Golden Globe Race skippers share their experiences of ocean storms, providing lessons for all of us about how to cope with heavy weather

He was Sir Robin Knox-Johnston’s favourite to win the Golden Globe Race 2018, and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede did not prove him wrong, finishing in 211 days, 23 hours 12 minutes to claim the top podium position.

The then 73-year-old was one of six Golden Globe Race skippers to compete in a Rustler 36, although his boat Matmut had a modified keel-stepped mast, 1.5m shorter than standard.

French sailor Jean Luc Van Den Heede leans on a blue sail

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede shortened the mast of his Rustler 36 after testing it in Biscay over the winter season. CREDIT: Christophe Favreau/Matmut/PPL

This proved to be a shrewd move when the Southern Ocean threw its worst at the veteran French solo skipper, causing Matmut to pitch-pole 1,900 miles from Cape Horn.

‘If I hadn’t shortened my mast by 1.5m and I had started with the longer mast then I would have been dismasted. I am the only one to have capsized completely and still have his mast,’ reflects Van Den Heede, in an interview with Yachting Monthly.

Initially he considered competing in a Gaia 36, before spending two years preparing Matmut, deciding to shorten the mast by 1.5m after sailing her in Biscay over
the winter season.

repairs to a damaged rig using spectre line

The repairs to Matmut’s damaged rig. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR

He used no warps or drogue in the race, instead favouring Bernard Moitessier’s philosophy of going as fast as possible in heavy weather, and running with the breaking waves at a shallow angle.

‘The mistake I made when I damaged the mast was that I didn’t put a big enough angle between the waves and where they were hitting the boat,’ he explained.

The knockdown in 11m (36ft) seas and 65-knot winds caused the starboard lower shroud’s connecting bolt attachment to slip 5cm down in the mast section, slackening the rigging.

He made repairs using shackles and Spectra line (for which Van Den Heede had been given special dispensation by race organisers to repair his Walker log shortly before the race start).

Jean Luc Van Den Heede sailing Matmut, hisRustler 36

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede spent two years preparing for the race

Van Den Heede also believes his mast might not have been damaged in the knockdown if he had 6mm rigging with a little more give instead of the 8mm prescribed by the race committee, a point which is being reviewed for the 2022 race.

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Ahead of the race start, Van Den Heede also consulted meteorologists about the best route, helping him to make gains early in the race.

Before the Golden Globe Race, he had already circumnavigated the world five times, and held the record for the fastest solo west-about non-stop circumnavigation against the prevailing winds and currents.

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede after finishing the Golden Globe Race 2019

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede won the Golden Globe Race in 211 days. Credit: GGR/PPL

He was also a podium finisher in four previous solo round the world races finishing 2nd in the 1986 BOC Challenge Around Alone Race, 3rd in the 1990 Vendée Globe Race, 2nd in the 1993 Vendée Globe, and 3rd in the 1995 BOC Challenge Around Alone Race.

Read the full report Storm Tactics From The Golden Globe Race in the Summer 2019 issue of Yachting Monthly – Available here: http://mags-uk.com/browse-by-title/yachting-monthly.html