Eric Tabarly was one of yachting’s iconic figures who became a legend in French sailing from the moment he beat the British to win the second edition of the single-handed transatlantic in 1976.
It was not so much that he won but the way in which he did it that raised his profile in his native country. Whereas his rivals sailed customised yachts, Tabarly took a yacht – the 44-foot Pen Duick 2 that had been designed for a crew of eight – and sailed her by himself. He beat Sir Francis Chichester, the winner of the first edition of the race, by nearly three days.
Tabarly, a French Naval officer, was tough and fearless but he was also an innovator and although it was single-handed sailing that elevated him to legendary status (he was awarded France’s Legion D’Honneur for his triumph) he was soon taking part in races like the Sydney Hobart, the Fastnet Race and the Transpac, winning line honours in all three and setting a new course record in the Transpac. Before long he had begun to make plans to compete in a new round the world race – the Whitbread, in which he finished second in 1973. By now Tabarly had reached celebrity status in France but despite his appearances in the media it was always his exploits on the open ocean that commanded the most attention… such as winning the 1976 single-handed transatlantic race where he overcame the massive 236-foot schooner Club Mediterranee in his 73-foot Pen Duick IV.
In 1984 Eric Tabarly was voted the most popular sports figure in France and ten years later, then 63, he was drafted into the Whitbread again to take over command of the French maxi La Poste where his legendary leadership skills were called upon to pull together a disparate team.
Tabarly loved sailing to the very end and it was during a voyage to Ireland in 1998 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pen Duick that he was struck by the boom just off the Welsh coast and swept overboard to his death. France and the international sailing community mourned his passing.
This, at last, is an English translation of Memoires du Large, published just a month before the world lost this great sailor, in June 1998, on his way to the first Fife Regatta on the Clyde (CB123 and 240). That was aboard his beloved 1898 Fife Pen Duick and fittingly the book both begins and ends with chapters on her – the boat that gave her name to five more of the same name, in which Tabarly ruled the world of ocean sailing. There is a good description of early restoration and replacing her hull in sheathed polyester, but not much on his time with the re-emerging classics; he was already playing a leading role in classic sailing but you won’t learn it here. Calling a boat ‘he’ takes getting used to, but reading it feels like he is talking to you. His matter-of-factness defined his character.“