We get mail…
Just been looking at your interview from a year ago in Barcelona of recent Transat B2B winner François Gabart , where you come back to the subject that you’ve been spending a lot of time on over the past year – why sailing is so interesting and attractive to the mainstream French public.
In the interview, you both rightly refer to Eric Tabarly’s impact. One thing you might not know about though is just how important the influence of other important groups – namely journalists and politicians – was at the time.
As a teen, I’d followed the build-up of Tabarly’s ’64 OSTAR campaign in the nautical press, and just before the start, the race popped up in the mainstream press, notably with a full-page article in then leading national daily “France-Soir” as well as a few other places. You see, a few very prominent journalists, led by Jean-Paul Aymon for France-Soir and Jean-Michel Barrault for L’Aurore and Le Figaro, used their power and influence at these papers to promote both their passion and the Eric Tabarly they’d gotten to know from racing and sailing with and against him. That Eric Tabarly was highly rated in what was then a tiny RORC racing community had triggered the nautical press support, but these others brought it to millions who’d never stepped on a yacht.
Eric’s victory over the English made the journalists that wrote about him look great, satisfied their editors that they’d made a good coverage decision, and other newspapers followed, in a trend that never died.
It was also General De Gaulle’s France at the time – with an administration keen to portray France as one of the Great Nations at any opportunity. As a naval officer, Tabarly got significant support from the French Navy, especially the captain in charge of such projects for the nation – who just happened to be a former sailing Olympian and a previous skipper of a then-young Tabarly. A dominant win over England by a former military man, combined with all this insider influence, led to De Gaulle’s public support and endorsement of Tabarly’s victory, and there is probably no more powerful way to encourage mainstream editors in their choice of subject matter than to put a presidential endorsement on it! Yachting sections in newspapers all across the country flourished, and half a century later, we can see what kind of effect that had.
The story is a great example of how individual passions and friendships, combined with a single, powerful figurehead, can push a small dream into a national reality. For one special moment, all the pieces of the puzzle came together, and now France rules the offshore world.