If we speak about offshore sailing we must recognize that France played a main role, when we refer to the French sailing we must remember that Eric Tabarly (1931-1988) laid solid basements.
There was a before and after to his victory in the OSTAR 1976. Although Tabarly already won the 1964 edition and aproached sailing sport to media and crowds, his second victory was considered a national feat. The President of the French Republic received him with the highest honors in Paris, where he paraded triumphantly along Champs-Élysées and received the distinction Officier de la Légion d’honneur.
The associated names Pen Duick and Tabarly are part of the sailing history. It all began when in 1938 his father bought an old ship designed by William Fife, who renamed Pen Duick (Coal Tit). Our protagonist adopted this name for his boats, a saga that finished with Pen Duick VII (Paul Ricard). Tabarly combined with his crude Breton character an exemplary determination and an advanced innovative vision of the boats. After his first two boats, a ketch (Pen Duick II, 1964) and a schooner (Pen Duick III, 1966), in 1968 launched the trimaran rigged in ketch Pen Duick IV.
The next boat of the legendary saga lighted the path of the Open Ocean IMOCA monohulls. Pen Duick V (1969) was a 10.60 m sloop built in aluminium, with a wide stern, flat hull and ballast tanks. His next boat was 22.80 m ketch monohull Pen Duick VI (1973) also built in aluminium with which he raced the 1973 Whitbread and won the OSTAR ’76. In 1976 he made the prototype of a catamaran foiler using a Tornado, which years later inspired L’Hydroptère of Alain Thébault. In 1979 launched its 16.5 m trimaran Paul Ricard with which it established the record of the North Atlantic in 1980. Then renowned as Côte d’Or II, her length was extended to 22.85 meters.
No doubt his military training as an airplane pilot gave him some knowledge and feelings that he transmitted to his boats, where he always looked for innovation and solutions sometimes impossibles considering budgets and the existing technology in those years. But if their boats have left their footprint, another valuable legacy left to French sailing was a long list of sailors who took part onboard his Pen Duicks. Among them are Alain Colas, Olivier de Kersauson, Gérard Petipas, Éric Loizeau, Marc Pajot, Daniel Gilard, Titouan Lamazou, Philippe Poupon, Yves Parlier, Michel Desjoyeaux, Jean Le Cam…
Retired from the competition, Eric Tabarly recovered and sailed his father original Pen Duick. While sailing in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales, the French myth fell overboard the night of 12-13 June 1983 during a manoeuvre.
The popularity of Tabarly aroused the interest of the entire France for sailing, favouring its development by the creation of public access facilities. This factor contributed greatly to the massive practice of sailing in France and also to the creation of shipyards and maritime industry. France has been, is and will be a world reference.