Martinique Is Opening Doors

By Ellen Birrell… Youth2Adult — Y2A — is a series of articles celebrating sailing’s role in youth development for Caribbean children. Visiting Cercle Nautique de Schoelcher (CNS) in 2015, I’d made the following notes of my impression: “Calm. Patient. Organized. Consummate.” To watch Martinique’s CNS in action is exhilarating. In 20 knots of wind with higher blasts, the CNS instructor stands knee deep on the shoreline holding his student’s Optimist stationary with sails in a reach position. The sails flag to port, leaving the student space within the tiny vessel to get her bearings. He calmly explains to her what she’ll do with each tack. She pushes the tiller away from herself. She stands crouching beneath the boom to move her little bottom to the other rail. He continues to hold the Optimist as it crosses the wind. His hand guides her to bring the tiller back into a neutral position. In pelting wind, they calmly repeat, repeat, repeat. He has her do several mock tacks with her back to the bow as well as a few facing the bow. In between tacks, he places his hand amidships and encourages her to shift her weight forward. She responds.

A diverse fleet supports the goal of “sailing for all’

When the instructor lets her loose he jumps aboard, barely fitting in the forward section. Dexterous, he balances as she sheets in and the boat moves forward. He lets his student move at her own pace. She has finally sheeted in enough to have good steerage when a gust lifts the instructor’s brimmed hat airborne. Without flinching, he continues his lesson. She eventually gets the Opti tacked around in the direction of the westward-bound hat, which is quickly making its way toward the open Caribbean Sea. With help from another student, the hat is retrieved and soon passed into the boat holding the instructor. Despite zooming Windsurfers in their midst and tourists readying on P-Cats ashore, there are no screaming or sand-throwing children. With adequate instruction and plenty of boats, CNS seems nearly devoid of horseplay. CNS is a good example of a sophisticated community sailing center. The French government has long supported a “sailing for all” approach. This writer has never visited a Caribbean place that better exemplifies this philosophy. And it seems to work well. CNS is located on a black sand beach within the town of Schoelcher, only a brief bus ride north of bustling Fort de France. The location, adjacent to a city park with grass and lush decorative palm trees, lets you know that CNS’s success is by design. The water on this lee side of Martinique is characteristically calm and accommodating to neophyte sailors. Moored and anchored boats within the bay add to a sense of protection from the wide-open Caribbean Sea beyond. Accommodating sailors from Learn to Sail level all the way up to elite racers, CNS does it all. They also build goodwill within their community and beyond through programs accommodating the physically disabled and visiting tourists. These additional revenue streams keep year-round staffing possible. A model organization, the grounds are designed for the  storage  of  one-design  boats; a rolling clothing rack holding dozens  of  life  jackets  can  be  rolled  out onto the patio for ease of access by students and then rolled back inside the warehouse-  sized loft. To look inside the CNS “loft” is to get a glimpse of a clean, neatly organized space accommodating stations that meet the needs of sailors: sail and spar storage, sewing machines for sail repair, a large bulletin board displaying schedules  and announcements. A faucet and sink for freshwater rinsing is designed into the exterior wall of the building. Large trash bins store paddles. A dozen bare-rigged Prindle cats, rudders upside down, rest in brown sand. Dozens of sailboards, kayaks, and Optimists are stacked four-high on wooden storage mounts. A dozen Laser Picos appear to have been sprayed down and gleam in the midday sun. Many of the large catamarans have canvas covers. Most of the Lasers are stored under the loft roof, and handcarts are abundant to  shuttle boats down the concrete ramp or sandy shore to the water.

The Pico can be crewed by one or two children

One gets a real sense of how well the boats are cared for. CNS continues to lead with yet another innovation: “Open Doors”, an event for disadvantaged Martinique youth that was held late last year. According to Oliver Rene-Corail, President of Club Nautique de Schoelcher and President of the Sailing League of Martinique, “We organized this special Open Doors at Club Nautique de Schoelcher.” Although he was unavailable for further comment as this issue of Compass goes to press, maybe more of us can visit Club Nautique de Schoelcher and check out the scene first hand!

CNS is located on a black sand beach within the town of Schoelcher, only a brief bus ride north of bustling Fort de France

Ellen Birrell attributes her opportunity to cruise the Caribbean aboard S/V Boldly Go to life skills built in childhood in coastal southern California. Believing swimming and sailing along with reading, writing, arithmetic, music and art are essentials for island youth, she supports youth development through writing and networking. This article first appeared in the Caribbean Compass. See caribbeancompass.com  

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