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An interview with Claude Granel about the Round Martinique Regatta

by David Schmidt 6 Feb 08:00 PST February 8-10, 2019
Racing around the infamous Diamond Rock © Image courtesy of the Round Martinique Regatta

Situated in the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, just south of Dominica and north of St. Lucia, the sun-kissed Caribbean island of Martinique has long played host to the Round Martinique Regatta, and the tradition will continue again this year for the 34th edition of this storied event. The Round Martinique Regatta (February 8-10) is set to unfurl as three stage races that will be played out over the course of as many days, giving visiting sailors and locals alike fantastic views of the island’s coast and lush skylines while they determine the regatta’s fastest guns.

Martinique, of course, is one of eighteen French overseas departments, so visiting sailors can expect phenomenal bakeries, an impressive selection of red wine (for a Caribbean island) and friendly, gregarious people, but don’t expect to hear much spoken English. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the entrants in this year’s Round Martinique Regatta are French (however this is by no means a registration prerequisite).

The beautiful coastal city of Fort-De-France will host the regatta and will feature the Malécon Race Village, complete with a bar for gathering and socializing, updates on the racing and the daily outcomes, and activities for kids and non-sailing family and friends. For the racers, the event has plenty of tradewind sailing in store, with legs that can stretch as long as 80 miles, testing each crew’s fitness, focus and ability to balance two nights of partying ashore with their onboard duties.

I checked in with Claude Granel, organizer of the 33rd edition of the Round Martinique Regatta, via email, to learn more about this warm-water Caribbean classic.

What’s the history of the event? Also, are there standing stage records that sailors try to best? What about a record overall clasped time around the island?

This regatta was created back in 1954 by Yacht Club de la Martinique (YCM) sailors as a non-stop-round-the-island race. Since the regatta has not taken place every year, we consider 2019 to be the 34th edition.

From the year 2000 until 2013, another club (Club Nautique Neptune – CNN) took over the regatta organization and created a two-leg format, still with the adventure spirit but also introducing the party spirit with a stop on one of the beautiful islands located on the Atlantic side. The Tour was named HSE Tour (HSE is a brand of rum). A sailing association (Ven Dan Vwel 972) organized the event in 2014 and 2015 and helped to raise the event’s profile. They introduced a three-leg format race around the island to encourage amateur sailors to participate in the cruising classes.

Finally, since 2016, the three associations and clubs involved in previously running this event since 1954 decided to get together to jointly organize the regatta.

There is a Round Martinique record established in November 2014 by Lionel Lemonchois skippering the giant multihull Prince de Bretagne which stands at six hours, 30 minutes and six seconds. It was set outside of the actual Round Martinique Regatta, however is considered to be the record to beat.

This year the 80-nautical-mile Round-Raid stage is recognized as the leg, which participants can attempt to break the record in real time.

Can you please give us a quick description of each of the regatta three legs?

For more detailed description, you can refer to the news published on October 4th, 2018 available on the website - please find here:

www.theroundmartinique.com/en/news/144_Looking-ahead-to-The-Round-Martinique-Regatta.html

Leg 1: Fort-de-France Bay

We start in the beautiful Fort de France bay, considered to be one of the most beautiful bays in the world. On this occasion, it will be transformed into a real nautical stadium, to welcome this first technical leg called "The Round Bay".

Leg 2: Fort-de-France Bay - Marin

Depending on the level or the preference of each boat, crews will be able to choose between two options and race this 2nd leg along the Caribbean coast in "The Round Rally”, or along Atlantic coast in "The Round Raid". The latter, a demanding leg of 80 nautical miles, will be particularly appreciated by the experienced sailors. This longer leg is what the original race was all about: adventure.

Leg 3: Marin - Anses d’Arlet

The last leg, "The Round Rock", gives all competitors the chance to race around the emblematic Diamond Rock (notable for naval battles during the Napoleonic wars between the French and British back in the 17th Century) to finish the race on the picturesque beach of Anses d'Arlet, where everyone can savor the end of these three intense days of sailing with a fun reception at the beach.

Is one or more stages/legs considered tougher than the others? If so, which one and what makes it tricky for competing sailors?

The Round-Raid is certainly the most difficult leg since it will take between 10-12 hours, depending on the boat size. Secondly, sailors will have to deal with the wind effects of the Pelée Volcano Mountain on both sides of the island, with a lack of wind on the north Caribbean side and shifting and accelerating winds on the Atlantic side.

It will be key to have good navigators on each boat since there are a lot of underwater rocks on the South Atlantic side you need to know about, particularly for the last 30 miles to the finish line in Le Marin.

Are most of your entrants from the Caribbean, or are they boats/teams that are visiting from Europe and the USA? Also, do you tend to get a lot of repeat competitors?

Most competitors are from the Caribbean but we want to attract outside competitors that are in the Caribbean during the European winter racing season (December through to May).

The regatta is scheduled to take place during the first half of February in between the South Caribbean regattas (Barbados and Grenada in January) and the North Caribbean Regattas (Saint-Martin, Antigua, St. Barth and the BVI from March to May).

The idea is to appeal to boats that are traveling from the southern to the northern islands.

How much of a role does local knowledge play on the course? Also, do most boats sail with a local or two on the crew to gain this knowledge?

Explained in my answer to the third question above. I think experience of racing in these waters gives crews a big advantage and I would recommend visiting boats to take on board someone with local knowledge.

What kind of evening/onshore activities and entertainment do you and the other event organizers have planned for visiting sailors?

Onshore, the emphasis is really on having fun with friends and other sailors. Several parties are scheduled at the Fort-de-France Yacht Club on the Friday and in Sainte-Anne on Saturday night and finally a barbecue party at the regatta village on Sunday before the closing ceremony at the Fort-de-France.

The Fort-de-France front bay will host the regatta “village” which will be the center of the sailors’ activities, welcome the regatta partners and help make it a popular event.

This sailing and party program will be offered at a very attractive all-inclusive price. The Notice of Race is available on the regatta website and provides all the details: www.theroundmartinique.com/en/race-info/38_Notice-of-Race-2019.html

Can you tell us about any steps that you and the other event organizers have taken in the last couple years to help green-up the regatta or otherwise lower its environmental wake?

There are two initiatives:

We have decided to not have the island stop since these islands are protected (birds sanctuaries) and there [are] a restricted number of people allowed on the island at the same time.

This year we intend to eliminate single use plastic cups and we will offer recyclable cups and bottles for participants to keep over the four-day event.

In general, the sailors are well aware of environmental issues and respect the environment.

Anything else that you’d like to add, for the record?

The Round Martinique Regatta is a historic sailing event (possibly one of the oldest regattas in the Caribbean) created by a group of passionate people back in the fifties in a non-stop round the island format.

Having originally come from different sailing clubs and associations, this enthusiastic group still gets together to offer enjoyable, fun and competitive sailing to its participants. Their main objective is to attract people from all over the world for three days of fun but challenging sailing and also provide the chance for them to discover the French Caribbean's warm welcoming traditions and culture and the beauty of our island.

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