with a rental car to drive to and from venues and when the venue changed transportation by bus was provided.
The Tour consisted of eight stages beginning on Basse Terre in the south-western tip of main island below the Soufriere Hills. The Organisation did an incredible job of providing a suitable venue at each stage of the Tour where there is a podium close to a beach or landing and launching site for the Traditional boats. The local municipality of that town joins in by providing car parking, security and food each day for at least 400 persons, and at some locations even accommodations are provided - for example in Les Saintes on Terre-de-Bas.
The Traditional boats are six man or seven women crewed wooden boats originally built in Les Saintes and used for fishing. However, they have now evolved into unique racing machines constructed of only specific traditional materials and are built to limited dimensions so that they become a ‘one design class’ of racing boat.
These boats rely entirely on human ballast for stability and are incredibly difficult to sail because of the stability problem but when sailed by a practiced crew of six men or seven women, perform incredibly well, especially considering the very basic hydro- and aero- dynamic shapes of the hull, keel, rudder and very basic rig. Sailing these boats is one of those things that look easy but is actually incredibly hard to achieve!
There are no winches for sail handling; only four very basic wooden cleats and a total of four turning blocks are allowed to assist handling of the oversized mainsail which cannot be reefed. The boom extends about six feet over the transom and even the tiller extensions used are just pieces of line with a wooden handle - simple yet effective.
No modern aids such as compass, GPS, Windex, tell tales, etc. are allowed under the rules, so one must develop a total ‘seat of the pants’ sailing instinct and technique which can only come with hours of practice.
Sailing these boats is an art form involving the disciplines of gymnastics, ballet, navigation, swimming, and learning to sail instinctively using only very basic equipment. Not even tell tails on the sails are allowed to assist with sail trim and steering to the wind flow over the sails. When there is no land in sight, perhaps from poor visibility on some of the passages, it becomes a real challenge steering the boat on a steady course as one has no reference such as a compass bearing or land mark to steer by. Nor can one easily sail to the wind direction as one has no tell tales to judge your angle to the wind.
The other critical issue is sailing the boat in manner to avoid sinking and capsizing!
These boats are very unforgiving. Any tiny error of tardiness in reacting to a gust of wind or a large wave will be rewarded by a boat full of water which, if not bailed quickly enough, will eventually lead to the boat capsizing but fortunately not sinking as they all have fore and aft buoyancy built into the design. However, a capsize is very costly in time during a race, not to mention very tiring to correct. The rules only allow for two buckets to be carried so bailing about 500 gallons out of the boat takes some time. We were fortunate to get the opportunity to have a visit from a school of Pilot Whales whist capsized in the channel between Basse Terre and Les Saintes. It was beautiful to see. How often does one get the chance to ‘swim with whales!’, but after 15 capsizes in the 2-3 meter seas and 25 knot winds we did get very tired.
It would seem that with much practice and experience though it is possible to sail these boats really fast in virtually any weather conditions without capsizing, as was proven by the lead boats in the regatta which can sail at about 6.5 knots upwind and around 7-8 knots off the wind. The boats can sail at about 45 degrees to the apparent wind in optimal conditions, which is amazing given the basic hull and rigs.
This event is unique in my experience of sailing events in that because of the very basic nature of the boats and equipment involved, it allows for relatively low budget competitive one design racing. That, by its very nature, must build team spirit to be successful in the competition. The downside to this is that unless one has a team of six persons it is very difficult to even go out sailing in the boat to practice, as it takes at least six persons to launch the boat and sail her.
It is great that so far it is not too much a rich man’s sport but, unfortunately, I see that as with any competitive sport the man with the newer, lighter boat and newer sails does have the competitive edge. The on-the-water management was good.
We also like the fact that because the participants of this type of sailing are spread across the entire spectrum of social classes, it is also heavily supported by a multitude of sponsors which is rare in these days of economic hardship. Most regattas now are having real problems getting sponsors.
In conclusion I would like to sincerely thank the Organisation of the TGVT 2014 for making such a kind invitation to the Antigua team and for all the kind hospitality we were given.
Special thanks to the President, Georges, and to Francis Rosey for making so much effort to get us to Guadeloupe to participate. We pledge to do better next time!
We found the event to have a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie and to have huge potential for growth in the future even in the face of worldwide economic downturn.
The Antigua team under Bernie Evan-Wong would love to be invited again next year and it will practice to improve the standard of performance on these traditional boats.
We would also like to suggest that perhaps a number of these boats could come to Antigua to form a class in the Antigua Classic Regatta in April of each year - a very enjoyable event lasting four days.
Dr Bernie Evan-Wong
Antigua Team Captain
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