Van Den Heede wins Golden Globe: here’s why it took 100 days less than 1968


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Jean Luc Van Den Heede, with his Rustler 36 Matmut, won the Golden Globe (the vintage world tour with pre-1988 boats and no electronic instruments) taking just under 212 days to cover the nearly 30,000-mile route, 101 days less than it took Sir Robin Knox Johnston in 1968. He will be followed in second place on the same boat by the Dutchman Mark Slats arriving in the next few hours, but momentarily stopped by a penalty from the race direction on which we will devote a specific report shortly.

A feat from a seafaring standpoint of absolute prominence for the nearly 74-year-old Frenchman, including a final gale phase in Biscay, who led the round-the-world race with a balanced mix of sailor’s art and racer’s spirit, not hesitating to “attack” when necessary and making a vacuum behind him after the withdrawal of Philippe Péché, the former leader who had remained in the lead throughout the Atlantic descent then withdrawing due to windward-leeward problems in Cape Town.

The reasons for this 100-day gap with Johnston’s benchmark, and with the 68 fleet in general, are various, beginning of course with a boat, the Rustler 36, of a radically more modern design than Knox Johnston’s Bermudian ketch Suhaili. Jean Luc Van Den Heede’s profile as a sailor is more of a racer than that of the 1968 participants, but also compared to those in this edition, and we will explain why in the focus below devoted to his biography and sailing resume. In general, VDH had an approach to the regatta that seemed more professional, and also helping him is a solid sponsor such as Matmut, a French insurance giant, a crucial help in being able to have a focused and well-timed preparation for the regatta. This is to emphasize that such an undertaking is unlikely to be tackled with low budgets.

Then there is the topic of controversy concerning “home aid” via HAM radio: the winner moved to the edge of the rules, at times appearing to go even further, but the race management absolved him by virtue of a broad and sometimes changing interpretation of the rules. The weather forecasts today are enormously more accurate, and Van Den Heede has been able to receive constant daily assistance via SSB and HAM radio, technologies that have obviously become more effective than in 1968. Then of course there is the big issue of the Internet, which did not exist in ’68. As we told you HERE., Van Den Heede when he was unable to use the sextant, which is required by regulation for geographic orientation, resorted directly totracking information that reported to him even several times a day from the radio amateurs with whom he was in contact. Legitimate or not, all of these elements built up the 100-day difference from the 1968 baseline, a difference that would have been even significantly larger if VDH had been able to push his Rustler to 100 percent, which for nearly half the round-the-world trip he could not do because of the mast damage caused by the near-hike he suffered in the Pacific Ocean. For much of the race VDH led his boat at least 20 percent, if not more, below its potential, which made the race finish significantly less predictable than expected and his feat even more eoric.

Going around the world is not a piece of cake, and you need to know what you are going to face. Jean-Lux Van den Heede knew this, and most importantly he knew how to deal with it. His secret? Experience: on the “rump” has two Mini Transats that finished second (1977 and 1979) and two Vendée Globe (solo round-the-world race that today is run on IMOCA 60s) experienced as an absolute protagonist, third in 1989/90 and second in 1992/93. Then, lots of podiums and placings in the transoceanic classics: Route du Rhum, Jacques Vabre, BOC Challenge. But not only that.

The Adrien, with which VdH set the record for going around the world “against the grain”

The Frenchman, born in 1945 in Amiens, still holds the record for circumnavigating the globe “against the grain” on a monohull, an extremely tough 21,760-mile challenge from east to west against prevailing winds and currents. Jean-Luc Van den Heede, took 122 days, 14 hours, 3 minutes and 49 seconds between 2003 and 2004 on his sturdy Adrien, 26-meter aluminum cutter. Also, still aboard the Adrien the following year, 2005, he set the record (also unbeaten) for circumnavigation of Great Britain and Ireland (7 days, 8 hours and 47 minutes). Not just peanuts.

Returning to the Golden Globe, last Oct. 7 he arrived at the “drop-point” in Hobart, Tasmania, where skippers can leave video footage they shot and letters for the family: he stood at anchor for three hours talking to reporters, then checked the condition of the mast and rigging. Finally he went below deck to take a nap but after 15 minutes he was already up: “Weather conditions too calm to sleep!”


Length 10.77 m

Width 3.35 m

Dive 1.67 m

Ballast 3,456 kg

Displacement 7,623 kg




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