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Kit Guide

Schoelcher International Sailing Week, Martinique : Optimist & Laser Radial sailing

By Mark Harper 30th September 2020
Optimist Start (photo by Gerard Germain)


We are just back from Martinique where we sailed at Schoelcher International Sailing Week. Martinique is one of the overseas French departments in the Caribbean, and this regatta is held in February at the same time as the annual Carnival in Martinique, so it’s also a great time to see some of the culture of the island, and see the capital Fort de France at its liveliest. With warm water, consistent winds (10-20 knots) and sunshine, it was quite a contrast to the winter weather that we left behind in Europe.

A quick swap of the Supertherm® for sunblock and lycra and we were all set to go. When Iona was selected for the team at the 2014 French summer championships, it didn’t take me long to decide it was a good idea to go along too and enter the regatta in the Laser Radial fleet as a master. There were 24 entries in the Laser Radial class together with 14 Laser 4.7s. The Optimist Minime (senior) fleet attracted 42 entries, with an additional 10 boats in the Benjamin (junior) fleet. The two optimist fleets shared a common start, but results were separated, allowing the younger sailors to get some excellent starting practice. There were also other fleets competing (catamarans, raceboards, open BIC, and sunfish). Teams were present from Mainland France, Canada, Great Britain, Netherlands, Saint Lucia, Guadaloupe, Martinique, Trinidad, Cuba and Antigua. Our team of eight Optimist sailors from France, coach, team leader and myself arrived on the Monday before the event. The facilities offered by the club in Schoelcher are excellent, and it wasn’t long before we had our charter boats all ready to sail. For the optimists, the hulls were chartered and we took rigs and centreboards/rudders with us. For the Laser I was able to use spars provided by the club as well as the hull, so just had my sail and centreboard/rudder to take with me. The first three days were spent training in the excellent conditions - the venue is a superb base for training in the winter months. There was a good force 3-4 each day. I found some local Laser sailors to sail with whilst the Optimist team trained with their coach. The day before the racing started we had a rest day visiting local palm fringed beaches. The day ended with the opening ceremony, where the adults were invited to sample the local rum. The four days of racing started on Saturday with racing starting early each morning. With the time difference after flying over from Europe the timing was perfect for us, and meant that the sailing finished sufficiently early to allow for some time to visit the island. The optimist fleet was very competitive, with at least five of the sailors having sailed at the optimist Worlds, and the top French sailors in each age group present. Iona found the competition tougher than last year, not unexpected as she is now in her first year of the Minime fleet. She finished 17th overall, and was the first Minime born in 2003 so was happy when she found out about that! The Minime fleet was won by French sailor Alexandre Auger, with Dutch sailor Annabelle Westerhof finishing 2nd and British sailor Vita Heathcote finishing 3rd. In the Laser Radial, I thoroughly enjoyed the regatta, although I was quite tired after four days of hiking hard – thank you to Rooster for the hiking shorts which definitely helped! At the end of the first day of racing, I was called over to one of the organiser’s boats, and told I had been disqualified. I was quite surprised as I didn’t know what I’d done wrong, but then the person who spoke to me told me he was joking and asked if he could interview me. So I did a TV interview in French which was broadcast later that evening in the Caribbean (looking smart in my Rooster Ladies buoyancy aid, Rooster hiking shorts and Rooster hiking boots). In the racing I struggled for speed upwind, but the downwind legs felt a lot better once I got the feel of the Laser again on a run. It was great to be back sailing a regatta again, and even if I only ended up 16th overall, I finished the event with a smile on my face!

Laser fleet racing (photo by Gerard Germain)
On the Wednesday after the event finished we visited the Atlantic coast and did some surfing in just lycra and shorts – again really appreciating the warm water. In 2016 the event will be held from 5-9 February, and here’s a link to the host club in case anyone reading this blog likes the idea of a trip to the Caribbean next winter for some great sailing : Helen & Iona

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