We publish the beautiful report from Les Sables d’Olonne, where Jean-Luc Van den Heede finished, winning it big (let’s leave aside for a moment the controversial “audioleaks”), his Golden Globe (nonstop solo round-the-world trip, instruments, on long keel boats built before 1988) by our correspondent Francesca Goi.
FROM LES SABLES D’OLONNE
Rendezvous at first light at Port Olona, the marina in Les Sables d’Olonne for the latest updates on the location and preparation of the boats that will go to welcome the Jean Luc Van Den Heede or, as we have become accustomed to calling it, VDH.
The weather is not the best: cold, rain, about 30 knots of wind, strengthening under gusts, waves between 4 and 5 meters (between 7 and 8 Beaufort according to Meteo France). The Gabriel depression is on its way, and winds of up to 120km/h are expected for the afternoon: knowing that VDH will be able to arrive before the storm is a great relief to everyone.
Boats leave the docks. We sail for about thirty minutes, when we finally spot a blue spi in the distance advancing toward Les Sables. We catch up with him, tack and circle around him to escort him “home.”
He is sitting at the helm, not letting his eyes leave his spi, aiming for the finish line and the entrance to the Sables Canal. I am struck by the silence, which amplifies the emotion-I don’t know what I would pay to read his thoughts right now!
As Matmut crosses the finish line the boats chorus with sirens. The entrance into the Sables Canal is the city’s true welcome to its hero: hundreds of people of all ages and school groups of children.
Hugs with the family and a well-deserved crowd bath, then he joins us for the press conference.
The first question is about your impressions of the race:
VDH: “The GGR is different from others I have done before, and especially from the Vendée Globe. Money doesn’t matter here; the boats are old-fashioned. Strong self-confidence is needed, because there are no certainties in this race. Boats are not equipped to overcome depressions, and you have to negotiate with the sea. It is a very long race and it is critical that nothing breaks.”
VDH: “At first I thought about safeguarding the boat, I thought the mast was lost. Then I thought about how I could repair it, what resources I had on board, what kind of intervention was needed. I told myself that it was worth trying to repair it, even though I had no assurance that it would hold. This was no easy feat, especially working on the cotter pins (it is a difficult operation in itself on land, think alone, in the middle of the sea).
Did you ever fear for your safety?
Have you ever been bored?
VDH: “I didn’t have the time. I had some books, about 15, but I didn’t even read them all. The days on board are full. In the morning, after breakfast I had contact with amateur radio operators. Noon was the time to do the position, and this took time. After lunch each day, I was in charge of boat maintenance. The state of the boat has always been a priority and I have always tried to play it forward to solve problems before they arise. In fact, time passed quickly.”
What did you miss the most?
VDH: “My children and my wife. In order to take on such an undertaking, it is essential that those close to you share the project.”
When he returned from the Vendée Globe he said he would not do another round-the-world race, then he left for GGR. Now do you think it will leave again?
VDH: “I didn’t know about this race then. When I found out about it I thought it was a great idea, I was inspired. Now I wouldn’t go for another round-the-world ride….unless someone invents something that can inspire me again…”
The press conference was cut short at this point because the winds of the Gabriel Depression began to blow and the tent reserved for the event was no longer secure. VDH bid us farewell by recalling the words of Sir Robin Knox Johnston (also present today) on his return from the Golden Globe Sunday Times he won in ’69. Sir Knox Johnston said the three things he wished for on the day of his return were a pint, a steak and a bath. VDH shared the choice with him, only in reverse order.