Yole Racing

From Yole Racing

Our original plan was to spend one night at anchor in Havre Robert on the coral bound East coast of Martinique, before rounding the top of the island and sailing back down the West coast. It seemed a shame to leave this beautiful place and when we saw a couple of racing marks being laid in the middle of the large (5 mile wide) bay and some Yole’s tuning up in the distance our mind was made up – we would stay .

A Martinique Yole is about 30 feet long and a most extraordinary shape . They have a deep forefoot and a flared bow , tapering down to a narrow low canoe stern and can be only 6 feet wide at the bow and considerably less at the stern. A large square sprit sail is stepped right up in the bows and the boat is kept upright by 13 athletic young men who dangle off long mangrove poles which are jammed under the leeward gunwhale . Aft are 3 or 4 men who steer using a long steering oar which is rowed continuously to lever the stern one way or the other . There is a conventional main sheet from the clew and another from the top of the sprit to control twist. The sails are beautifully cut and upwind they make fine progress at remarkably low tacking angles. Downwind is distinctly hairy and we saw several take a swim as gusts came through .

The racing we watched took place in 6 to 12 knots and I believe that they have several sizes of rig for bigger winds . They have no buoyancy and when they do go in, the crew simply pull the mast out , roll up the sail around the luff spar and wait to be towed home full of water. I guess it helps having water close to blood temperature. It was great fun to watch – and as ever I wanted a go!

Our trip back out of the reef the next day was a bit anxious and I would not like to do it in bad weather , but in fact the charts were pretty accurate and it all went without a hitch . We beat back to St Annes , the anchorage at the South end of Martinique and met up with our Austrian friends on C U L8 ER and Derek Ides and Maggie Widdup on Buzzard for a fine evening of yarning and a very sociable end to the day. 

Leave a Reply