Engaged in the Transat Jacques Vabre, the skippers Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat arrived in the dead of night in Fort-de-France, at the height of the nightly violence linked to the social crisis in Martinique: “It was really weird to arrive with the smell of burning, ”they told AFP.
Dalin and Meilhat (Apivia), who finished second in the Imoca category (the Vendée Globe boats) of the double-handed transatlantic, experienced a very special finish as the curfew tightened and the island ignited , on the night of Thursday to Friday.
For AFP, they tell the story of a race like no other.
“It started well, we were back to normal life, a normal start for the public,” begins Dalin, second in the Vendée Globe 2020/2021 (solo round the world race), whose start and finish took place without an audience due to the health crisis linked to Covid-19.
“(During the race), we passed a few hundred meters from the Cape Verde Islands, it was incredible. There was a side of discovery, travel, for me, I had never been so close. took a selfie in front of all the islands! “, emphasizes Meilhat.
In the lead during part of the race, the duo will lose any chance of winning at the end of the course, Thomas Rettant and Morgan Lagravière (LinkedOut) ahead of them in their category.
Martinique has been under tension since Monday, due to a general strike called by the inter-union to protest in particular against the vaccination obligation for caregivers.
Protesters blocked roads, the climate quickly became tense and violence increased at night with burnt cars, clashes with the police, and looting.
Sailors had little information at sea.
“We were already told that at the Covid level, it was less good than what we expected at the start. And very quickly we knew that there would be a curfew soon enough. On the other hand, the riots, we only knew on arrival, “Meilhat remembers.
“The last 48 hours, we had Twitter on board, it was kind of our only source of information! We saw tweets from some journalists on the spot who spoke of riots, boats that did not remain in the port, ”adds Dalin.
As of Monday, the race management decided to put the boats to safety after their arrival due to a potential threat.
“And just before the finish line, it was the night we found out that there were journalists who had been shot. That, we found out,” said Meilhat.
On the night of Thursday to Friday, four journalists, including the AFP photographer, were the target of live ammunition while they were filming and taking photos a good distance from a burning dam. .
“The arrival was a little scary because they (the organization) + catch + us, they take us around, it was a little weird, not allowed to go through there. I saw that everyone was traumatized. There are those who tell you that they spent the night locked in the thing, that they could not even go to sleep in their hotel. You say to yourself: wow … “, Meilhat remembers.
And Dalin to remember that burning smell they smelled long before the finish line, at Diamond Rock.
“What was really weird was to arrive with the smell of burning. Under the island, we could smell the smoke of the island. The first smells we smelled were the smells of burning”, continues Dalin.
“What was quite weird is when you are told, when you are approaching the line: we are stuck at the hotel, we cannot come, you can cut the line at such and such a time but then you have to wait until we have the right to leave the hotel to find you. And there, you say to yourself: oh yes anyway “, confides Dalin.
The tandem will choose to slow down to cross the line just after the curfew has been lifted from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
The two skippers then reunited with their relatives. And did not see anything with “their own eyes” once installed on the ground.
“I saw the roadblocks, the roundabouts, I saw ashes but we did not see what you saw”, slips Meilhat, who spoke “with the people” to try to understand this. what people want “.