Long before the introduction of speedboats and luxury yachts, Mauritian pirogues were popular for fishing and marine outings. Tourists who come to visit are transported back in time by attending one of the Heritage Regattas – exciting and colorful boating events held every month. With their colorful sails and folkloric names, these boat races attract local Mauritians and visitors of all ages and are a fun day out for the whole family.
A ballet of boats adorned with colorful sails crisscross the emerald waters in the bay of Mahebourg, because today is regatta day. For the inhabitants of and visitors to the southeast of Mauritius island, this is equal to a full seamen’s celebration.
All Mauritian fishermen consider the regatta as a real must-attend. Mahebourg and Grand Gaube are two major sites for the lovers of sailing according to local traditions. The participants meet at these sites according to the racing schedule, not only to be part of the competition, but also to meet with other fellow seamen and share a typical fishermen’s meal while recalling the best boat stories and sea anecdotes.
Regatta involves mainly the traditional local pirogue, a boat that has evolved from the 18th century French chaloupe. The pirogues are usually made of wood known for their resistance to splitting. The sail is most often made of unbleached woven cotton, but since a few years ago, these are being tinted with vivid colors, while fiberglass is gradually winning over wood for the hulls.
On the morning of the race, the crowd gathers on the shore while the participants attend to final preparations around the boats. The challenge will be run in different categories, depending on the size of the boats. Starting time is close. Everyone holds their breath… and off they go! The bright sails fly spectacularly over the lagoon. The skippers show full concentration in handling the pirogues and tacking past a buoy with remarkable agility before heading again towards the finish line. On land, excitement is at its peak and people cheer the winners. What a great show!
The regatta tradition started in the south of the island in the 19th century, thanks to the initiative of some sailing enthusiasts. The first races were so popular that special trains were organized to allow the public to attend the event. Nowadays, the same passion prevails and the regatta is always an opportunity for popular gatherings ending with tasty local snacks and vibrant sega tunes.
So tourists, check with your hotel concierge to find out if a regatta will be taking place during your stay. And if one is, head straight for the beach. It is an experience not to be missed and memory that will be long cherished.
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