At 09.00 (GMT) on Tuesday, French sailor Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, 73, aboard the Matmut, – a small sailboat of less than 11 meters -, crossed in the rain the finish line of Les Sables d'Olonne, on the French Atlantic coast, after 211 days, 23 hours and 12 minutes of solo sailing, without stops, no assistance.
Hundreds of boats went out to escort the experienced sailor on his arrival. On board one of these was the British Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, winner 50 years ago of the first edition of the legendary regatta. The Frenchman declared at his arrival at the dock "to be very happy to have been able to finish" an adventure in which he has traveled more than 30,000 nautical miles (55,000 kilometers) for seven months.
The legendary regatta consists of circumnavigating the globe by folding the three great capes: that of Good Hope, in Africa; Leeuwin's, in Australia; and the fearsome Cape Horn, in South America. On July 1, 2018, a total of 17 boats took part in the start, five are still in competition. The second classified, more than 300 miles from the finish line, is the Dutch Mark Slats, aboard the Ohpen Maverick, that had to take refuge on Tuesday in A Coruña (Spain) for a strong storm.
Van Den Heede, a former math teacher and solo ocean sailing enthusiast, had circumnavigated the planet five times, but never managed to win a race. He finished second in the BOC Challenge Around Alone in 1986, third in the Vendée Globe Race in 1990, second in the Vendée Globe in 1993 and third in the BOC Challenge Around Alone in 1995. Since 2014, he has the record of the round the world in solitary in the opposite direction (from East to West). In fact, no ship has managed to reduce the 122 days used by French to date.
"Finding the true roots of navigation 50 years ago, that's what excited me in this race," said the septuagenarian, who has completed his sixth round the world.
The Frenchman has led the solo test for more than 27,000 miles. Van den Heede, who took over the fleet as soon as he rounded the Cape of Good Hope, on August 23, increased his advantage over his pursuers in the Indian Ocean.
However, at the beginning of November, his ship suffered significant damage to the mast after overturning during a severe storm in the Pacific Ocean. With the rig seriously damaged he informed the organization that he would head for Chile, although he finally decided to make the necessary repairs on the high seas and continue sailing conservatively, doubling Cape Horn in first position on November 23, 2018.
On the climb across the Atlantic, the Matmut he was forced to slow down every time the wind increased, and he had to comply with an 18-hour ban due to the improper use of the satellite phone to contact his wife after the incident in the Pacific. Thus, the second classified, the Dutch Mark Slats had the opportunity to reduce the distance between the two, which on January 15, was minimal, only 50 miles.
In the last miles, Van Den Heede, had to face a new test with a storm in the Bay of Biscay, with winds of 45-55 knots northwest and waves of 9 to 10 meters. But as the race director, Don McIntyre, said: "Jean-Luc is a great sailor with a vast experience and knows what is coming. The Bay of Biscay is your backyard. " The 73-year-old French sailor, already tired as he himself acknowledged, could get away with the last pulse that threw the ocean and arrive this morning at Les Sables d'Olonne.