Jean-Luc van den Heede wins Golden Globe Race

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A 73-year-old French yachtsman successfully finished in Les Sables d'Olonne at 9:50 UTC on 29 January. He completed a non-stop solo circumnavigation of the globe in 211 days, 23 hours and 50 minutes.

While waiting for the finish line, a charity auction was held on the GGR social media pages. The auction item was a Teddy Bear, which travelled around the world with Van den Heede. Every participant of the race received such a toy at the start. The money raised from their sale will be donated to the SITraN centre (Sheffield, UK), where scientists are seeking new ways to treat neurological pathologies such as progressive muscular atrophy, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. At the time of writing, the maximum bid was 300 euros. The auction will continue until February 1.

The second-placed Dutchman, Mark Slats had been unable to outrun the Frenchman, although he had done all he could to overtake the leader since the boat Van den Heede's mast had been badly damaged during a storm in early November. Thanks to Slats' efforts, between November 8 and January 17 the gap between them was reduced from 1,500 to just 47 nautical miles.

For this reason, the last two weeks of the race were a continuous and particularly hard-fought battle for the leaders. Van den Heede, who had chosen a favourable course for himself near the Azores, was striving for the finish.

The winds were favourable to him and even the fact that van den Heede, like Slats, was left without the help of radio amateurs, did not seem to hinder the Frenchman too much.

As the GGR organisers accurately noted, he - a very experienced yachtsman - was already in a region where he felt «like he was in the backyard of his home».

Slats' life during this period, on the other hand, seems to have become one unmitigated struggle. Almost all «inconvenient» cyclones and anticyclones, which successfully stayed behind his rival, went to him. True, Slats, unlike Van den Heede, had some fuel left, and once in a doldrums zone, he could start the engine. But, as we can see, this advantage did not help the Dutchman.

On the home straight, Van den Heede ended up hours ahead of the storm with Slates caught between him and another powerful cyclone moving in the same direction. Initially the sailor had been advised to slow down and simply let the first atmospheric front move ahead, but when it became clear that the second of these was posing a much greater threat to Slats, the race organizing committee felt it prudent to suggest that the Dutchman should instead try to escape as quickly as possible «» to the finish. However, there was no question of trying to catch up with Van den Heede at the last moment.

The emotional pressure on Slats and his team might have been too much at this point.

How else could it be explained that at the finish line, with only 360 nautical miles to go, they deliberately broke the rules of the race?

Dick Koopmans «, the Dutchman's shoreside team manager, told race organizers that» he did not trust the race committee's opinion on the situation and felt safety was more important than following the rules. The conflict arose when the organizers refused to give Slats the opinion of one of the leading meteorologists of the Netherlands and the Coast Guard in the form of an order, rather than neutral information, on which Slats should have, according to GGR policy, decided for himself how to proceed. According to Dutch experts, going into the Bay of Biscay is now dangerous and the storm should wait out in Spain's La Coruña or France's Brest. The GGR organizers also refused to move the finish line for Slats.

Koopmans contacted Slats directly, for which the sailor will now receive a penalty time. The size of the penalty is to be discussed by race organizers on January 29. Judging by the tracker, the Dutchman has listened to his shore team and is now on his way to La Coruña.

One can only rejoice that it has been possible to get Slats' tracker back up and running in these challenging weather conditions. The organizing committee lost track of the Slats tracker for nearly a 24 hours last weekend. The organizing committee lost sight of him for a day and it was not possible to locate him again until January 28.

In the meantime the Estonian Uku Randmaa who is finishing in the bottom of the three sailing crews has 500 nautical miles to go to the equator. His closest pursuer, American Istvan Kopar is 870 nautical miles behind him.

Slightly less, 850 nautical miles remain for Finn Tapio Lehtinen to CapeHorn. Though the wind speed in his area exceeds 45 knots, he's sailing at just 3.4 knots. And the sea ducks are to blame. In the«virtual race» with the boat of GGR-1968 winner Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, Lehtinen may soon start losing.

At the time of writing, Lehtinen was two degrees west of where Suhaili was on January 26, 50 years ago, but 6 degrees south. In terms of distance to the finish line, Lehtinen is just 90 nautical miles «ahead of» Knox-Johnston. The gap has narrowed by 190 nautical miles since January 17.

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