Watching sailors return home from the Southern Ocean is a spine-tingling moment ... the editor's welcome to the new April issue of Yachting Monthly
Standing on the seawall recently, I watched as a winter gale whipped the water white over the short fetch. My mind inevitably turned to what it would be like out at sea, and I felt content to be on dry land. Those conditions would, however, have been a walk in the park for the competitors in the Golden Globe Race, whose small-boat seamanship in some of the world’s most violent seas has been awe-inspiring. Anyone who survives a Southern Ocean knock-down is pretty heroic to me.
None more so than race winner Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. Remarkably, the 73-year-old Frenchman, who was inspired by Knox-Johnston and Moitessier in the original event 50 years ago, is just six years his junior. Van Den Heede was knocked down 2,000 miles west of Cape Horn, partially ripping the lower shroud attachment point out of the mast. He was forced to climb the mast to the spreaders seven times to effect a repair. Rather than drop out of the race, however, he nursed his boat roughly 9,000 miles back to the finish line, the mast held up with little more than gaffer tape and string.
Small wonder then that he was in high spirits not only to make it home in one piece, but to win this, his swansong race. As spectator boats appeared and land hove into view shortly after dawn, the Breton sailor burst into full-throated song of his favourite shanties, barely pausing for breath until late into the night.
The event may have been surrounded with gossip of illicit radio communications and penalties, but it does nothing to detract from what each of the 18 skippers has achieved in their small, old-fashioned cruising boats. That only two had finished at the time of writing, with three still sailing, shows just how tough it’s been. As a result, the arrival of ‘VDH’ who, despite everything, looked like it had been little more than a fun daysail, was a spine-tingling moment.