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Veteran Van den Heede On Line for Tuesday Morning Golden Globe Race Victory

28th January 2019
Jean-Luc van den Heede: the veteran skipper has kept his cool - and his lead. He is expected to finish the 30,000 mile Golden Jubilee Race non-stop round the world tomorrow morning (Tuesday) at Les Sables-d’Olonne Jean-Luc van den Heede: the veteran skipper has kept his cool - and his lead. He is expected to finish the 30,000 mile Golden Jubilee Race non-stop round the world tomorrow morning (Tuesday) at Les Sables-d’Olonne

France’s stellar senior sailor Jean-Luc van den Heede (73) is such an experienced long-distance racer that the last thing he’d welcome is a premature celebration of his expected victory in the Golden Jubilee Golden Globe Race tomorrow morning writes W M Nixon. But in Les Sables-d’Olonne, the tension and excitement of anticipation is building as he brings his retro Rustler 36 Matmut (the “Little Snail” as he calls her) gingerly into the final hundred miles to the finish, knowing both that his rig is suspect after a pitchpole and emergency repairs in the Southern Ocean, and that by tomorrow afternoon another series of ferocious gales will be sweeping into the Bay of Biscay.

During the past week his patience and skill has been sorely tried, as Matmut has been held back by calms – in one eminently forgettable 24 hour period, he did less than 50 miles – and then yesterday he and his little boat were battered by an exceptionally vicious if brief nor’west storm, which he had to run before in order to minimise stresses on mast and rigging.

But by noon today he had safely crossed the Continental shelf without the locally disturbed waters causing too much trouble, and in effect - particularly for someone who has traversed all the world’s oceans – he is now experiencing coastal sailing, with the northwest wind in theory giving him a beam reach. But the airflow is unstable in the extreme, and constant vigilance is essential if the show is going to be brought to a successful conclusion.

Despite the difficult and uneven sailing, van den Heede has managed to maintain a lead of more than 300 miles over second-placed Mark Slats of The Netherlands in another Rustler 36, after increasing the gap in some keen strategic sailing around the Azores. In terms of time, this lead may be increased by tomorrow's approaching storm, for when the intense low at the heart of it goes driving on through into central France, there’s a possibility that Slats may find himself struggling with headwinds in order to reach the finish.

But for now, all eyes are on the Little Snail and her gallant skipper. He started from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1st with the rest of what was then a fleet, but is now a much-depleted flotilla. However, not all would have reckoned that the first boat would be within sight of the finish before the end of January. After all, fifty years ago, when Robin Knox-Johnston was pioneering the route in Suhaili, at this time stage he had still to round Cape Horn. Matmut may be light years ahead of Suhaili in terms of design development despite her retro pedigree, but there’s no escaping the fact that van den Heede is also a remarkable force in racing terms.

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WM Nixon

About The Author

WM Nixon

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William M Nixon has been writing about sailing in Ireland for many years in print and online, and his work has appeared internationally in magazines and books. His own experience ranges from club sailing to international offshore events, and he has cruised extensively under sail, often in his own boats which have ranged in size from an 11ft dinghy to a 35ft cruiser-racer. He has also been involved in the administration of several sailing organisations.

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About the Golden Globe Race

The Golden Globe Race is the original round the world yacht race. In 1968, while man was preparing to take his first steps on the moon, a mild mannered and modest young man was setting out on his own record breaking voyage of discovery. Off shore yacht racing changed forever with adventurers and sailors, inspired by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, following in his pioneering wake. Nine men started the first solo non-stop sailing race around the World. Only one finished. History was made. Navigating with a sextant, paper charts and an accurate and reliable time piece, Sir Robin navigated around the world. In 2018, to celebrate 50 years since that first record breaking achievement, the Golden Globe Race was resurrected. It instantly caught the attention of the worlds media as well as adventures, captivated by the spirit and opportunity. The original race is back.

The Golden Globe Race: Stepping back to the golden age of solo sailing

Like the original Sunday Times event back in 1968/9, the 2018 Golden Globe Race was very simple. Depart Les Sables d'Olonne, France on July 1st 2018 and sail solo, non-stop around the world, via the five Great Capes and return to Les Sables d'Olonne. Entrants are limited to use the same type of yachts and equipment that were available to Robin Knox-Johnston in that first race. That means sailing without modern technology or benefit of satellite-based navigation aids.

Competitors must sail in production boats between 32ft and 36ft overall (9.75 10.97m) designed prior to 1988 and having a full-length keel with rudder attached to their trailing edge. These yachts will be heavily built, strong and steady, similar in concept to Robin's 32ft vessel Suhaili.

In contrast to the current professional world of elite ocean racing, this edition travels back to a time known as the 'Golden Age' of solo sailing. Suhaili was a slow and steady 32ft double-ended ketch based on a William Atkins ERIC design. She is heavily built of teak and carried no computers, GPS, satellite phone nor water-maker, and Robin completed the challenge without the aid of modern-day shore-based weather routing advice. He had only a wind-up chronometer and a barograph to face the world alone, and caught rainwater to survive, but was at one with the ocean, able to contemplate and absorb all that this epic voyage had to offer.

This anniversary edition of the Golden Globe Race is a celebration of the original event, the winner, his boat and that significant world-first achievement. Competitors in this race will be sailing simple boats using basic equipment to guarantee a satisfying and personal experience. The challenge is pure and very raw, placing the adventure ahead of winning at all costs. It is for 'those who dare', just as it was for Knox-Johnston.

They will be navigating with sextant on paper charts, without electronic instruments or autopilots. They will hand-write their logs and determine the weather for themselves.

Only occasionally will they talk to loved ones and the outside world when long-range high frequency and ham radios allow.

It is now possible to race a monohull solo around the world in under 80 days, but sailors entered in this race will spend around 300 days at sea, challenging themselves and each other. The 2018 Golden Globe Race was a fitting tribute to the first edition and it's winner, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston.

Background on Don McIntyre (61) Race Founder

Don is an inveterate sailor and recognised as one of Australia s greatest explorers. Passionate about all forms of adventure and inspiring others, his desire is to recreate the Golden Age of solo sailing. Don finished 2nd in class in the 1990-91 BOC Challenge solo around the world yacht race. In 2010, he led the 4-man Talisker Bounty Boat challenge to re-enact the Mutiny on the Bounty voyage from Tonga to West Timor, in a simil

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