French Golden Globe skipper, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is predicting he will finish the race by the first week of February

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is the first Golden Globe Race skipper to pass through the compulsory gate at Hobart, and has now pointed his bow towards Cape Horn.

The 73-year-old French skipper has a 1,600 mile lead over his nearest rival, Mark Slats, who is expected to arrive in around 8 days time.

Van Den Heede’s Rustler 36, Matmut remained at anchor on Friday (5 October) for 3.5 hours, and he made the most of the calm conditions to check his mast and rigging.

‘The boat is good, the self steering works well and I have only minor problems like a leaking window to deal with,’ he told the waiting media.

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede wearing a hat on board his boat

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede predicts he will be back in France by the first week of February 2019. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

The Vendée Globe veteran said be was happy with his Rustler 36, and believed preparation, his self steering gear and his shorter mast were some of the reasons why he was leading the race.

‘Downwind is going quote well. I think the self-steering is one of the keys of the success, but not the only one. Preparation is another key to success and I think I was well prepared. I changed little things on the boat. I am very happy to have a mast shorter than the others. I was not so happy in the Atlantic where there was no wind but as soon as I past the Canaries we had good winds and I catch Mark Slats quickly and catch Philippe [Philippe Péché] quickly and I think my boat with strong winds was going better than others,’ noted Van Den Heede, who is reading and sleeping to relax during the race.

The Golden Globe Race marks the Frenchman’s sixth circumnavigation around the world.

The event is designed to take the competitors back to the ‘golden age’ of sailing. Apart from a few exceptions due to safety reasons, the entrants can only carry the same or similar equipment that was used by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the original 1968-69 race.

Van Den Heede said being able to use ham radio meant isolation wasn’t an issue.

‘The only problem is communication with my family but my children are big and old and have seen me racing like that during years and years. I hope they are not anxious,’ he added.

The French skipper also said there was plenty to keep him busy aboard.

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‘You have also weather to check twice a day, astronomy navigation with the sextant; that takes a lot of time. I am surprised to see the day going on and going on and it is like that. I do not have the time to read all the books I took with me,’ he said.

Van Den Heede now has the South Pacific Ocean and rounding Cape Horn ahead of him.

He is predicting that he will complete his solo circumnavigation during the first week of February, within 210 days.

Out of the 17 skippers who crossed the start line of the 2018 Golden Globe Race on 1 July, just eight are left in the main race, including British skipper Susie Goodall.

Latest positions at 10:00 UTC 08 October 2018

1 Jean- Luc VDH (FRA) Rustler 36 Matmut
2 Mark Slats (NED) Rustler 36 Ohpen Maverick
3 Uku Randmaa (EST) Rustler 36 One and All
4 Susie Goodall GBR) Rustler 36 DHL Starlight
5 Tapio Lehtinen (FIN) Gaia 36 Asteria
6 Istvan Kopar (USA) Tradewind 35 Puffin
7 Igor Zaretskiy (RUS) Endurance 35 Esmeralda
8 Mark Sinclair (Aus) Lello 34 Coconut