In 1978, the racing yacht Manureva sailed into oblivion.
She had first seen life as the Pen Duick IV, built for French sailor Eric Tabarly, but it was under her second owner that she would become as legendary as the Flying Dutchman.
Tabarly’s family acquired the first Pen Duick in the 1930s, but the boat languished until Tabarly grew up. Unable to salvage her, he built a new vessel in her image, using her hull as a mold and then casting a replica in polyester laminate. Tabarly won the Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race in her successor, the Pen Duick II, in 1964.
And in the third Pen Duick, Tabarly met another sailor to whom he would be inextricably linked.
A potter’s son, Alain Colas should have been up to his elbows in clay in the family business. But he discovered sailing at the age of 22, while teaching in Sydney. Like Tabarly, the man who’d become his mentor, he couldn’t resist the siren song of the sea.
He met Tabarly in Hobart, Tasmania, after Tabarly won a race. Since most of his crew had returned to France, Tabarly found himself alone, restless, and longing for adventure. So he persuaded Colas to sail with him to New Caledonia.
The two anchored in Ouvea just in time to be struck by Cyclone Brenda. Thanks to Tabarly’s cool head, the boatweathered the storm. Inspired by his grace under pressure, Colas took a year of unpaid leave and sailed with Tabarly, who taught him how to navigate.
After an interlude at the Sorbonne, Colas reunited with Tabarly at the shipyard in Lorient. There, Tabarly was overseeing the construction of the Pen Duick IV. Unlike the first three ships of that name, which were all single-hulled vessels, the Pen Duick IV was a trimaran—the first of her kind to enter sailing competitions, and also the fastest.
When Tabarly decided to sell her, Colas was the first to make an offer. He renamed her Manureva, the Tahitian word for albatross, and sailed her around the world in 1974, beating the record set previously by Sir Francis Chichester. Four years later, Colas would enter the race that—though he didn’t know it at the time—would be his last: the Route du Rhum.
Like the Single-Handed Transatlantic Race, the Route du Rhum is a transatlantic race. However, unlike the STAR, which starts in Plymouth, England and ends in the U.S., the Route du Rhum follows a great circle route, starting in Saint-Malo, France and ending in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. The Route du Rhum that Colas took part in was the first, and early on he and the Manureva took the lead.
But while in the Azores, Colas must have encountered trouble. It was there that he sent his last radio message to his sponsors, Radio Monte Carlo. “I am in the eye of the cyclone,” he transmitted, “… there are only mountains of water around me.”
It was the last anyone ever heard of him, and he and the Manureva were never found.
Though we don’t know what watch Colas was wearing when he sailed into the great unknown, it might have been this one: an Omega Genève Admiralty. First produced in 1968, the year the keel of the Manureva was laid, the Admiralty was first powered by the Calibre 565 movement also used in the Seamaster 300. Unlike the Seamaster 300, the Admiralty was meant for use above—not below—the waves, her nautical heritage apparent by the anchor on the dial.
This particular Admiralty comes to us with the name its original owner engraved on the case back. He purchased it in Singapore in 1970, which we know from the papers that come with it. Just one look at it conjures images of a three-hulled ship in full sail, darting across the Pacific in a swift breeze, a song dancing on the air.