Do yole wanna race?

On our final Sunday in Martinique, we tagged along with Popeye and Lisa on SV Tumoltuous Uproar to watch the traditional Martinique Yole boats race in a regatta. We didn’t really know what to expect but Ooh la la! It turned out to be an exciting day.

One of the best teams – look at that coordination!
At the starting line!

What is a yole? Well basically, they are traditional wooden sail boats, originally used by fisherman and to transport goods around the island. Each 10.5 meter yole boat is hand carved out of solid wood, without a keel or any ballast. So they are light and fast, but extremely “tippy.” The masts are made of bamboo, and instead of a rudder, a long wooden oar is used to steer the boat and to help paddle it through each turn or tack. The sails are rectangular and un-battened and extremely hard to manage. To balance the boat, a team of strong, burly, coordinated men hike way out from the boat onto sets of wooden poles, using their body weight and hopefully perfect timing to keep the boat from tipping over. Did I say “hopefully”? Several times during the race, we saw a boat heel over a tad too far, scoop up a whole bunch of seawater, and slowly sink. A race boat then had to tow them back to shore in the “tow of shame” with the boat sinking lower and lower, arriving back to the beach before it completely sank. There are actually members of the racing team whose sole job is to bail out water with plastic bottles and buckets during the race. If you can’t quite picture that strangle jumble of boat parts in action, have no fear ‘cause I took tons of pictures!

So colorful!
Capt. Mike getting ready to help launch team McDonald’s
One man’s trash is another man’s bailing bucket

The best part of the race is the start. Each boat gets dragged down the beach to the water’s edge and turned onto its side. On land, the two masts are maneuvered into place and the team rigs the two sails by tying a whole bunch on knots while the boat is still on its side. Once all the hiking out poles are slotted into place, three or four of the heaviest guys stand up on the high side, lean their weight onto the poles, and slowly (then all of a sudden, very quickly!) they tip the boat upright, with other team mates running in at the last minute to push it into the water. It’s a blast to watch! When it goes smoothly, it’s a work of art. When it doesn’t, watch your head ‘cause it’s all going to fall back to the ground again.

Ready to launch

To start the race, crews wait for the final horn blast and then shove and push these heavy boats full of heavy guys into deep enough water for them to float and start sailing. With at least a dozen boats all starting from that same stretch of beach there’s always a lot of bumping, knocking, crashing, and shouting until they get far enough apart to settle down a bit. Mike and Popeye helped launch the McDonalds boat. Luckily, this maneuver went fairly smoothly and we did not have to experience the local health clinic.

The next best part of the race is watching the boats round a big floating race marker. We took the dingy out to watch the lead boats make the turn from up close. They come in HOT with the team captain shouting out commands. As the turn starts, everyone hikes way, way out on the poles trying to keep their legs out of the water. Not to stay dry (this is definitely not a dry sport) but to avoid slowing the boat down due to drag. The sail guy on the bow basically bear hugs the mast and the spar to force the sail to tack from one side to the other. The boat slows way down and three guys on the stern start rowing with all their might to complete the turn. If all goes well, the sails quickly grab the wind and the boat surges forward on the next leg of the race – with very little bailing required. If it doesn’t go well, the boat loses all speed, scoops up a bunch of water and starts that slow sinking process. It’s very exciting!

We all picked a team to root for and joined the rest of the crowd in cheering on our favorites. I understand just enough French to understand the announcer calling out the team in first position, followed by the second team, followed by the third. At one point, he announced that a team was “trés malade,” I asked, “Did he just say that boat is very sick?” I got my answer a few minutes later when the race boat towed in a bright red yole nearly submerged with its team members sitting in sea water up to their waists. Very sick, indeed!

We’re back in Martinique!

After a very bouncy 18-hour passage from Bequia (ask our friend and passenger Kacia just how bouncy – poor thing, she learned the hard way that she actually does get sea sick) we anchored in the pre-dawn darkness at the back of the anchorage in Martinique.

As an aside, we have to learn a whole new vocabulary for sailing in the French islands. For example – the French word for anchorage (mouillage) translates to “the wetting.” And the most common word for mooring ball (corps mort) translates literally to “dead body”. Yikes! They don’t teach you that in French class.

The best part about anchoring in Sainte Anne, Martinique is that one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean is just a short walk away. Ok, it’s a 3-mile walk each way, but that’s par for the course when you don’t own a car and you go everywhere on foot! In less than a week, we’ve already done the walk twice and I think I could do it every other day without getting bored. The path is gentle and shaded, following the coastline beneath a canopy of mangrove branches. You frequently have the option of emerging onto a beach to dip your feet in the water and cool off, and often there’s a surprise! Maybe a wooden swing swaying gently above the tide. Maybe a massive picnic party, complete with a DJ and caterer, maybe (toward the end of the hike) a nude beach where everyone lets it all hang out.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you emerge from the final row of coconut palms and there it is – a mile long stretch of white sand, bordered by palms, with turquoise blue seas lapping gently at the shore. Whaou! Even better, there’s a row of beach bars about halfway down the beach where you can find anything from a hamburger, fries, and draft beer to a three-course French lunch complete with chilled rosé, coffee, and homemade dessert. Or, just follow the women dressed in bright madras plaid and ringing a handbell to find refreshing homemade ice cream. Is this paradise, or what?

On our first visit this January with our friends Chantal and Gary on SV Maracuja, we arrived too late for lunch but we were able to order cold drinks to go and enjoyed the people watching from a shady spot under the palm trees. The second time, we planned ahead and arrived at Chez Olivia just as lunch service started. Honestly, we hardly even needed to look at the menu. Planter’s punch? Check ✔️ Bottle of fizzy water, bottle of rosé? Check ✔️ Hmmm … Really the only tough decision is which fresh fish dish to order. Capt. Mike went with our favorite – tuna ceviche with coconut milk (thon à la tahaitienne) I always love the fresh grilled fish – although i did fail my French test a bit by not asking what is the fish of the day. I clearly look like a tourist because madame decided i would prefer the filet of daurade. She might actually have looked straight into my soul because I was thrilled with the generous portion, perfectly cooked in a delicious ginger and curry sauce. But if she had told me all of the options, I probably would have ordered the whole grilled vivaneau. I’m a sucker for whole grilled fish!

Service is island time slow, but we didn’t mind. We brought backgammon and as long as we made it back to the dinghy dock before sunset, we were fine. And heck, if we end up so on land at sunset, there are benches in the public square at the top of the dinghy dock just begging for people to sit, enjoy the sunset, and cheer on the kids playing games and giggling due to their ice cream sugar highs.

Ok, maybe i should do some grocery shopping and laundry tomorrow, but after that it’s back to Grand Anse des Salines beach the next day for another day in paradise!

Welcome to the Jungle – a visit to the Treehouse Bush Bar

When Capt. Mike and I heard rumors of a secret rum shack built in the forest high above Admiralty Bay and only accessible by foot path, we knew we had to find it!

We’re on the right track!

On our first visit to the Treehouse Bush Bar we joined a tour and took a bus up the steep concrete road to the trail and then walked about a half a mile to the bar. Well that wasn’t so hard! So for our next visit, we called ahead to make sure the owner Ken would be available and we organized a big group of cruisers to walk there from the main dinghy dock in Port Elizabeth, Bequia.

Welcome to Bequia! The town dinghy dock

What a fun afternoon! I’m glad I wore running shoes, not flip flops, because island roads climb straight up! With warm weather all year round, they clearly don’t build roads to accommodate snow and ice! It took our motley crew about a half hour to trek through town and up, up, up, huffing and puffing all the way. After a break to catch our breath and gather the stragglers we turned off road and onto a lovely, shaded path. As long as you keep right at every fork in the path you can’t get lost – left turns lead to local homes and small subsistence farms.

After crossing a small bamboo bridge and following cobblestones for the final 100 meters, we got our first glimpse of the Bush Bar. It’s so cool! Ken has spent at least three years, clearing the land, carrying building supplies in on his back, and building a small wooden and bamboo building all by hand and all by himself. Small trees grow through the boards on the porch, providing a bit of shade. The view from that porch is stunning – it really does feel like you are looking down on the yachts in the Bay from a tree house up in the clouds.

Ken has a solar panel rigged up to a set of golf cart batteries that power a small cooler of beers and a speaker for music. If you’re not a beer drinker, there’s a big thermos jug of rum punch. What else do you need? A few tree stumps provide somewhat rickety chairs, and there’s a table or two for playing dominoes. Ken really deserves to be proud of the little oasis he has built here!

If you’re going to sit on a “chair” you need to have good balance!

The next time you find yourself in Bequia, I highly recommend a trek to the Bush Bar!

The view from the Bush Bar