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Jean-Luc van den Heede continues his proud lead in the Golden Globe Race 2018

by David Schmidt 29 Oct 2018 10:00 PDT October 29, 2018
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is first arrival at the film gate in Hobart in the Golden Globe Race © Christophe Favreau / Matmut / PPL

While Boston Red Sox fans might be viewing the past few weeks with different colored glasses than the rest of us, the simple truth is that life in North America hasn't been running super smoothly as of late. Horrible storms and natural disasters. Pipe bombs. Mass shootings. An election that can't come fast enough. The list is long, deep, hurtful and politically biased, and the sort of thing that can make one's head want to explode. The good news is that, while life has infinite and impressive ways of testing and challenging, it also has ways of rewarding and regaling us with tales of the human spirit rising up and doing something great.

For me at least, Jean-Luc van den Heede (FRA; 73) is just that person, the Golden Globe Race 2018 is his stage, and his almost 2,000 nautical mile leaderboard advantage over sailors half his age is the bit of life's magic that boldly demonstrates that, while life's hurdles are often high, so too are its rewards, especially for those who are lucky enough to be able to follow their dreams.

While readers are likely familiar with the singlehanded Golden Globe Race 2018's "retro rules" (older boats, no electronic navigation, zero outside help), van den Heede is likely less well-known on this side of the Pond.

A quick visit to Wikipedia reveals that van den Heede, a five-time circumnavigator, first became involved with the solo sailing world in 1977, when he took second place in the Mini Transat, a result that he repeated in 1979. By 1986, van den Heede had turned his attention to the BOC Challenge, and in 1990 he set forth on his first of two Vendee Globe efforts, finishing in third place. The Frenchman was back on the Vendee Globe's starting line in 1993, this time finishing in second place.

Other big offshore adventures followed, most notably including a fourth place finish in the 1993 Transat Jacques Vabre, third place in the 1995 BOC Challenge, and second place in the 1998 Route de Rhum. In 2004, van den Heede sailed a westabout circumnavigation in a record-setting 122 days, 14 hours, three minutes and 49 seconds.

While this is a hell of a sailing resume by any standard, until now van den Heede has remained largely a proverbial awards-ceremony bridesmaid.

As a journalist, I try hard not to pick favorites, but it's hard not to fall in love with the story of a 73-year old Frenchman just schooling a fleet of considerably younger skippers.

And while van den Heede and Matmut, his Rustler 35 masthead sloop, still have some 9,951 nautical miles of sailing left (at the time of this writing), including the bulk of a Pacific crossing, a Cape Horn rounding and then a heady engagement with both the South and North Atlantic Oceans, the fact remains that he currently enjoys the kind of leaderboard advantage not usually seen in modern sailboat races.

So while the mainstream news and social-media feeds can feel a bit rough right now, the Golden Globe Race 2018 is presenting itself as a nice antidote to the negativity loop, complete with a feel-good human-interest story about a bridesmaid who will hopefully get to finally throw a bouquet and collect a well-deserved first place.

And if this positive tale still doesn't cut through the din of the now-dreadful news cycle in a meaningful way, remember that - at least here in the USA - next Tuesday is Election Day and the first opportunity to generate any meaningful change in the country's big-picture fortunes in two years. And while we certainly don't seek to sway anyone's politics (except to encourage all readers to work to protect the environment and ensure that our oceans and lakes remain clean, wild places in perpetuity), we encourage everyone to get out and vote.

Anything less is simply unseamanlike.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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