By Bernd Kohler - The Netherlands

Latino under sail in Spain

A September day in Cartagena (Spain). One of the many “fiestas“ here. We use the 33 m2 sail today because our chefe (boss) told us to. The four of us crew looked at each other. The boss said we had wind force 7. So what - do it. So we laced our light wind lateen sail to the 33 ft long gaff (entenna). Then we folded the sail onto the gaff and laced the sail with very thin lacings. After the gaff was hoisted to the free standing mast we rowed out to the starting line. The 12 other boats where using their heavy weather sails (about 20 m2).

Latinos just started (Los Nietos , at the Mare Menor, 2001)

There was the start signal. A hearty pull on the main sheet and the sail unfolds.
We shot off like a flash leaving the other boats behind. We were in the lead at first, but our boat is too short. It is one palm shorter as the others which are 42 palms long (one palm is the width of a hand, about 4 inches, an old measurement of boats in Spain). Out of the harbor we go like hell towards the first buoy which is some way out of the port. We knew precisely what was coming. There was no way we could hold the boat coming around the buoy and over she went.

Swimming: no harm done with a water temperature of about 26 ° Celsius.

The rescue boat arrived, "do you need assistance?"

"No thank you".

"would you like something else?"

"Yes a drink." So we were supplied with a good and stout drink, 50% brandy 50% Coke.

Next, after removing the mast, we turned the boat right side up. Now comes the tricky part. Two men stood in the boat and emptied the water out with buckets. You have to be very fast before the next wave (remember wind force 7 with the usual big waves) enters the very low lying boat. At last we feel she is coming up. Another sip from the drink and in a more relaxed way the rest of the water is bailed. In the meantime, the other crew members where loosening the halyard. Getting the 70 pound mast back into the boat and setting it up is tricky business in port but in the waves a bit more difficult. At last the mast is stepped. Up comes the
sail and we sail back to the port.

In the meantime the other boats were on there finishing round. Just before the finishing line we passed the boat in the lead. Big applause from the spectators. For
them we were the leaders. As so often with sail regattas, the spectators have no clue what is going on. But no matter everybody had a lot of fun.

This was in September 2002. I was the only “extranjero” (foreigner) which had the
privilege to sail on these boats. They are the last boats with lateen rigs which regularly sail on the Mediterranean Sea. It is a group of pescadores (fisherman) who hold up the tradition. All together they have about 14 boats. As mentioned, they are 42 palms, about 14 ft long, with very fine wine glass cross sections. No ballast, but sand bags are allowed for inside ballast. Of course no winches or other modern accessories allowed. The main sheet is a single rope! too. Normally the crew consists of 5 persons. In a light wind regatta the heaviest jumps out after the last buoy to lighten the boat and swims to the shore. They are graceful boats, not easy to sail but great fun.

On the wind. Not a lot of space for 5.

In the old days, the lateen sail was the working rig for fishing boats. If they are not too big they are easy to handle. They have their merits. The yard can be set more vertical for light wind and sailing to windward. Half wind and before the wind they can be set less so for better balance. The reef lines are horizontal, so when reefed the CE is lowered significantly compared to other rigs.

In a small way lateens are also surviving in France. The last two pictures were taken in Colliore, one of the most picturesque places on the Med.

Lateen rigged boats in Colliore, France

A small lateen rigged cruiser in Colliore

At this point, I have not had the opportunity to speak with one of the owners. These are bigger than the Spanish boats with more moderate sail areas. I like the small lateen boat with the cabin. A very cute boat in my view.

Bernd Kohler


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