Port de Saint-Tropez
06°38,00E /43°16,00N

Les Voiles Latines

From Thursday 23rd to Sunday 26th May 2019

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All those who love lateen sails, ancestral customs and the expertise associated with classic boats, whether participant or spectator, thoroughly enjoy this event !

For the lateen sail has come to symbolise what sailing was like in the Mediterranean, a witness passing from coast to coast down the generations.

For thousands of years, the lateen sail has been used for the pointu, that most distinctive, traditional and feisty of the small Mediterranean fishing boats.

Pointus, feluccas and yoles

Once again this year mainland Italians, Sardinians, Corsicans, Balearic Spanish, Tunisians and, closer to home, sailors from Toulon, Setoi, Cavalaire, St Raphaël, Fréjus, Saint-Tropez (of course) and many others descended on our lovely port to share a typically Mediterranean passion, that of the lateen sail.

With its elegant and easily recognisable shape, the triangular lateen sail measures around 20 sqm and is made of cotton. Originally the sails were brown from being dyed with pine bark. So where did it come from? The gracious winged profile was already being used in the days of the Romans and Phoenicians although its history is lost in the mists of time. One thing is certain: it is very much a part of the common heritage of seafarers in the Mare Nostrum!

Organised by the town and port of Saint-Tropez with the support of the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez (sailing club) and Italian association Vela Latina Tradizionale, the “Voiles Latines 2011” brought together for its 11th anniversary pointus, catalans, feluccas and yoles (skiffs) from across the Mediterranean region and beyond. For two whole days in May, participants could choose whether to simply sail for pleasure in the bay or compete in the regatta which is part of the lateen sail Mediterranean circuit.

Marseille bettes, tartanes and catalans

While the sailing for pleasure category is reserved for amateurs or “un-rateable” boats and allows beginners to familiarise themselves with the discipline on an easier course, the regatta that was created in 2001 attracts the best Italian sailors in this discipline to Saint-Tropez. They are generally top level competitors keen to diversify their enjoyment of sailing as a sport. The Mediterranean Voile Latine circuit welcomes wooden hulled boats with the traditional short rigs, racing under a special rating rule. Every evening pointus, gozzi, the flat-bottomed bettes from Marseille, tartanes, catalans and others moor up in the harbour, providing a colourful spectacle. Another big attraction is the jousting on water display organised by the blue and yellow Saint-Raphaël club in the harbour.

On the Annonciade’s forecourt

There were not only surprises on the water. Opposite the Annonciade museum for the fifth consecutive year, Dhaouadi Borhene delighted the crowds. This third generation naval architect, at the head of a Tunisian delegation of carpenters, amazed his audience yet again with the techniques employed in his country to build boats using specific types of wood (eucalyptus, acacia, red wood, cherry and mahogany) and special tools (hand plane, adze, wooden rasp, etc).

Gérard Défontaine was also there from Ollioules with his pop-pop pointu (16cm!) that makes a noise like a Bernard engine. The Marseille sailor Jean Pierre Laville demonstrated his little 4.2m pointu, Flouka 55 that he rigged on site. Then there was Marc Vuilliomenet, trained in Switzerland and based in Saint-Raphaël, who is one of those rare marine carpenters in France. Always with an eye to the environment, he crafts boats from quality materials such as mahogany, teak and Oregon pine. He was there to present his Classic Power project (an electric motor boat using various renewable energy sources). This project was awarded a prize in 2009 by the Conseil Général and the Salon du Littoral in Fréjus.

Traditions, arts and culture

Newcomer Krystel Chambon and her “Sous le Vent” studio were offering highly original bags made from sail cloth, while “La Corderie d’Or” (set up in 1908 in Marseille) presented their techniques for equipping old rigs with hemp and steel wire rope.

At the same time as these manual skills were being demonstrated, Tropezian and historian Laurent Pavlidis added a touch of history to the proceedings when he and Borhene Dhaouadi gave a talk on traditional boats in Provence from the 19th to the early 20th century.

For the third year running, a delegation from Chioggia (an island at the south entrance to Venice’s lagoon) rounded off proceedings with an exhibition of Venetian arts and culture, complete with musical entertainment and a chance to sample local produce from the region. The Italian “tolèle” (votive offerings) so typical of this island were particularly touching, as the poignant realism of these miniature works of art painted to give thanks for favours received illustrate real-life tragedies at sea.

Friendships without borders

As always one of the highlights of this weekend of friendship and culture was the traditional picnic in true Ponche style. Despite the language barriers sailors enjoyed sharing their passion for the lateen sail and exchanging typical dishes and beverages brought in from their various regions. Year on year stronger bonds are woven and friendships without borders forged, reaching across the waves and bays which separate them!

The association “Ports de Caractère”

Ports with character

For the first time the event welcomed the presence of the Ports de Caractère association in the shape of Michel Moly, Mayor of Collioure and member of the Conseil Général of the Eastern Pyrenees. He brought a delegation of 75 people who added colour and music to the event with Catalan singing, rowing lessons in Llaguts and a folk group from Sardana, ending with a fabulous “cobla” Catalan-style buffet for 400 guests.

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