Jean Luc Van den Heede Wins the 2018 Golden Globe Race

Joe Cooper reports on the septuagenarian who won one of the world’s toughest races
Author:
Publish date:
Van den Heede nursed his damaged rig to a first-place finish

Van den Heede nursed his damaged rig to a first-place finish

Whatever is in the water in Brittany, it must be powerful stuff. Followers of the singlehanded sailing game are used to pretty heroic performances by Breton sailors, but none of them have come anywhere near the recent achievements of a 74-year-old former math teacher named Jean Luc Van den Heede. This redoubtable senior citizen not only won the 2018-19 Golden Globe Race (GGR)—a singlehanded “sprint” around the world in the spirit of the original 1968 event, sailed in small production boats without benefit of electronic navigation—in doing so, he also completed his sixth solo circumnavigation.

The original Golden Globe Race was sponsored by the Times of London, which offered a £5,000 prize for the first person to circumnavigate the globe alone, without stopping. This drama-packed first edition was won by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on his 32ft ketch, Suhaili.

Robin Knox-Johnston (right), winner of the first Golden Globe race 50 years ago, greets Van den Heede at the finish

Robin Knox-Johnston (right), winner of the first Golden Globe race 50 years ago, greets Van den Heede at the finish

Several years ago, Don McIntyre, an Australian sailor and former competitor in the BOC round-the-world race, decided to organize a 50th-anniversary edition of the Golden Globe intended to appeal to the Everyman. It would be the antithesis of the high-dollar, high-stakes professional round-the-world races we’ve become accustomed to. Boats would be restricted to the type commonly sailed in 1968, cruising boats 32ft to 36ft long, navigation would be by sextant, and ship-to-shore communications would be restricted. On July 1, 2018, 18 sailors from 13 countries departed Les Sables d’Olonne, France, bound around the globe south of the five capes.

One of the sailors pushing off that day was VDH, the former math teacher from Brittany. The tall, smiling, bearded sailor has spent the past 30-odd years as one of the more successful skippers on the French singlehanded sailing scene.

When he crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on January 29 on Matmut, his Rustler 36, 45 minutes shy of 212 days at an average speed of 140 miles a day, VDH’s victory marked his fifth podium finish in a solo round-the-world race.

Except for a box of equipment for use in emergencies (and sealed before the start), there was no GPS navigation and position-fixing was by sextant and tables. There was no way to gather weather forecasts, other than looking out the hatch and at the barometer, and certainly no weather routing.

In keeping with a fundamental tenet of the sea and sailboat racing, the GGR sailors were on their own in every sense of the word, especially when it came to repairs. VDH put this to the test in early November.

While some 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn, VDH suffered a knockdown that damaged his mast. He advised Race Control of this fact via his emergencies-only satphone, while running under bare poles as it was still blowing over 60 knots with a 35ft sea.

VDH’s initial plan was to sail to Valparaiso, Chile, to effect repairs. However, this would have eliminated him from the GGR and relegated him to the “Chichester Class,” for those who made one stop. Three days later he called Race Control and said, roughly: Hell no.

“I am going to make the best repair I can and keep going. The worst that can happen is I lose my rig, and I have my jury rig at the ready,” he added. At that point, 130 days into the race, he had already built up a 2,000-mile lead over the second-placed boat. Retiring to the front porch of his yacht club was clearly not in his plans.

Later, with another storm bearing down, VDH went up the rig and repaired the damage as best as he could. An inspection of the top spreaders—think about that for a moment—showed that part of the mast to be undamaged. In another message to Race Control after this herculean effort, VDH revealed that rather than “just” suffering a knockdown he had, in fact, pitchpoled. He further explained that any repair would be temporary, and the only true fix would be a new spar. And so, he was going to continue racing, albeit in conservation mode.

As followers of the race know, VDH survived both his wounded rig and a last-minute assault by second-place skipper, Dutchman Mark Slats, who at one point got to within 50 miles of the Frenchman.

Even by the high standards of the French singlehanded sailing community, VDH’s victory was an astounding achievement at any age, let alone 74. Only five of the original 18 starters were still racing when he finished. At the time of writing, three skippers were still at sea, among them American Istvan Kopar.

Even before the race finished, the organizers had announced the start date for the next event—28 August 2022, the anniversary of famed French sailor Bernard Moitessier’s start in the 1968 event.

This time around there will be two classes—one for one-design replicas of Moitessier’s famous Joshua, the other for the same boat types that competed in the 2018 event. If you fancy your chances against the Southern Ocean, sign up at goldengloberace.com 

April 2019

Related

arc18-3981

Stories from the Cruisers of the ARC

Each December, the docks at Rodney Bay Marina in St. Lucia are abuzz as the fleet of the ARC—the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers—arrives to much fanfare. No matter what time of day or night, the staff of the World Cruising Club, organizers of the 33-year-old rally, are there to ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com A sign from outside the box  Rev counters on modern engines are driven electronically from a terminal on the alternator. If all is well, as soon as the engine fires up the revs will read true. If, ...read more

emSelf-tacking-jib

Ask Sail: Are Self-trackers Worth It?

Q: I’m seeing more and more self-tacking jibs out on the water (and in the pages of SAIL) these days. I can’t help thinking these boats are all hopelessly underpowered, especially off the wind, when compared to boats with even slightly overlapping headsails. But I could be ...read more

01-LEAD-hose-leak-CREDIT-BoatUS

Know how: Is Your Bilge Pump up to the Job?

Without much reflection, I recently replaced my broken bilge pump with a slightly larger model. After all, I thought, surely an 800 gallon-per-hour (gph) pump will outperform the previous 500gph unit? Well, yes, but that’s no reason to feel much safer, as I soon discovered. The ...read more

190314-viddy

St. Maarten Heineken Regatta: A Source of Hope

The tagline for the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta is "serious sailing, serious fun." However, for the inhabitants of St. Maarten, the event is more than just a festival of great music and some of the best sailing around. Local blogger Angie Soeffker explains the impact the race ...read more

SPOTX-1500x1500_front

Gear: SPOT-X Satellite

Hits the SPOT The SPOT-X two-way satellite messenger is an economical way of staying connected to the outside world via text or e-mail when you’re at sea. As well as the messaging service, it has a distress function that not only alerts authorities if you’re in trouble, but lets ...read more

_8105684

A Kid’s Take on the Northwest Passage

Going North—and West Crack! Crunch! I woke with a start to the sound of ice scraping the hull of our 60ft sailboat, Dogbark. In a drowsy daze, I hobbled out of the small cabin I was sharing with my little sister. As I emerged into the cockpit, I swiveled my head, searching for ...read more