Aboard the legendary Pen Duick VI, launched in 1973 by her father Eric, Marie Tabarly and her crew of The Elemen’Terre Project, mainly made up of amateurs, have taken second place (in real time) in the first two legs of the Ocean Globe Race, the old-style round the world stage race inspired by the Whitbread. Ahead of Sunday’s start of the third leg between Auckland and Punta del Este, Marie spoke to Tip & Shaft.
▶︎ How would you sum up the first two legs of the Ocean Globe Race?
The first objective is to get the boat and crew back to port, which we’ve done so far. We also wanted to beat the times Pen Duick VI set on the Whitbread in 1981, but that wasn’t possible due to the weather conditions and the compulsory course marks. We finished the two legs in second place in real time, and it’s this real time ranking that interests us because with our rating, it’s virtually impossible to win overall. I’m a little frustrated because I know that we’re more than capable of crossing the finish line first.
▶︎ Are you satisfied with Pen Duick VI‘s performance?
Yes, this boat is incredible! I haven’t seen her in this condition for at least 25 years, and she’s back to being a beast of a racer. We can pull on her at 200%, she’s enjoying herself and so are we. We haven’t yet encountered the optimum conditions for Pen Duick VI, namely heavy weather where we can maintain our speed when the others are decelerating. All the same, we’ve been surfing at 22-23 knots under spinnaker and averaging 12-13 knots without too many problems. Over 24 hours, we regularly covered 260 to 280 miles. I know we can do a lot more. We saw on the first leg that in light airs, Pen Duick VI is fast for an aluminium boat weighing 34 tonnes.
▶︎ Your crew is mainly made up of amateurs. Is everything going well on board in terms of performance and atmosphere?
I’ve got the best crew in the world! My crew are having fun, they love the boat and they’re learning a lot. Pen Duick VI is still quite a colossus to manoeuvre. At the bow, gybes can be rock’n’roll with the two spinnaker poles, each weighing 70 kg. Even in very hot situations, everyone knows what they have to do and nobody panics. In human terms, we get on perfectly. Everyone’s pulling in the same direction and we haven’t had a single tense moment on board. My crew are all very open and tolerant. When someone has a different opinion, no one passes judgement. So we can talk about anything and have fascinating conversations. We’re really experiencing something extraordinary together.
“When you sail on Pen Duick VI,
you belong to a heritage”
▶︎ How are you approaching the third stage to Punta Del Este?
I want to be in the lead. It’s the leg we’ve all been waiting for aboard Pen Duick VI, so normally it’s made for us. On the second leg, I have the impression that we were robbed of our Indian Ocean, with a waypoint placed very far north. We skimmed the South Seas and realised just how magnificent they are. We want to go back. We’re only interested in first place. I want this boat, which I’m very proud of, to get the victory it deserves.
▶︎ How are you enjoying your role as skipper around the world?
I’m really enjoying it, even though it’s not an easy job. You take all the stress on land and at sea. When there’s a fault or a mistake, it’s your own fault. I have a strong competitive spirit, which makes me very demanding of myself. This round-the-world voyage is the culmination of three years’ work, lasting eight months with a crew of 21 people to manage in total. It’s a big project, but it’s what I came for. My reward is to see the boat running well with a happy crew on board.
▶︎ Is it symbolic to be taking part in this Whitbread tribute race, 50 years after your father sailed the first edition on the same boat?
Yes, of course it is. I’m happy if it means we can continue to talk about Eric and not forget this great sailor. But if I’m taking part in the Ocean Globe Race, it’s not just out of attachment to my father. It’s also, and mainly, a relationship between Pen Duick VI and myself. I don’t think I was even a year old when I was first photographed on this boat. I never thought I’d one day be her captain, let alone race her around the world. But it happened. When you sail on Pen Duick VI, you belong to a heritage. The boat must always be impeccable and the crew exemplary.
“It’s no mean feat to tackle the Jules Verne”
▶︎ What will Pen Duick VI’s programme be after the Ocean Globe Race?
I don’t know exactly yet. I have plans and the priority is to secure the funding to carry them out. I’d love to go around the world again, but not with this organiser. In any case, I want Pen Duick VI to continue to sail some fine courses, otherwise this type of boat will end up dying. It feeds me enormously but I feel that I also need to do something else. Maybe I’ll go back to sailing double-handed Imoca boats [she took part in the Transat Jacques Vabre 2021 with Louis Duc, editor’s note], Ultims or other maxi boats.
▶︎ You’re also one of the sailors tipped to be part of the all-female crew put together by Alexia Barrier for the Jules Verne Trophy, how far have you got with this project?
At the end of the Ocean Globe Race, I’ll be sailing in an Ultim with Alexia, and I’ll be putting myself at her service. I’m used to these great distances. It’s no mean feat to tackle the Jules Verne. We’ll see if I feel ready to take on this challenge, and if Alexia wants to take me on board. It’s been a long time since I sailed a maxi-multihull, that was over 20 years ago on Geronimo.
▶︎ Where do you stand on modern ocean racing?
I have mixed feelings, like a lot of people. It’s both wonderful and terrifying. It’s exciting to see machines that, technologically, are pushing innovation to the top. But this creates huge carbon footprints and the world is no longer heading in that direction. If we were sensible, we wouldn’t be doing ocean racing like we do now. It’s a form of excess. After that, I’m well aware that there’s a whole system around which a lot of people make a living. How can you change everything without overhauling the economy? I don’t have the solution. Perhaps we need to start by making the boats sustainable and creating new circuits. But we’ll also have to reinvent a new economic system, where the media returns will be less…
Photo: The Elemen’Terre Project