But it was not so much the fact of Tabarly's victory but the nature of it that elevated him so highly in the public perception in France. Because where his rivals sailed yachts designed and customised for their purposes, Tabarly took a yacht - the 44-foot Pen Duick 2 [pronounced like Buick the car] - that had been designed for a crew of eight, and sailed her alone. He beat the winner of the first edition of the race - Sir Francis Chichester - by nearly three days.
Tabarly, on leave from the French Navy, was a tough and fearless man but he was also an innovator and it were these characteristics that would symbolise his approach to a professional sailing career that would last a lifetime.
Although it was single-handed sailing - in particular, victory in the single-handed transatlantic race - that elevated Eric Tabarly to legendary status - he was awarded France's Legion D'Honneur for his triumph - the planet was calling. Before long Tabarly had not only competed 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, he had begun to make plans to compete in a new round the world race - the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Eric Tabarly, sailing Pen Duick VI, led a team in the 1973 Whitbread where he finished second and by now Tabarly had reached film star status in France and was often photographed alongside leading French personalities. But it was always his oceanic exploits that drew the most attention… exploits such as his victory in the 1976 single-handed transatlantic race where he beat the massive 236-foot schooner Club Mediterranée in his 73-foot Pen Duick IV.
In 1984 Eric Tabarly was voted the most popular sports figure in France and in 1994, aged 63, he was drafted into the Whitbread Round the World Race again to take over the running 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 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Pen Duick that he was struck by the boom and swept overboard to his death. France mourned, and the French Prime Minister said 'This was a man who was afraid of nothing and followed his passion and his will to the end.'
Images kindly supplied by Bluegreen PicturesEric