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Jean-Luc Van Den Heede wins the Golden Globe Race 2018

by David Schmidt 29 Jan 2019 12:00 PST January 29, 2019
Onboard Jean-Luc Van Den Heede's French Rustler 36 yacht MATMUT during the 2018 Golden Globe solo non-stop round the world race. © Jean-Luc Van Den Heede / PPL / GGR

The Golden Globe Race 2018 has been a race unlike any other, from the intentional lack of technology, communications, and weather routing, to the prerequisite requirement that all contestants sail in era-specific vessels, all in an effort to recreate the difficulties of the original Golden Globe Race of 1968/1969, which was the first singlehanded around-the-world race. Now, after some 28,170 nautical miles, France's Jean-Luc Van Den Heede (73) has crossed the finishing line off of Les Sables-d'Olonne, France, aboard Matmut, his Rustler 36 masthead sloop, with an elapsed time of 212 days and five hours (and zero minutes and zero seconds) to win this impressive contest of gumption, seamanship and perseverance.

At the time of this writing, Dutchman Mark Slates (41), sailing aboard The Ohpen Maverick, which is also a Rustler 36, is sitting in second place and has 350 nautical miles to go until he crosses the finishing line. However, in the race's closing hours, Slats was found to be in violation of the race's sat-comms and outside-assistance rules and, as a result, may need to serve penalty time at sea before he can complete his around-the-world quest.

While both Van Den Heede and Slats shaved weeks off the time set by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, sailing aboard his famous Suhaili in 1969 (N.B., "RKJ" began his race on June 14, 1968, and crossed he finishing line to a hero's welcome on April 22, 1969), both dealt with serious adversity en route to completing one of the biggest seamanship contests of all time.

On November 1, 2018, while sailing some 1,500 nautical miles west of Cape Horn, Van Den Heede suffered a nearly race-ending pitchpole capsize that damaged his rig and almost forced him to abandon his dreams. But the highly experienced Frenchman instead dug deep into his mental and physical reserves, rigged his stick as best he could, and simply kept sailing, cracking off as needed to keep rig loads low while also keeping his VMG as high as his full-keeled Rustler 36 would allow.

Impressively, this rig is still standing today, despite a final few hundred miles of sailing that included 45-knot winds and 20-23 foot seas.

For his part, Slats exhausted his supply of potable water weeks ago, forcing the 41-year-old to spend precious time desalinating water rather than focusing on sail trim.

Despite this, Slats whittled Van Den Heede's once mind-boggling 2,000 nautical-mile lead down to just 56 miles, however that's when Van Den Heede's master class in light air sailing began.

Odds are good it's one that Slats - and your humble editor - will never forget.

As impressive as both sailors' seamanship and dedication to their goals have been to watch, the statistic that (for me at least) really helps to bring the scale of this achievement into focus is the attrition rate: of the eighteen boats that were on the starting line in Les Sables-d'Olonne, only five are still competing today (again, as of this writing). To help put this into perspective, that's an attrition rate of 72.22%, or a success rate of just 27.78%, depending on how one wants to look at the glass' water level.

Not even the Vendee Globe, which is widely regarded as the true pinnacle of offshore sailing, reports bleed-through rates this eye-watering.

www.Sail-World.com extends our biggest congratulations to Van Den Heede and Slats, both of whom sailed truly impressive races and both of whom deserve hero's welcomes back home. Additionally, we also raise our glasses to the 72.22% of GGR 2018 starting skippers who had the audacity to dream big and the courage and conviction to leave the safety of their metaphoric harbors. Sure, the boatspeeds were slow, but race founder and chairman Don McIntyre clearly tapped into a rich vein of adventurism with this concept, which we hope will become a tradition.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the same circumnavigation coin is the desire to set the all-out speed record for the fastest fully-crewed circumnavigation. The Jules Verne Trophy recognizes the fastest "lap" of the planet, starting and ending at an imaginary line that spans between the Créac'h lighthouse on Ushant Island, France, and the Lizard Lighthouse in Cornwall, England. The contest has become the province of 100-plus-foot "Ultime" trimarans, such as skipper Yann Guichard's (FRA) 131-foot, state-of-the-art maxi trimaran Spindrift 2, which is currently attempting to break the record for the fastest circumnavigation.

As of this writing, Spindrift 2 is 356.4 nautical miles ahead of the reference time of 40 days, 23 hours, 30 minutes and 30 seconds set by skipper François Joyon (FRA), sailing aboard his 105-foot trimaran IDEC Sport, in 2017 and has also set a new unratified record passage to the equator (besting their own standing record). But, with 15,144.6 nautical miles still separating Spindrift 2's bow (again, at the time of this writing) from a possible new record, there's still a lot of room for the unexpected to unfurl - just ask Van Den Heede or Slats.

Finally, this week also marks start of the 2019 Hempel World Cup Series Miami (AKA the Miami OCR; January 27-February 3), which is the first major Olympic-class regatta of the year and an important test for teams and athletes ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (July 24-August 9, 2020), which is fast filling the windshield for competing athletes.

While the USA has not enjoyed a respectable Olympic showing since the Beijing 2008 Olympics, when we took home a proud gold medal in the Laser Radial (Anna Tunnicliffe) and a silver in the Finn (Zach Railey), the fact that we have many strong teams racing in Miami this week is good news for U.S. Olympic sailing interests.

For example, perennial Men's 470 favorites Stu McNay and David Hughes will be experiencing pressure from four other Men's 470 teams, while Finn favorite Caleb Paine (who won a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics in this class) will need to fend off leaderboard advances from three other comers. American interests will also be represented by five 49er teams, eleven Laser competitors, and three RS:X sailors.

On the women's side, the USA has fielded five 470 teams, three 49er FX teams, and three RS:X sailors. In the Laser Radial class, perennial favorite Paige Railey will see her dominance challenged by eight other skippers, but perhaps most acutely from Erika Reineke.

And in the mixed-sex Nacra 17, eight teams will represent U.S. interests.

www.Sail-World.com wishes all sailors competing in the 2019 Hempel World Cup Series Miami good luck this week as the starting guns begin sounding.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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