2018 GGR / JEAN-LUC VAN DEN HEEDE OF FRANCE WINS

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede (This photo has been downloaded from the Facebook page of the French skipper and is being used here for representation purpose only. No copyright infringement intended.)

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede of France has won the 2018 Golden Globe Race (GGR) entailing solo nonstop circumnavigation of the planet in a sailboat.

According to news reports on January 29, 2019, the 73 year-old who spent close to 212 days (211 days, 23 hours, 12 minutes and 19 seconds to be exact) alone at sea in his boat – Matmut, was welcomed back at Les Sables d’Olonne in western France by Sir Robin  Knox-Johnston, the winner and sole finisher of the original 1968 edition of the race. Besides winning 2018 GGR, Van Den Heede is also now the oldest sailor to complete solo nonstop circumnavigation, reports said.

The French skipper had built up a formidable lead in the race since August 2018. However following a storm in the Pacific Ocean with damage to his mast, he had been forced to sail more cautiously, a move that affected his speed.  At one point he reportedly thought of halting in Chile for repairs, which would have taken him out of the main race and shifted him to the Chichester class reserved for those making one stop. But he avoided doing so, electing instead to continue the voyage with adjustments to his rigging. Later he also served a time penalty at sea for improper use of his satellite phone.

These developments allowed second placed Mark Slats of the Netherlands to gain on him narrowing the gap between their two boats – both Rustler 36 yachts – considerably.

News reports indicate that it may now be the turn of Slats to serve out a time penalty after his expedition manager contacted him directly about an approaching storm in the Atlantic. Such direct contact is not permitted under race regulations. As of late evening January 29 in India, the live tracker available on the GGR website showed Slats close to the Spanish coast and approximately 358 nautical miles away from the finish line in France.

Estonian skipper Uku Randmaa is in third position in the race while Istvan Kopar of USA is running fourth. Tapio Lehtinan of Finland is in fifth place. There is considerable distance between Slats and Randmaa; at the time of writing, the latter was 3520 nautical miles from the finish line on the French coast.

Matmut and her skipper (This photo was downloaded from the Facebook page of GGR. No copyright infringement intended.)

The 2018 GGR commenced from Les Sables d’Olonne on July 1, last year. The race was unique for pegging technology levels aboard participating boats at the same level as that prevailed in 1968. It was widely perceived as a return to purity in sailing. Of 18 skippers who commenced the race, only five remain in the main race at present. The rest have either retired from the race or shifted to the Chichester class.

Well known Indian skipper Commander Abhilash Tomy KC was among participants in the 2018 GGR. However he had to retire from the race following a severe storm in the southern Indian Ocean that dismasted his sailboat, the Thuriya, and left him injured. He was later rescued and upon return to India underwent surgery for the back injury. At the time of storm and accident, Abhilash was placed fourth in the race.

Update: News reports said that Mark Slats completed his solo non-stop circumnavigation on January 31, 2019 to finish second in 2018 GGR. He spent 214 days alone at sea. However a 36 hour-penalty incurred for direct communication with his team manager will have to be additionally factored in, bringing the total number of days to 216, the reports said. According to it, among those who received him at Les Sables d’Olonne was Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, the winner of 2018 GGR.

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai.)