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Golden Globe Race, Day 204: Van Den Heede regains the initiative... for now

by Barry Pickthall, Golden Globe Race 21 Jan 08:38 PST 21 January 2019
Jean-Luc Van Den Heede has the wind and opened up a 215 mile lead over Mark Slats...but will it last? - Golden Globe Race © Christophe Favreau / Matmut / PPL

The elastic between Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats has stretched in the Frenchman's favour over the weekend allowing him to open up a 215-mile lead over his Dutch rival.

A week ago, the difference in terms of distance to finish was just 28 miles. Both skippers have used up what remained of their 160 litre supply of diesel fuel, with Slats expending the last drop pushing his way through the windless high pressure system sitting over the Azores. The two are now within the same weather system.

Slats is currently 330 miles south of Van Den Heede's upwind position at the start of what could be a straight drag race to the finish. The unknown factor is the forecast – especially for these two skippers, for both have been cut off from weather feeds from the Ham Radio Net community for using unlicensed call signs throughout the Race. This came to light last week when Dutch and St Lucia radio authorities issued warning notices against the skippers. Licenced Ham radio operators who communicate with them not only face losing their licences, but the threat of a large fine and possible prison sentence!

Forecasting is particularly acute for Van Den Heede whose Rustler 36 Matmut has the prospect of running straight into another high pressure system predicted to form to the north east by Wednesday. It could affect Slats too, but not before his yacht Ophen Maverick has closed the distance.

The question then for Jean-Luc is whether to push hard for the finish and run the risk of breaking Matmut's damaged mast, or settle for second place. The fact that 3rd placed Estonian Uku Randmaa trails 3,450 miles behind, could well persuade the Frenchman to push all out for a win, knowing that if the worst happens, he could still finish 2nd under a jury rig.

Illegal routing and position reports?

Recent allegations circulating on social media and in print that Jean-Luc Van Den Heede has been receiving illegal radio position reports have proved unfounded. Race Chairman Don McIntyre made the following statement today:

"French and Dutch passions, already roused by the prospect of a nail-biting finish between Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats, were stirred further when it became clear that first Mark, and then Jean-Luc did not have valid Ham radio licenses. Then, other accusations began to fly between the two camps; the most serious being that J-LVDH may have been breaching the rules governing weather routing and position reports. One transcribed JL VDH radio recording proved to be a simple weather forecast - NOT weather routing. Some have suggested that there are other recordings of these breaches, but after continued requests by GGR officials to hear them, these recordings remain 'unavailable'.

The GGR Notice of Race is very clear, but some do not appear to understand how the GGR skippers operate and what the rules actually mean. GGR is confident that no entrants have received weather routing, which is forbidden, nor LAT/LONG positions of their own and other yachts. To stop any further confusion, the French GGR Ham network has stopped broadcasting any weather information to J-L VDH and Mark Slats, and now transmit relevant information including forecasts only to Uku Randmaa, Istvan Kopar and Tapio Lehtinen who all hold valid Ham Radio licences."

Full interview with Don McIntyre

Back to the Race

For the moment, Istvan Kopar's charge up the South Atlantic to challenge Uku Randmaa for third has run out of steam. The American/Hungarian lost some time repairing his self-steering and is now caught in calms while Randmaa is making most of the SE trade winds, and holds a 580 mile cushion

5th placed Tapio Lehtinen is making most of the Southern Ocean weather systems and is looking to round Cape Horn in two weeks time. The Finn celebrated his 61st birthday last Friday enjoying 45knot north-westerly blast and can expect two more gales at least before rounding the Cape. He is also holding his own in the virtual race against the passage time set by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 50 years ago and should round the Horn ahead.

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