At 14:30 UTC today, Michel Kleinjans aboard his Open 40, Roaring Forty, sailed past the Recife Gate becoming the first singlehanded competitor in the Portimão Global Ocean Race to pass the mandatory waypoint.
Kleinjans covered the 3,500 miles from Portimão to the Recife Gate in 16 days at an average speed of 8.6 knots, or 205 miles per day.
This is a remarkable performance for a solo sailor on a 40-foot yacht especially considering there were the doldrums to deal with. But then Kleinjans is a remarkable sailor who is living out his life’s dream.
Belgium born, Michel Kleinjans is no stranger to the sea. He graduated with a degree in Maritime Studies before joining the Merchant Navy although he realized very quickly that such formal seafaring was not entirely to his liking. 'I found that I preferred sailing on a boat rather than on a ship,' he said. 'I like to deal with the wind and waves, not discipline and engines.'
In the early 1980s, while still serving in the Merchant Navy, Kleinjans sailed on cruising yachts occasionally racing until he was selected to join the 57ft yacht Rucanor Tristar for the 1985-86 Whitbread Round The World Race. 'I guess for me this all started 23 years ago when I was 21 years old and I had just finished my studies,' he said. 'I got the opportunity to sail the Whitbread Race that year and I think it was there that I got the bug for offshore racing.' Rucanor Tristar won their division and finished 5th overall.
Although Michel enjoyed his Whitbread experience he soon realised that he was not good at taking orders and was not much of a team player. In 1987 he sailed the tough Mini Transat from Concarneau, France to Martinique in the Caribbean finishing a very credible sixth and enjoying his first taste of solo sailing.
By then he had reached the rank of third mate in the Merchant Navy and Michel’s short-handed sailing experience was growing rapidly through racing in Figaro Class and competing in the double-handed, transatlantic TWOSTAR event in 1994 during which he was forced to retire with mast failure. Two years later, Kleinjan’s returned to the North Atlantic and won his class in the single-handed STAR from Plymouth to Newport, RI. In 1997, he took delivery of Roaring Forty and won his division in the double-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race.
'Mostly I like to participate in single and double-handed races because I find them more challenging,' he said. 'The Everest of such kind of sailing is a single-handed around-the-world race and I think I was the first person to contact the race organisers of the Portimão Global Ocean Race
and tell them to count on me being at the start line. And now here I am and very much enjoying the experience.'
In 2006 the Belgian Yachting Association named Michel their Yachtsman of the Year. http://www.portimaoglobaloceanrace.com/