The greatest of all is Tabarly: let’s look back at his story


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Is he the greatest sailor in history according to you! Eric Tabarly, the god of waves!
He also defeated in our final poll Agostino Straulino in a clash of titans. For once, you agree with us, who in the newsroom had chosen Breton as the greatest of all, having to decide between Plummer and Tabarly as well. Let’s enjoy Eric’s story, and we will let you know shortly who won the 30-year super-subscription to the Journal of Sailing!

We started with 30 names (and already there, choosing them was a battle in the editorial office!) that we had you vote on. The best four took part in the “semifinals” (Straulino-Joyon, Tabarly-Moitessier) and now the winners of the latter met in the challenge of challenges. Below you will find the rules and the super prize we have raffled off for those who vote…

Screenshot 2016-09-12 at 12.09.14THE STORY OF ERIC THE BRETON
Sunday, May 23, 1964. The second edition of Ostar starts that day, the solo Atlantic crossing from Plymouth to Newport, created by Francis Chichester: among the fifteen competitors, almost all Anglo-Saxons, is a Frenchman. He is 32 years old, a second lieutenant in the Navy, and his name is Éric. Éric Tabarly. He showed up for what his countrymen call transat anglaise (English crossing) aboard the 13.60-meter ketch Pen Duick II, which he designed especially for the Ostar together with the Costantini brothers (owners of the shipyard of the same name in la Trinité Sur Mer). “But what does this guy want to do,” thought the British yachtsmen, “he’s crazy if he thinks he’s carrying a 14-meter boat by himself!” Let alone when, just after the start, he hoists an 82-square-meter spi. Never before has this been done in an unmanned regatta. Twenty-seven days, three hours and 56 seconds later, Tabarly made history by winning the race just ahead of Chichester. is the Frenchman who defeated the British at home, who suddenly awakens the passion of his countrymen for the course au large, who is awarded the cross of knight of the Legion of Honor by President Charles De Gaulle himself. That in the span of his life as a sailor he would collect incredible achievements, that he would know how to push the technological boundaries, innovating year after year the way of going to sea. Who will die as a true sailor, swallowed by the waves. This is Eric Tabarly. The greatest and most influential sailor in history, at least according to us in the editorial staff and you.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 at 12:09:24 p.m.A LOVE CALLED PEN DUICK
Eric was born in Nantes on July 24, 1931, with 75 percent Breton blood in his veins: (he should have been born in Quimper, where his father Guy was an agent for General Motors, but the latter moved to Blois, in the department of Loir-et-Cher, a few months before his birth). When he was only seven years old, the meeting with his true love occurred, the one that would accompany him all his life and, as we shall see, survive him: the Pen Duick I, a 15.05-meter wooden “cotre franc” designed by the great William Fife III in 1898.In the Easter of 1938 he is on vacation in Préfailles, by the sea, with Dad, Mom Yvonne, and sister Annick. Guy takes them to Basse-Indre, where the boat is for sale, which was then called Butterfly . Forty years old, in bad shape, it had already collected eleven owners: it cost too much to maintain and was abandoned in a cane field. “With my childlike logic I had thought, but it’s not like this is the right place for a boat,” Breton writes in his “Memoirs of the Offshore” (published by Mursia in 1998). The Tabarlys fell in love with the boat, bought it and renamed it Pen Duick. These are years of German occupation; the Tabarlys are being displaced.

tabarlyThe Pen Duick, while Guy is mobilized, is disarmed and transferred to the Odet River, where the sailor he was helping aboard lived. World War II ends, parents return to Blois, young éric goes to boarding school: the boat remains to rot in the mud. By the late 1940s, she is a wreck and the Tabarlys do not have the resources to do a radical refitting, so they put her up for sale. But Eric, in love with his Pen Duick, discourages the only potential buyer. In 1952 he enlisted in the Naval Aviation. This is also the year that consolidates the love between him and the boat: his father wants to sell the keel lead, Breton opposes and proposes to take on the renovation costs with his next military pay. Guy goes soft and gives his son the Pen Duick. “You will be the 13th owner. Maybe this will bring you luck,” he tells him. In ’55 éric is in Indochina as a Navy airplane pilot: he needs money to maintain his beloved, which he decides to refurbish by wrapping it in fiberglass, a choice well ahead of its time (vtr will invade the market for production boats around the mid-1960s). Helping him with the work are the aforementioned Costantini brothers: “You will pay us when you can,” they tell him. Breton, a man of his word, will exhaust his debt in 1963.

Screenshot 2015-04-29 at 5:49:22 p.m.THE INVENTOR OF MODERN SAILING
And it was during this period that the great sailor was born: with the Constantines he would design the Pen Duick II with which, we have seen, he will triumph at the Ostar: it is a ketch with marine plywood planking with a double-edged hull, launched just two weeks before the Plymouth start thanks to the financial help of some friends and the “usual” credit of the Italian-born builder brothers: his boat weighs half as much as his opponents’, and is one of the first examples of “light displacement.” The myth and, as some have called him, the inventor of modern sailing was born. In 1967 he won all the races he entered (Fastnet, Channel Race, Sydney Hobart, and Around the Gotland) with the Pen Duick III, an innovative aluminum racing schooner (in ’72 on the same boat he would also win the Transpacifica). The Pen Duick IV, in 1968, is one of the first ocean-going trimarans (20.80 meters long and 10.70 wide) but crashes into a freighter during Ostar. In ’69 on the small Pen Duick V, the first boat to be equipped with water ballasts to increase righting, he triumphed at the San Francisco-Tokyo.

We come to 1976, which is perhaps the peak year for éric the Great’s career: aboard the Pen Duick VI (22.25 m ketch built in 1973 to a design by André Mauric with a keel – sic! – made of depleted uranium) wins the Ostar for the second time. “But what is unbelievable,” we had written in an article-tribute in the August 1998 GdV, “is how one man managed to bring to victory a boat designed to be driven by fifteen people and with a broken automatic rudder.” He had crewed the Whitbread ’73/’74 with the boat and won the Atlantic Triangle in 1975: it was unthinkable to run it three thousand miles alone, and he succeeded, making only a few marginal changes on deck to facilitate what we would now call easy sailing, including a nylon tube spinnaker stocking and coffee grinders instead of traditional winches, an America’s Cup solution never seen on an ocean-going boat. After the victory, he was proclaimed a national hero upon his return to France: it had never happened (and still has to happen again) that a sailor was escorted in triumph down the Champs Elyseés by a crowd of 80,000 people. What a paradox for him, so taciturn and shy, famous without wanting to be.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 at 12:08:41 p.m.ALWAYS AHEAD OF OTHERS
In 1980 he was aboard the trimaran Paul Ricard, on whose hulls he applied (thirty years ahead of schedule), hydrofoils: he set the transatlantic record (10 days, 5 hours, 14 minutes and 20″). In ’97, at the age of 66, aboard the Open 60 Aquitaine Innovation, he won the Transat Jacques Vabre paired with Yves Parlier. Instead, Tabarly’s failures can be counted on the fingers of one hand: with the Pen Duick VI in 1968 he abandoned the Ostar and disalberated at Whitbread in 1973 while leading. He participated, without ever winning, in no fewer than five round-the-world races (1973 to ’94); in 1979 during the Point-Europe 1 double crossing with Paul Ricard he was forced to forfeit and, aboard Cote d’Or, retired from the 1986 Route du Rhum.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 at 12.09.01THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE WAVE GOD
In all these years of racing around the world, Eric, who has helped “raise” generations of great sailors (Marc Pajot, Olivier de Kersauson, Philippe Poupon among others) has never abandoned his Pen Duick I. On the night of June 12-13 he was sailing on his beloved some 30 miles off Milford Haven (Wales): the Breton was bound for Scotland, where he was to attend the centenary of William Fife’s projects. Along with him an inexperienced crew: the wind increases with gusts up to 30 knots, the sea is formed. Tabarly climbs onto the deckhouse to lower the mainsail and hoist a smaller sail: during the maneuver, the boat overhangs, swerves, and éric falls overboard, possibly struck by the sail peak. He had neither a life jacket nor a seatbelt: “On board I don’t force anyone to wear one, because to demand something from others one must also set a good example,” he had written. “Instead, I refuse to wear a seatbelt. My reasoning is simple: I would rather disappear in a few minutes than ruin my life on board because of the seat belt.” And so it was. In the dark and rough seas, all attempts at recovery by the crew are in vain. The greatest sailor in history could only disappear into the sea.


Let’s see in detail how the challenge is structured:
– 30 CANDIDATES to vote online on our website from August 1 to 31. You will be able to assign your preference to several candidates.
– The 4 candidates with the most votes pass the round.
– 4 CANDIDATES to vote online Sept. 1-5. These will be two tennis-style semifinals, where two candidates (the first and fourth, second and third highest vote-getters in the elimination phase) will be pitted against each other. You will only be able to assign your preference to one of the candidates in each of the two semifinals
– 2 candidates who won the semifinals move on to the round
– The 2 FINALIST CANDIDATES to be voted for online from September 6 to 12. You will only be able to assign your preference to one candidate. The most voted will be the greatest sailor in history according to you!
Among all those who, between Aug. 1 and Sept. 12, send an email to with the reason why they voted for a candidate, a 30-year subscription to the Journal of Sailing will be drawn!



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