French Golden Globe Race skipper, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is expected to cross the finish line at Les Sables d'Olonne at 0800 UTC on 29 January 2019, while second place Mark Slats announces a diversion to Spain over safety concerns

If everything goes according to plan, French solo sailor, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede will take the Golden Globe Race crown tomorrow (29 January 2019).

The 73-year-old skipper, who was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s favourite to win the race, is less than 100 miles from the finish line at Les Sables d’Olonne in France.

Last night, Van Den Heede had to endure 45 knot winds and 6-7 metre seas in his damaged Rustler 36 Matmut, but the weather has now improved and the former Vendée Globe skipper is expected to finish the race at 0800 UTC tomorrow morning.

Jean Luc Van Den Heede sailing Matmut, hisRustler 36

Crowds are already gathering in Les Sables d’Olonne awaiting for Jean-Luc Van Den Heede to cross the finish line and be crowned the winner of the Golden Globe Race. Credit: PPL/GGR

The Frenchman has led the race since August 2018, although he has been forced to sail more conservatively after Matmut pitchpoled in the Southern Ocean, resulting in damage to the connecting bolt attachment to the mast that holds all four lower shrouds.

This led to slackened rigging and Van Den Heede fashioned repairs in order to continue in the Golden Globe Race.

Meanwhile in a shock move second placed Dutch skipper Marks Slats, has decided to divert to A Coruña in Spain. He is also facing a time penalty for a breach of satellite communication rules, and direct outside assistance from his Dutch team manager Dick Koopmans.

Golden Globe Race organisers had predicted he would arrive in Les Sables d’Olonne on Thursday, but Slats and his shore team have clashed with Golden Globe Race chairman Don McIntyre.

They claim that McIntyre “gave Mark the advice, earlier that day, to sail with his boat, Ohpen Maverick, in to the Bay of Biscay”, where a north westerly storm is forecast.

Mark Slats raises his arms as his rounds the first mark at Lanzarote during the Golden Globe Race

Mark Slats is now facing a time penalty. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

This is strenuously refuted by McIntyre and Golden Globe Race HQ, who stressed that they have only given a weather warning to Slats.

In a media release, the shore team said:

“Mark Slats, currently number two in the Golden Globe Race, has decided Monday January 28 in the afternoon to contact his shoremanager Dick Koopmans. Mark experienced different insights about the concept of ‘safe sailing’ and decided to discuss with his manager about the best choice for the coming days is. Together they have decided that Mark is now heading for A Coruña Spain to take shelter and continue his journey at a later date.

“Monday morning January 28, the weather forecasts for the last part of the Golden Globe Race looked very bad for Mark Slats. The predictions showed huge storms and also huge waves. Don McIntyre, race organizer of the Golden Globe Race,  The Golden Globe Race has been asked to move the finish further offshore or even to move to Brest (France) or Falmouth (UK). This request was simply rejected.

“Slats currently sails for 211 days in the Golden Globe Race. A historic sailing race solo non-stop around the world without outside assistance and without the use of modern communication and navigation equipment.

“There were 18 entrants at the start, only 5 are still in the race. Slats survived an enormous storm in the Southern Indian Ocean where two participants, who were close by lost their mast and both had to be evacuated from their ship. One of them, Abhilash Tomy broke a number of vertebrae to which he had to undergo surgery. Tomy is still working on his rehabilitation.

“Slats also had to contend with extreme periods of no wind before he could sail to Tasmania Australia. In a radio interview, Slats indicated that the periods of windcalms felt worse than when he had to deal with a storm of 50-60 knots of wind.

“Slats has trailed the number 1 in the race, the French sailing veteran Jean-Luc van den Heede from Les Sables d’Olonne France, he decreased the distance from 2000 miles to the moment of writing only another 400 miles.

“If Slats were to follow the advice of the Golden Globe Race, he would be expected to arrive at the port of Les Sables d’Olonne around 17:00 on Thursday afternoon. About 30 miles off the coast, the water is only 6 meters deep.

“When Slats has to deal with waves of 6-9 meters high from behind, this can lead to very dangerous situations in combination with the shallows. When Slats arrives at the port of Les Sables d’Olonne is not yet known,” concluded the statement.

Mark Slats wearing a hat

Mark Slats is heading toA Coruña in Spain. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

Golden Globe Race HQ issued the following statement a few hours later:

“Second placed Golden Globe Race skipper Mark Slats tonight is facing a time penalty for a breach of satellite communication rules, and direct outside assistance from his Dutch team manager Dick Koopmans.

“Slats is facing a dilemma: To run ahead of an approaching north-westerly storm and hope to reach the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on Thursday evening before it strikes the Vendee coast – a lee shore; lie hove-to outside the Bay of Biscay until the storm has passed, or seek a refuge, which is allowed under the race rules, provided he does not step ashore or communicate with the outside world other than via VHF or HF radio.

“At 10:30, Race HQ received a communication from Dick Koopmans, Mark Slats’ team manager, asking for the Race finish line to be moved 50 miles offshore. This was denied.

“11:59, Race HQ responded to Koopmans saying that Race Chairman Don McIntyre had sent a weather warning to Slats and that Mark and subsequently called via his safety sat phone to discuss the weather scenario. Slats advised that he was receiving weather forecasts onboard and was aware of the approaching storm. The email advised Koopmans that Slats was not slowing down and continuing towards the finish line. It added. “But if you want a message passed on the weather, we are happy to do that. Just email here.”

“12:21 Koopmans replied by e.mail saying that “I spoke to Geerit Hiemsta, one of our leading meteorologists in Holland…In his opinion it is completely unsafe to sail into the Bay of Biscay. He suggests to stay outside and finish in La Coruna or Brest, but not in Les Sables d’Olonne. This is also the (unofficial) opinion of the Dutch Coastguard and Falmouth Coastguard.
I am very unhappy with your advice and consider to call Mark on his Iridium phone, whatever the consequences may be.”

“13:16, Race Chairman Don McIntyre responded: “Just a reminder, we never give directives to entrants. We give opinions and the final choice is up to entrants. Mark is receiving weather reports on his radio….
I would strongly suggest that you do NOT call Mark. I have offered to message him any advice you wish to send him in relation to safety avoiding the storm. I am awaiting for that advice. All decisions are the responsibility of the skipper. …I am now officially asking you for your advice on the safest route for him to take if you wish to be involved with efforts to send him to the safest place. I will then pass him that from you.”

“13:28: message from GGR HQ to Mark. “Dick advice: head to la Corunna or Brest to miss the storm.”

“13:33 Email from Koopmans to GGR: ”Ignoring authorities like Coastguard and top meteorologist. I do not trust the Race Committee on their knowledge in the situation. I think safety is now more important than rules.
I will send Mark messages to his Iridium phones from now on.
Advice from Mr Hiemstra – ‘Have a helicopter ready’

“13:34. Email from Koopmans to GGR: Do not speak to Mark in my name.”

“13:38 Race HQ to Koopmans: “Mark will be penalised for breech of rules. We have NOT been directed by any authority and if you look at your emails, we are awaiting your advice on where to send him. Your actions and comments DO NOT relate in the best interests of Mark’s race and we are both working towards Mark’s Safety. PLEASE place your message through GGR. If you need clarification, please ring. WE ARE STILL WAITING YOUR ADVICE.

“13:46: Email from Koopmans to Race HQ: “Safety is more important than penalties. You can read all the messages later and decide on penalties.”

“Koopmans ignored RACE HQ advise and messaged Slats directly – a direct breech of the Notice of Race.

“16: 00 (approx.): Mark phoned Race HQ to discuss the weather and asked permission to call Koopmans for advice, and asked for Koopman’s phone number. GGR agreed as Koopmans would not give GGR the safety information. At subsequent meeting of the Race Committee, it was decided not to provide the number since a call to Koopmans constituted outside assistance and a further breech of the Notice of Race.

“16:12: Mark called Race HQ to say that he had altered course to La Corunna and confirmed that Koopmans had contacted him directly. Slats was advised that he now faced a time penalty.

“The Race Committee will meet tomorrow to access the evidence and any time penalty will have to be served at sea before the finish.

“In a statement tonight, Don McIntyre said: “There are two issues here. One is safety and we all work in the best interests of Mark Slats. The second is process under the Notice of Race. GGR continues to offer safety weather advice to all competitors. Unfortunately, Slats’ team manager decided not to abide by the Notice of Race,” concluded the statement.

Tapio Lehtinen is still 850 miles from Cape Horn. Credit: GGR/PPL

Meanwhile, third place Estonian sailor, Uku Randmaa is 500 miles south of the Equator and is about to enter the frustrating Doldrums, while fourth placed Istvan Kopar is continuing to enjoy the south-east tradewinds.

This will allow the American/Hungarian skipper to close the gap between him and Randmaa.

Continues below…

Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen is still in the Southern Ocean sailing at 4.4 knots some 850 miles from Cape Horn.

There is plenty of strong Southern Ocean weather blowing at 45knots+ but his Gaia 36 Astreria is covered in barnacles which is slowing her progress.

Latest positions at 15:00 UTC 28 January 2019

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 Istvan Kopar (USA) Tradewind 35 Puffin
5 Tapio Lehtinen (FIN) Gaia 36 Asteria

Chichester Class (No time limit)

Igor Zaretskiy (RUS) Endurance 35 Esmeralda (plans to restart from Australia in October 2019)


Ertan Beskardes (GBR) Rustler 36 Lazy Otter
Kevin Farebrother (AUS) Tradewind 35 Sagarmatha
Nabil Amra (PAL) Biscay 36 Liberty II
Philippe Péché (FRA) Rustler 36 PRB
Antoine Cousot (FRA) Biscay 36 Métier Intérim
Are Wiig (NOR) OE32 Olleanna
Abhilash Tomy (IND) Suhaili replica Thuriya
Gregor McGuckin (IRE) Biscay 36 Hanley Energy Endurance
Francesco Cappelletti (ITA) Endurance 35 007
Loïc Lepage (FRA) Nicholson 32 Laaland
Susie Goodall (GBR) Rustler 36 DHL Starlight
Mark Sinclair (AUS) Lello 34 Coconut