When in France… try to do it like French do.
Sitting, drinking coffee as the barefooted children play in front of you in 13 degrees weather, you can’t help but to think. The comfort of living has taken on so far that it is less common to spend time outside, let alone purposely expose yourself to harsher conditions than the ones a sunny day with ideal temperature provides. After visiting France, sitting in the seat of your choice, whether it is a car or an aeroplane, looking out through the window, you start to wonder if we are doing something wrong.
It is not hard to attain this state of mind when you see crews of 450ish boats that enrol in Spi Ouest regatta right on Easter weekend. The mind-boggling number of people fill the town of La Trinite Sur Mer, creating low-key noise that makes you feel something is happening. It seems no one ever talks about French sailing event without mentioning the numbers, as without them you can only rely on pouring adjectives to try conveying to someone the unconveyable atmosphere of what it is to be a part of the sailing world in France.
Drinking coffee and munching on a proper croissant here, you enjoy a 180 degree look out to the marina. Marina that is so tightly packed with various sailboats that they make it almost impossible to see through the masts covering your view. The count, as well as diversity of these boats, give you a feeling of a marina being alive and healthy, like a mountain climber in its 40ies; old enough to be wise, young enough to stride for more. In herself, she hides some of the fastest sailors as well as the ‘regular’ folks, who sail out on weekends or weekdays, or, when I think about it, who knows exactly how French do it. This is evident, because looking through it, you can see classes ranging from one extreme to another. Can anything really compare to view of an old wooden boat with Sodebo Ultim trimaran in the back?
This environment takes everyone in. And everyone who is taken in, is taken regardless of their sailing skills, looks, or whatever socio-economical criteria you usually find. When you have a part of life that is so lively as sailing is here, it isn’t particularly miraculous that the spectre wideness – and ways to be integrated into community multiply. In the way Eskimos have many words for snow, French have many ways for sailing.
The coffee eventually does come to end, and you start walking through the palpable buzz of sailors about to sail. At the end of the marina, nearest to the entrance of the bay stands the Beneteau corner, where in the calm water eighteen 24s await curiously their day on the sea. The sailors, contrastive as usual; Americans, Greeks, Spanish, French, families, friends, girls, boys, old, young, fill the dock between the boats and create virtually a solid feeling in the air. For fifteen of these boats, this is the first out three regattas following here in France. It is a start of their adventure as a growing class, and the excitement surrounding it begins to take effect. And just like the current, the feeling is two to three times stronger here.
Without any previous knowledge, finding a reason for this additional strength you find here, isn’t a particularly straightforward task. Search points out a few facts that have, as stated, led to this kind of popularity of sailing. History wise, Eric Taberly’s winning the OSTAR race in 1964., appeared to be just in the time of need for national pride. Geographically, it is true that here are some of the toughest conditions to be found out on the water, and as a result, sailors are bound to learn more and are/or quicker. Sociologically, popularity took off, so it shouldn’t be so surprising that more and more people are exposed to it.
But as you follow the sailboats leaving the harbour to have the day out on the water, there is a notion of something else. It is a constant that the people on those sailboats, with their participation, make these events what they are.
This might be due to the fact that sailing, in a most wonderful way, requires your knowledge to be wider and interlaced, as it contains in itself broad theoretical knowledge, and alert practical one. The inertness of modern life has to be connected to most of the people specialising in one smaller field, and spending greater part of their life’s in the comfort of the first thing they’ve learned. When hanging around these men and women, sailors and non-sailors as a matter of fact, you get the neat sense of what it feels like to be comfortable outside your comfort zone.
So, when they ask you why is the French sailing so much better than any other sailing, I doubt that it is because of the media space, and the sponsors, and progress, and the popularity, but because all of that results in spreading the comfort zone, comfortable enough to have a lot of people confident in taking a leap of faith and doing it. And that brings back the feeling we are a part of a bigger society, that our knowledge is a part of the unknown, and the curiosity to explore it all.
For four days, here in La Trinite Sur Mer, I have had the honest pleasure to peak into that curiosity.
And after that, happily, like always, I leave the boats and their crews to continue racing on the field and I start returning to my comfort zone, sitting in the airplane seat, looking outside the window, and going back to thinking if we are doing something wrong.