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 1964. It was not so much that he won but the way in which he did it that raised his profile in his native country.
Purpose-built for the race, his 44-foot Pen Duick II took yacht development forward in seven league boots, at a time when his more corinthian competitors' advances were only incremental.
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 as well as an innovator; 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.
Two dismastings prevented him (the fastest entrant on all points of sail) from winning the 1973 race. 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 VI.
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.