After a nearly five-and-a-half month campaign to bring attention to the bygone days of wooden racing yachts and non-electronic instrumentation, French sailing legend Loïck Peyron ended his run in the Transat bakerly race this past Sunday on-board his classic 1960s boat, Pen Duick II.
Peyron left on May 2, and was more than halfway across the Atlantic from Plymouth, England to Brooklyn Bridge Park — but with another 10 days of sailing ahead of him and a broken headstay — he turned the boat around and headed for land with Quiberon, France as his destination. The upwind conditions were just too much for his boat built over 50 years ago.
“It was unfortunate to have to turn around so far into the race, but it’s better for the boat,” Peyron told race organizers via phone this week. “It’s the way it had to be, but it’s disappointing. The voyage was fun until we hit the bad weather, and then it got a little difficult. The course was nice, but it was very windy and the sea-state was not fun. I return to France empty-handed, but the decision was not hard to make.”
Peyron announced his intention to compete in world’s oldest solo transatlantic race using the older 44-foot boat on December 4. He said he was doing it as a tribute to French sailing legend Eric Tabarly and Canadian ocean racing pioneer Mike Birch.
That was followed by a busy stretch of several months to prepare and retrofit the famous wooden ketch Pen Duick II, which was Tabarly’s winning boat in the 1964 OSTAR, the original name of the Transat. Legend has it that Tabarly had not even realized he had won the race that year because he never once used his radio.
Peyron, too, said he wanted to limit the use of modern electronics in his racing endeavor across the North Atlantic in Pen Duick II — to follow in Tabarly’s footsteps.
Peyron, who is a sailing legend of his own in France as a holder of the Jules Verne Trophy and winner of numerous ocean races, garnered quite a following for his campaign this spring. French sailing fans followed his moves closely on social media, while the French media jumped on board for the story. Even the U.S. saw him featured in a long profile on his throwback sailing attempt.
While failing to reach the finish may seem a disappointment, it might just have the opposite effect: elevating the accomplishments and feats of the classic ocean racers of yesteryear.
“The boats are slow and the sailing is not easy,” Peyron said. “Especially sailing head-on into depression after depression. I though of Tabarly doing this race, the speed of the boat and the conditions he faced – he kept going all the way to the end. Our pioneers suffered a lot for their sport. To experience what they did is a memory that will stay with me.”
And to think, Francois Gabart, winner of the Ultime class in his 90-plus foot catamaran MACIF took just 8 days and 8 hours to complete the voyage last week. Now that doesn’t leave much time for any memories at all.