Sixty years ago Tabarly won the Ostar and became a legend

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Eric Tabarly
Eric Tabarly

On April 28, the Transat CIC will depart from Lorient. A new regatta? Far from it: it is the evolution of the legendary Ostar. Originally known as The English Transat, or even OSTAR, later to become 1 Star and now simply known as The Transat, the Transat CIC has a legendary history and a roll of honor studded with sailing legends. At 3,500 miles, it is one of the toughest challenges in the North Atlantic Ocean, a crossing that is as famous as it is tough in terms of wind, sea and current conditions.

The one starting on April 28 will be the 15th edition (the first was held in 1960. The regatta is quadrennial and has only known a stop in 2020). The starting city of the Transat CIC has always been Plymouth (UK) – hence the nickname “English Transat” – but the 2024 edition will start from Lorient, one of the French sailing capitals. Over the years, the arrival has involved several North American ports, including Newport, Boston, and New York, and it will be the Big Apple that will welcome the skippers in the 2024 edition. This year’s regatta will feature Italian sailors such as Alberto Bona, Ambrogio Beccaria (Class 40) and Giancarlo Pedote (IMOCA 60).

The 1964 Ostar that enshrined the legend Eric Tabarly

Among the legends who have won the regatta (the first edition was won by Chichester on his Gipsy Moth), should certainly be mentioned Eric Tabarly who triumphed at the 1964 Ostar (and did an encore in 1976). Exactly 60 years ago.

Eric Tabarly, considered the greatest French sailor of all time, won the 1964 Ostar aboard the 44-foot ketch Pen Duick II, taking 27 days, three hours and 56 minutes. When he arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, (the destination of the mythical race organized by the Observer, starting in Plymouth), the then 32-year-old Tabarly did not know he had won: he had not used the radio during the entire crossing.

pen-duick-tabarly

Tabarly hero in France

In addition, the autopilot had abandoned him on the eighth day of sailing, forcing him to take grueling shifts at the helm. In France he became a legend, so much so that President De Gaulle awarded him the “Legion d’Honneur”, highest recognition for the transalpines. And to think that Eric initially refused because the ceremony coincided with the repainting day of his boat! When De Gaulle renewed his invitation, he wrote him that he would be honored by his presence, “as long as the tide allowed.”

Pen-Duick-IIIA series of successes and innovations

In 1967 he set a record that is still unbeaten: together with a crew that included the very young Olivier de Kersauson, he won, aboard the Pen Duick III (innovative 17-and-a-half-foot aluminum schooner) every race he entered, including Fastnet and Sydney-Hobart. In ’68 he launched on trimarans, but his adventure aboard the Pen Duick IV crashed in a race against an off-course freighter. Disposing of the disappointment, he wants to confront the Pacific and tunes up the Pen Duick V: overpowered, ultralight and with mobile liquid ballast wins the solo transpacific from San Francisco to Tokyo in 39 days.

pen-duick-VITabarly and the ill-fated Whitbread

In 1973 Tabarly aboard the Pen Duick VI (22.25-meter ketch) took part in the Whitbread, the round-the-world stage race that has now become the Volvo Ocean Race. A challenge that Eric will lose, due to numerous breakdowns: the engine breaks down almost immediately, the shaft gives way during the first stage, from Portsmouth to Cape Town. Tabarly has to head for Brazil to retrieve another tree, which, however, turns out to be five feet too long… Despite these problems, he prevails in the second stage. But a second shaft break, during the Cape Horn stage, interrupted all dreams of glory.

tabarly-ostarOstar, yet another triumph

Tabarly does not give up, and even launches a new, seemingly impossible challenge: he entered the 1976 Ostar. Carrying solo a 22-meter Marconi ketch designed to be operated by fourteen people? Pure madness, whispers on the docks. Tabarly, as is his wont, does not listen and prepares by modifying the deck so that sheets and halyards are sent back to the winches in the cockpit, develops a hydro-generator system to be combined with solar panels, makes reefers on the genoa, but most importantly uses the stocking to lower the spi without it touching the water.

The regatta turned out to be hell: out of 120 boats that started, 40 retired and two sailors disappeared. It is feared, in the absence of any communication, that Tabarly, who clashed with as many as five depressions, also got the worst of it. Instead, at dawn on the twenty-third day of the regatta, out of the fog in front of Newport, the Pen Duick VI appears, first of all. is the triumph that enshrines him in the Olympus of sailing. In later years this ketch would become a real school for sailors of the caliber of Titouan Lamazou, Olivier Petit, Jean Le Cam, and Alain Collet.

tabarly-old
Tabarly’s last races and death in the waves

In ’86 he asked for rescue help for the first time, it was during the Route du Rhum where he was sinking aboard the maxi trimaran Cote d’Or. In ’97 aboard an Open 60, Aquitaine Innovation, he won the Transat Jaques Vabre, setting a record for racing longevity. Off Milford Haven, while sailing on his beloved Pen Duick I (his true love, designed by William Fife III in 1898) in 1998, he fell into the water and disappeared in the waves. Adieu.

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