"I am very happy to have been able to finish", were the first words of the veteran French sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede, 73, just tied his boat on the jetty after seven months without stepping on solid ground.
On January 29, aboard his Rustler 36 Matmut –a small but sturdy sailboat of less than 11 meters – the experienced skipper proclaimed himself the winner of The Golden Globe Race 2018 after crossing under the rain the finish line of Les Sables d'Olonne, on the French Atlantic coast, after 211 days, 23 hours and 12 minutes of competition. Van den Heede became the last French legend of solo ocean sailing.
Like the navigators of another era, the participants in this second edition of the regatta had to use the sextant to obtain their position at sea and trace the course to the finish line. Without GPS, or autopilot, they did not have on board any electronic instrument with which to benefit from the navigational assistance available today.
During the regatta, a mixture of competition and adventure, with a route of more than 30,000 nautical miles (55,000 kilometers), the old ex-teacher of mathematics gave a lesson in navigation, endurance and expertise. With a pragmatic vision and a Spartan and uncomfortable boat, but very sailor, it has resisted on the high seas facing the hardness of the oceans. His reading of the weather, his knowledge and use of the currents and his competence as a sailor has marked the difference with respect to the rest of the participants. Of the 17 sailors who took part in the start, on July 1, only two have reached the finish line: Van den Heede and the second classified, the Dutchman Mark Slats, who aboard the Ohpen Maverick It crossed the finish line on January 31. Three other sailors are still in competition: Uku Randmaa, One and All; Istvan Kopar,Puffin 7, and Tapio Lehtinen,Asteria
An impressive list of achievements
Jean-Luc van den Heede was born on June 8, 1945 in Amiens (north of France), far from the sea. As a child, he spent hours in the back garden of his house, with a boat made out of a wooden box, the stick of a mast broom and an old sheet as the only sail. He started sailing at age 17 inspired by the stories he read from the pioneers Slocum, Moitessier, Gerbault, Tabarly or Vito Dumas.
In the Breton port city of Lorient, he worked as a mathematics teacher until he left teaching to become a full-time sailing professional in 1989. VDH, as he is known on the pontoons, has an impressive track record: this was his Sixth round the world sailing solo, after having doubled Cape Horn on a dozen occasions. In the previous five he had 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 2004, it has the record of the world tour alone in the "wrong" direction (from East to West), sailing against the direction of the prevailing currents and winds. In fact, no ship has managed to reduce the 122 days used by the French to date. With his victory in the Golden Globe, the Frenchman has another record: to be the oldest navigator to finish a regatta around the world on his own. The previous one was held by the British sir Robin Knox-Johnston -winner of the first edition of this same regatta in 1969-, and that in 2006-2007 won the Velux 5 Oceans, with 68 years.
From his latest adventure, Van den Heede has returned triumphant to Les Sables d'Olonne, the small French town where the sailors return turned into heroes. With him also his three doudou -Soft soft toys that babies usually use in the form of a small blanket (of attachment) – one of which has accompanied him in all his rounds to the world. On the card table, a rusty alarm clock from the seventies, a barometer, some nautical charts full of notes and a folded notebook of astronomical calculations.
Asked about his plans for the next edition of 2022, he replied: "I will not do it again because I'm too old, I have nothing to gain; once is enough. " And together with his rock band Globalement Vôtre and his friends, Van den Heede went to celebrate his first victory in a round the world solo.