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About the island

Gommiers and yoles

Gommiers and yoles, traditional boats of Martinique

The gommier is tradition, sport and enjoyment.We present this truly Antillean product, its historic origins and antique methods of construction.

The construction of the gommier

The Gommier is a traditional vessel, still constructed today using the same techniques and characteristics of its predecessors. Even before Christopher Columbus reached the Antilles there were boats similar to the gommiers used by the inhabitants to move between the islands and for fishing.

gommier in the history of Martinique

The names is derived from Gommier, the tree Gomme or rubber from which the boats are carved

The trunk is cut and hollowed out, softened by the use of fire and then sculpted with water and stone. The cutting of trees is limited and controlled by the National Office of Forests.

working gommier tree to make a boat

The Gommier tree

the gommier tree

The Gommier, or “Dacryodes hexandra” according to its botanic classification, presents two varieties of tree differentiated only by its bark, red and white.The white species has a smooth almost shiny bark whilst the red species has a bark that is wrinkly and cracked. The trunk can become very large and tall though irregular in shape, often folded upon itself.The wood is of a very compact composition and hardy, producing a resin which is water resistant and has and incense like perfume. Naturally, the vessels were given the name of the tree from which they are built.The Red Cedar – Cedrella odorata – seems to have been the first material used to produce gommier, there are examples of the vessels made from Cedar that resemble Arabic ships. Being a larger tree than the Gommier or Candle tree the Cedar permitted builders to produce larger boats thus transporting more passengers or goods though less maneuverable due to their size. Apart from these two types of tree, the inhabitants of the Caribbean used other varieties of tree to create not only the hull but also fixtures and fittings for the vessels.Taken from the work: "Gommier : le canot caraïbe" by Serge LUCAS

Gommier and Yole

Over time the gommiers were replaced by yoles made from wood.

It is difficult to differentiate between the two types of boat, both are made of wood and are of similar dimensions, from 8 to 10 meters long . With a rectangular sail, a mast made from tropical timber and boom from bamboo both boats typically have a crew of around 10 people.The primary differences between the two vessels are that the skiff unlike the gommier is not carved out of a trunk and that navigation is performed using poles to lean the boat rather than a rudder.

Today, several associations contribute to maintaining the traditional sport alive, both as a tradition and as a sport.Every year approximately 18 regattas for gommiers and skiffs are organized often with large public and media attendance. The most important regattas often have thousands of spectators (75.000 at Schoelcher for the skiff regatta in 2004) and the entire island focuses on the event.The races are truly inspiring given the acrobatics of the crews battling to harness the force of the wind.

In August there is the most important event of the race calendar, the “Tour de la Martinique”.

regattas of yoles in Martinique
yoles and gommier sailing school in Martinique
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