‘There’s a very good reason behind the name of the point in Mahebourg. Pointe des Régates is where regattas have long been held. In Mauritius some nautical traditions have fortunately managed to resist the passage of time, not least races featuring fishermen’s sailing boats, the pirogues, which were first held some 140 years or so ago and have since become part of local folklore..
Rays of tropical sunlight twinkle across the surface of the lagoon. Some of the area’s best skippers are about to confront each other yet again, working the wind that is billowing through their sails. Even those sails are a source of rivalry for they all abound with brilliant colours. The boats will soon be ready to move out to sea, the moment when the bows of the wooden pirogues will start to pierce their way through the emerald-blue shades of the coastal waters. Spectators already throng the waterside. It’s not only an occasion to watch the races but also a chance to meet up with friends, to picnic and down some local rum or a cold beer or
juice and share a few snacks, gajacks as they’re called locally, sometimes to the sounds of a ravanne drum or a guitar. It’s a typical scene, still with echoes perhaps of the races first recorded in 1875, a scene that reproduces itself several times a year in those parts of the island in places where there is a good stretch of open water exposed to the wind. The spots where the most popular regattas are held are in the lagoons at Pointe des Régates and Bois des Amourettes in the Southeast and those in Grand Gaube and Roches Noires in the Northeast. Some of the regional competitions also attract opponents from other places.
Despite the country’s technological, economic and social development, sail is still used by a number of fishermen and traditional fishing boats provide a very vivid reminder of Mauritius’ sea-going heritage. The regattas don’t just attract professional fishermen. Enthusiasts from all walks of life can be found amongst the crews – including the odd tourist or two; there’s nothing to beat life on the ocean waves. There are even two categories of pirogues that take part in the regattas, those actually built for racing and genuine fishing boats which take on quite a fresh look after they’ve been decked out for the races and a few practice sessions have been held. The slender and colourful pirogues are a delightful sight. They’re made from wood and measure 6.6 by 1.65 metres. There is also an impressive bowsprit, made from bamboo or wood linked to the narrow bow. This enables a sailor to manipulate the large jib that adds significantly to the effectiveness of the triangular main sail fluttering from a mast that can reach as much as 8 metres in height. Even the most hardened cynic can only be impressed by the sight of a dozen or more brightly coloured skiffs, their sails swelling in the wind and decked in every colour imaginable, almost at one with the waters as the 10-man crews deftly, seemingly impossibly, manage to keep them stable.
Regattas seemed on the point of becoming a thing of the past until a few years ago. Instead, they have been given new life thanks to renewed interest amongst those involved in the sector and a little help from tourism promotion bodies. Just as important has been the fresh involvement of sponsors, whose support has been
indispensable in helping with the costs of the preparation of the boats and sails. Nonetheless, obtaining the necessary support is not easy and enthusiasts face a constant battle to keep the tradition of pirogue racing alive – but they remain committed, spurred on by the knowledge that the regattas are a potent symbol of identity in an island where the sea is never far away.
Essential support |
Before a regatta can be organised, the Police, the national Coast guard and the Tourism authority all have to be approached for their approval. Funds are needed for insurance to cover all aspects of the day’s events, as well as paying the judges, the costs of the three safety vessels that will be on hand throughout and administrative costs. The winners of each race, apart from basking in the glory of their victory, normally receive some cash prizes, although that does rather
depend on what money is available. It’s up to the pirogues’ owners to raise the money needed. each team is 30-strong, the number including the crew itself who operate under the supervision of a skipper and his mate. Before each competition, the team makes up the sails and prepares the pirogue. Tests are conducted on the sea before each regatta to make sure that everyone is familiar with the rules of the Kite surfing & sailing association to avoid any unnecessary penalty or the possibility of disqualification.’
Source : http://magazine.beachcomber-hotels.com/