41-year-old Dutch skipper Mark Slats has come second in the Golden Globe Race, crossing the finish line after 214 days alone at sea

Mark Slats has taken second place in the Golden Globe Race, arriving back in Les Sables d’Olonne in France at 22:18 UTC on 31 January 2019.

Despite the lateness of the hour, fans of the 41-year-old turned out to welcome him, along with the race winner, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, who had been Slats’ rival for most of the race.

The 73-year-old Frenchman had led since August 2018, with Slats consistently second and chasing him down.

The Dutchman, who is also a record breaking Atlantic rower, was determined to take a podium position from the start of the race on 1 July 2018.

HIs decision, however, to follow the traditional clipper ship route on a wide sweep round the western side of the South Atlantic in the early part of the race, meant he lost 900 miles to Van Den Heede early on.

This put the Van Den Heede at an advantage and a whole weather system ahead of Slats and the rest of the Golden Globe Race fleet in the Indian Ocean.

Mark Slats holds flares

Mark Slats had previously sailed around the world before taking part in the Golden Globe Race. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

The Frenchman avoided the worst of the storms which battered Slats and other competitors, leading to the dismasting of both Ireland’s Gregor McGuckin and India’s Abhilash Tomy. Both were rescued, putting an end to their Golden Globe Race dreams.

Recalling the 60-70 knots storm, Slats said: ‘We agreed to keep in radio contact every 3 hours. We spoke to each other on the first two scheds. but there was no one there for the third. I learned later from Race HQ that they had both capsized and lost their rigs.’

Slats himself suffered two major knockdowns aboard his Rustler 36, Ohpen Mavrick. During one, he was saved only by his lifeline after being thrown overboard. The line catapulted him back onto the cockpit floor, leaving him with a suspected cracked rib.

‘It was a massive knockdown through 120°, then I suffered another which filled the boat right up to the level of the nav station. That’s when I began to pray – and they were obviously answered because after pumping by hand for an hour, and with two electric pumps working, I managed to get the boat dry,’ recalled Slats.

By the time Slats had got through the Indian Ocean storm, Van Den Heede had a 2,000 miles lead into the Southern Ocean. But then his French rival pitchpoled his Rustler 36, Matmut some 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn, leaving Van Den Heede with a damaged mast which forced him to sail more conservatively for the rest of the race.

Mark Slats wearing a hat

Mark Slats is also a record-breaking Atlantic rower. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

This gave Slats the opportunity to catch Van Den Heede, and by the time he rounded Cape Horn he had gained 500 miles on Van Den Heede.

Slats continued to push and by the time he had reached the Azores, just 50 miles separated Matmut and Ohpen Maverick.

Then came a dispute over the validity of his Ham radio licence. It was found that like Van Den Heede, he had no valid call-sign which resulted in him unable to communicate with his shore team or the amateur radio net. Slats even considered quitting the race at this point.

‘I didn’t get forecasts for 7 days and ran straight into calms,’ Slats commented. Van Den Heede still ‘had a few French friends who kept broadcasting to me.’ so was able to keep his lead.

But, the Dutchman kept pushing, and regained some ground before he suddenly announced on 28 January 2019 that he would divert to to A Coruña in Spain following a conflict between his Dutch team manager Dick Koopmans and Golden Globe Race chairman Don McIntyre.

Mark Slats holding a bottle of champagne

Mark Slats ran out of water 24 hours before crossing the finish line. The champagne was certainly welcome! Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

Satellite phone calls were made between Slats and Koopmans without permission of the Golden Globe Race HQ which resulted in a 36 hour penalty for a breach of satellite communication rules, and direct outside assistance from Koopmans.

This means that Slats’ official finish time is 216 days 00hours 18minutes 30 seconds.

After crossing the finish line, Slats received a congratulatory note from Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the winner and only sailor to cross the finish line in the 1968-69 Sunday Time Golden Globe Race.

It read: “You have my respect for a very difficult voyage well accomplished. To be second to Jean Luc is to be at the highest level of solo sailing. A fantastic performance.”

There will be a full write up of the Golden Globe Race finish in the April 2019 edition of Yachting Monthly, which will be out on 28 February 2019.