If France is world-renowned for its legends in ocean racing, this recognition has a name: Eric Tabarly (Nantes, 1931-Irish Sea 1998).
Eric Tabarly was considered by many nautical lovers to be one of the great ocean sailors of history and inspired more than a generation of French sailors to follow his path. For many Frenchmen, Tabarly was not a great navigator, but a true hero.
Tabarly was a navy officer who sailed when he could, but had great ambitions when it came to sailing. The main oceanic regatta of the time was the solo transatlantic from England to the United States and Tabarly wanted to win it. He raced in the 1964 edition and won with his Pen Duick II with a time of twenty-seven days and three hours. This achievement earned him instant fame and the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor , one of the most important civil awards in France. He also received the Blue Water Medal for his victory.
Eric Tabarly won many more prestigious races on the high seas and quickly became a household name not only in France but in the world. He was an incredible ambassador for this sport and many of the best French sailors like Olivier de Kersauson, Yves Parlier and Loick Peyron say strongly that it was Tabarly who inspired them and motivated them to become world class competitors.
The Pen Duick
Pen Duick was Tabarly’s series of six ocean racing yachts.
The first Pen Duick had 36 feet Pen Duick (formerly Yum) was designed by William Fife III and built in 1898 in Ireland for Cork navigator W. J. C. Cummins. Tabarly’s father acquired it when Éric was seven years old, and the boy learned to sail with him. After World War II, it was put up for sale, but finding no one, Eric convinced his father to give it to him. Years later, he was told that his wooden hull was rotten, and not being able to hire a shipyard to restore it, he proceeded to save it himself, making a mold to build him a new polyester hull: It was the largest in its class at the time. He rebuilt it completely, with a higher rig for the southern maares. On the night of June 12-13, 1998, Eric Tabarly fell overboard and was lost in the Irish Sea while sailing the centenary Cutter to the Fife Regatta in Largs, Scotland.
The wooden ketch Pen Duick II, 13 meters long won the 1964 Transatlantic Race with Éric Tabarly.
The 17,45 m long schooner Pen Duick III, with its characteristic clipper arch, was designed entirely by Tabarly and built in aluminium. The boat won the famous Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race in 1967.
The Pen Duick IV was a 20.50 m aluminium trimaran with ketch rigging and rotating masts. During the solo transatlantic regataj of 1968, Pen Duick IV collided with a boat and Tabarly was forced to withdraw from the race. Pen Duick IV was later sold to French navigator Alain Colas, who renamed his Manureva and won the 1972 transatlantic solo regatta. In 1978, Manureva sank into the sea with its owner.
The 10.60 m long Pen Duick V, with novel ballast tanks, was designed for the 1969 San Francisco to Tokyo Race, in which Tabarly also won.
The 22,25 m ketch Pen Duick VI was built in 1973 ]. It participated in the 1973-1974 Whitbread Round the World Race, but the mast was broken twice. Tabarly also participated in Pen Duick VI in the 1976 Plymouth to Newport Singlehanded Transatlantic Race, which won, although the boat was designed for a crew of twelve and the competitors endured five consecutive ocean storms. Pen Duick VI later competed against the Heath Condor with a carbon fibre mast in the 1977-78 Whitbread Round the World Race (see Volvo Ocean Race) as an unofficial competitor, due to its own exotic material: the depleted uranium ballast keel.
If you are passionate about its history, there are many books, videos and even films about it.