Golden Globe Yacht Race - The Winner

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede

jakez29120 from PONT L'ABBE, FRANCE [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday 29th January 2019, after 211 days 23 hours 12 minutes and 19 seconds at sea, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede wrote his name into the record books by winning the 2018 Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world yacht race and also became the oldest sailor in history to complete such a race.

The titles were both held by Britain’s Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who was the only finisher of the original race 50 years ago and became the oldest solo circumnavigator in a race after completing the Velux Oceans Race in 2007 at the age of 68. Now the 73 year old Frenchman in his Rustler 36 yacht Matmut takes both titles having been a clear leader ever since rounding the Cape of Good Hope. At one point he had built up a lead of 2000 miles over the Dutchman Mark Slats, currently in second place, but then disaster struck when his yacht was pitch-poled during a ferocious storm in the southern ocean. Although the yacht righted itself, Jean-Luc found that the pressure bolt holding the lower shrouds had torn a 10cm long hole down the mast section. Heading into port to replace the mast would have put him out of the main race, so the resourceful Frenchman worked out a way to repair the damage, even though this meant he had to use considerable less sail. This gave Mark Slats the opportunity to narrow the lead so that by the Azores Van Den Heede’s advantage was less than 50 miles. Unbelievably the Frenchman managed to pull ahead again to pull back a 400 mile lead, due in part to the high pressure system which Slats found himself in.

The whole town of Les Sables d’Olonne, Jean-Luc’s home port, braved the cold wet January weather and more than 100 vessels ventured out to welcome Jean-Luc back. One of the first to greet the winner was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston who congratulated the Frenchman on a magnificent performance made all the greater by the jury repairs he was forced to make on the mast in order to stay in the race. The Race Chairman Don McIntyre commented that Jean-Luc’s incredible win proved that age is just a number and commended him for a classic example of planning, preparation and execution.

The original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race in 1968/9 had 9 entrants and only one finisher. This race has also seen a large number of skippers failing to complete the race. Out of seventeen starters only five now have a chance of completing, 3 of whom are sailing Rustlers. Mark Slats is about 200 miles from the finish and looks set to finish in second place. Uku Randmaa, lying third, still has over 3,000 miles to go, Istvan Kopar is 1,000 miles behind him, while in 5th place Tapio Lehtinen has an incredible 7,755 miles before he will see the bright lights of Les Sables.

It takes a very special kind of person to race the oceans of the world, single handed and even some of those who had horrendous experiences during this race have stated that they would and will do it again. Susie Goodall, our only British starter and the only female in the race, who was pitch-poled and demasted in the Southern Ocean some 2,000 miles off Cape Horn, stated, soon after being rescued, “If you asked me if I would do it again, now knowing what it is really like, I would say Yes in a heartbeat. The sea is where my adventure lies.”

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