Extraordinary boats: Pen Duick VI

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Pen Duick VI is the 73-foot ketch built for Eric Tabarly’s Whitbread Round the World race in 1973 and is slated to compete in the 50th Anniversary Ocean Globe Race in 2023. Rupert Holmes reports

Few yachts are more iconic, or have done more to inspire others, than Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick series. Pen Duick VI, a 73 footer built for the 1973/4 Whitbread Round the World Race, is the ultimate boat in the range.

Although approaching 50 years, Pen Duick VI is far from retirement, having already covered approximately 300,000 miles. Tabarly’s daughter, Marie, recently announced an entry for the Ocean Globe Race, the reissue of the original Whitbread hosted by Don MacIntyre, and also competed in this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race.

A talented sailor and adventurer in her own right, Marie has already piloted the boat on trips to Patagonia and Iceland.

“I was figuring out what to do for the 50th anniversary of the approaching boat, after Covid threw down our initial circumnavigation plans,” she told me on board in Lorient, “So the OGR is perfect.”

Marie Tabarly follows in her father’s footsteps by taking Pen Duick VI on a new series of racing campaigns. Photo: Martin Keruzore / Element’erre

The boat is already in good condition, after a major refit in the winter of 2011/12, plus another before the five month trip to Greenland and Iceland three years ago. Therefore, only minimal changes are needed to prepare the boat for the OGR.

The most important of these is a return to Dacron sails and the replacement of the standing rigging. The aluminum hull also needs to be streamlined and repainted, while a small overhaul of the galley is planned.

Duick VI Pen was destined to win the first Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973/4. The André Mauric plan was built by the French Navy and launched just a few weeks before the start of the race. Unlike some of his previous boats, Tabarly was not the naval architect on this project, but worked closely with Mauric on all aspects.

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The boat clearly had enormous potential, but the mainmast snapped while leading the first stage of the Whitbread. A replacement was sent from France just in time to start the Cape Town-Sydney stage, won by Tabarly. But this replacement broke shortly after the start of the next stage, forcing him to abandon the entire race.

However, he subsequently won the 1976 Storm Observer Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race (OSTAR) in a fleet of 125 men, having invented the spinnaker snuffer to facilitate handling of the 350 m2 sail. Still, it’s easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the sailing challenge. Duick VI Pen solo, without benefiting from modern sails handling systems.

Built for a team

Unlike today’s deck plans, where almost all of the work is done on the stern of the boat, Duick VI Pen is set up for a crew of 12-14 to work the full length of the yacht.

Pen Duick VI is well known in France, participating here in the Festival Maritime de Brest. Photo: Marcel Mochet / AFP / Getty

Coffee grinders, for example, sit well forward and up on the main deck, rather than recessed into a cockpit. All winches are manual, without electric or hydraulic assistance. Likewise, stitched headsails and symmetrical spinnakers require a lot more front deck work than today’s furling and asymmetric jibs.

This makes Eric’s OSTAR victory all the more impressive, especially since his autoguider got carried away at the end of his first week. No wonder he considered this to be his greatest achievement.

Equally impressive is the fact that this was his second victory in the five editions of the race which had taken place since 1960. It was also the third time that a Pen Duick had won the race, thanks to the victory of the trimaran Pen Duick IV in 1972 with Alain Colas as skipper.

Today Duick VI Pen remains in remarkably original condition, with the feel of an expedition yacht, rather than a grand prix racer. However, there have been a number of changes.

Originally, wire rope was used for much of the running rig, including even headsail sheets and halyards. It was an arrangement that made the boat difficult to handle, with nerve-wracking tear-off loads and huge captive coil halyard winches.

There is a compact cockpit at the front of the wheel, with shelter under the small niche up front. The helm has upholstered seating on both sides. Photo: Rupert Holmes

The sturdy aluminum spinnaker poles and coffee grinders are still the originals. However, the only sign of the wire ropes that were once so widely used is the inner end of the spinnaker pole.

After the rupture of the third main mast in 1974 Duick VI Pen was recreated with very substantial spars, the main mast having been changed from stepped deck to stepped keel. This solved the breakage problem, but at the cost of an additional 300kg of altitude weight, and these spars have now traveled over 250,000 miles.

Primary winches are still original after 300,000 miles without electric assistance. Photo: Rupert Holmes

Tabarly was a master innovator and Duick VI Pen benefited from a single lifting point on the deck which allows the boat to be easily lifted, a characteristic that we are used to seeing today on small keelboats, but not on yachts over 30 tonnes.

The keel was also a major innovation, although, unsurprisingly, it didn’t catch on. Depleted uranium has a 60% higher density than lead, so a much smaller volume (and slightly less weight) of ballast is required. This results in a reduced wetted surface and therefore better performance, especially in light winds.

However, the IYRU (ancestor of World Sailing) subsequently banned the substance, without retaining the keel of Pen Duick. She was therefore unable to participate in the Whitbread 1977/8, despite her provisional registration.

After a refit removed four tons of weight and added a new lead keel with a deeper draft of 3.9m, Tabarly listed it as Euromarket in the 1981/2 edition. However, it did not live up to the yachts of two newer generations and ended up in the middle of the fleet.

Other than the original gaff-rigged Pen Duick, all of Tabarly’s boats were designed for one purpose: to win a specific race. Previous monohulls all aimed for victory in solo races, so interior layout was not a priority.

Given the need to accommodate a full crew, Duick VI Pen therefore has a very different philosophy below decks compared to its sisterships and is the only one with full headroom – although a feature shared with the other boats is the full-size chart table with a Harley-Davidson seat.

Immediately forward of the salon, the boat is split lengthwise in half, with camp beds for seven people – a full watch – on either side. There is no separate skipper cabin, everyone is treated equally. The internal insulation of the boat is old and not up to today’s standards, so in Greenland there was condensation inside and the interior is likely to be just as wet in the Southern Ocean during l ‘Ocean Globe Race.

“It’s not extravagant,” said Marie, “but it works, so why would I want to change anything? “In any case, it’s much more comfortable than today’s racing yachts.

Back on the start line

Duick VI PenThe return to racing began with this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, in which Marie competed with her regular crew, and was completed in just under five days.

Accommodation below decks is comfortable but intensely practical, with the saloon divided into two distinct areas: a dining room aft to starboard, and a few sofas forward of the galley to port. Photo credit: Yohann Grignou

After the Fastnet Marie will leave for a longer race on a very different boat: the Transat Jacques Vabre with Louis Duc on his IMOCA 60 Kostum – Lantana Landscape. The old ketch is very comfortable in comparison.

In anticipation of the OGR, Marie said: “A lot of people are already calling asking to join the crew, including older professional sailors who have been around the world several times but would like to return south.

The replacement 1980 keel maintained a low center of gravity bulb and increased the draft to 3.9m. Photo: Théo Reynal / Element’erre

“But I also want to open up the opportunity to young sailors through fair selection,” she said, “and we will have friends who are already on the boat and know the boat well.

Despite the trip to Patagonia, Marie has yet to sail the Southern Ocean, although she is no stranger to heavy weather. On returning from Iceland, for example, Duick VI Pen encountered winds of 80 knots, including a 48 hour period consistently above 60 knots.

In this storm, they used a combination of different sails: either the small staysail alone, or the staysail plus the No3 Yankee, or the No3 Yankee and the mizzen. “You have to keep the speed, so the choice of sail depends on the angle of the wind and the waves,” explains Marie.

She also has the ongoing Elemen’Terre project, which uses the boat as a vehicle to highlight the concept of heritage and the issues surrounding it. “The notion is very interesting in many ways and OGR is an ideal platform,” she says.

“We love to sail with artists and can put on a spectacular show in the harbor, with high lines that run from the top of the masts to the shore.

“It’s also very cool when you sail with artists and climbers who are not sailors, you see things differently through their eyes. It is also a question of the environment, of social problems and of human mentality, ”she said.

However, Marie adds that it may not be possible to run the project during a race where teams will usually arrive at port tired, with things to fix on the boat and a short deadline to turn around before the next one. stage.


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