Roaring Forties, chapter 22: France’s inspiration

Roaring Forties, chapter 21: Boys to Men
Roaring Forties, chapter 23: Kick-ass Cayard
Roaring Forties, chapter 22: France’s inspiration
Eric Tabarly was the father of French sailing and here we salute his role in bringing the Whitbread to such a passionate public.

1993-94: Southampton-Punta del Este-Fremantle-Auckland-Punta del Este-Fort Lauderdale-Southampton

Chapter 22. France’s inspiration

Eric Tabarly never managed to win the Whitbread, but the tough, tight-lipped Frenchman certainly left a mark on the race, inspiring generations of sailors with his offshore exploits and fighting for his dream of victory until well into his sixties.

He entered the first race on the newly built Pen Duick VI and immediately ran into controversy, as the boat’s keel contained spent uranium. It was mast trouble that ultimately cost him victory, however, with the ketch’s main mast collapsing on leg 1, forcing the team to sail to Rio de Janeiro under jury rig. Later in the race, an even more serious problem with the main mast caused another huge delay and definitively put them out of the running.

Four years later, Tabarly came into the race having claimed a second high-profile victory in the single-handed transatlantic race. Again, though, Pen Duick VI had the spent-uranium keel and by this time it had been banned. Tabarly started the race provisionally but the Offshore Racing Council subsequently ruled against him and Pen Duick was not considered an official entry.

In 1981-82, Tabarly was back for a rather uneventful campaign on Euromarché and again four years later, sailing under a Belgian flag on the 83-foot Côte d’Or.

Tabarly was 62 when he was drafted into the 1993-94 race to take over as skipper of La Poste at the end of Leg 2. His leadership pulled the crew together and they finished in third place in the maxi class, in the seventh fastest time overall, including the Whitbread 60s.

At the age of 66, Tabarly was sailing on the first Pen Duick for the last time, on his way to centenary celebrations for the boat’s design. Tragically, during a night-time sail change he was struck by the boom and fell overboard. His body was recovered some time later. 

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