Done and dusted

Michel Kleinjans and his Open 40 complete the Portimão Global Ocean Race

Thursday June 25th 2009, Author: Ollie Dewar, Location: United Kingdom
At 13:21:28 UTC on Thursday (25/06), Michel Kleinjans and Roaring Forty crossed the Leg 5 finish line of the Portimão Global Ocean Race after 20 days 22 hours 51 minutes and 28 seconds of racing from Charleston, South Carolina, on the final, North Atlantic section of the 33,000 mile circumnavigation.

Two hours before Kleinjans crossed the finish line, the double-handed skippers in the fleet left the VIP pontoons at the Tivoli Hotel and motored out through the entrance of the River Arade, hoisted sail and set off to greet the fleet’s solo sailor led by a high-powered RIB carrying the Kleinjan’s family and journalists. Also on the RIB, representing the single-handed class, was Nico Budel, the Dutch race entrant who was forced to abandon his Open 40 Hayai having sustained dramatic keel bulb failure in the Southern Ocean on Leg 2 between Cape Town and Wellington, New Zealand.
With westerly breeze, Kleinjans was forced to gybe away from the Portuguese coast, making a final gybe onto port when Roaring Forty layed the finish line and Kleinjans broad reached into the River Arade with a final flourish of pace, flanked by the overall double-handed winner Beluga Racer to starboard, the Chilean team on Desafio Cabo de Hornos to port and the British crew on Team Mowgli acting as vanguard astern of the Belgian Open 40.

Immediately after crossing the line, Kleinjans snuffed the spinnaker and his friends and family climbed on board to start the celebrations. Once on the VIP pontoon, all the double-handed teams rushed to congratulate Belgium’s most popular solo sailor. Looking relaxed and full of energy, Kleinjans was eager to describe the last leg of the circumnavigation. “Apart from the stay breaking, this was quite a soft leg,” he explained, referring to the broken, starboard D1 shroud supporting the lower section of the yacht’s carbon fibre mast. “I was so far behind that it didn’t really matter,” he continues. Kleinjans left Charleston exhausted after overseeing repairs to Roaring Forty following the boat’s collision with a container ship in the later stages of Leg 4 east of Grand Bahama, and he admits that he was unable to push hard for the first few days of Leg 5.
Although the jury system he rigged was strong and effective, Kleinjans had already dropped into a different weather system than the double-handed fleet. “I was just concerned I wouldn’t make the prize giving, that’s all!” he jokes. “If I had been a bit more confident about the time I had left, I think I would have stopped in the Azores for a beer!” Roaring Forty passed within a few miles Flores – the westernmost island in the Azores Archipelago - before passing north of the main group of five islands. “It was just a bit of tourism, really. I don’t think there are any shops there, so I would have had to go on to Faial, but in the end, I just kept going.”

Despite dramas during every leg of the circumnavigation, Kleinjans was most concerned in the early stages shortly after the start last October. “My biggest worry was on the first leg when the V1 broke and I’d only just started the race and I really worried that the boat wasn’t strong enough to do the whole race,” he recalls. With such serious rigging failure, his confidence in the 12 year-old Open 40 boat was severely shaken. “In the end, the boat has proved to be very, very strong,” adds Kleinjans. It is also on record that Kleinjans often astonished the double-handed teams with his ability to keep pace with the crewed boats, but he shrugs off the compliments and the enormous achievement of a solo circumnavigation. “It hasn’t changed me,” he maintains. “At my age, it’s not something that is going to change my life or the way I think. If I was 20 years-old, it would,” explains the Belgian yachtsman. “I’m very happy I did the race, even with all the setbacks and problems, but I think when you’re past 40 years-old, you already know enough about life.”

This is the second circumnavigation race for Kleinjans having competed in the 1985-86 Whitbread Round the World Race on a fully crewed yacht and he is immensely happy with completing a solo race around the planet, but getting back to a routine on land is a pleasing prospect. “I feel like going straight back to work right now!” he admits, laughing. “It has been a long race with a lot of days on the water and not every day is spectacular,” points out Kleinjans. “In fact, there are more days that are not so spectacular.”

Despite this opinion, he doesn’t rule out a third circumnavigation. “You always think once is enough, but then you race around the world and you begin to look back and find out which bits you could have done better at and which tactical calls could have been better. It’s sort of unfinished business and you always know that you could have done better.” For the immediate future, Roaring Forty is now on the market. “The boat is for sale and as for me, I’m not sure,” says Kleinjans. “But definitely, sailing hasn’t seen the last of me, for certain!”

Leaderboard 0320 UTC Thursday 25th June:
Double-handed class
1. Desafio Cabo de Hornos – 15d 21h 07m 05s
2. Beluga Racer – 16d 17h 34m 42s
3. Team Mowgli – 17d 18h 59m 55s
Single-handed class
1. Roaring Forty – 20d 22h 51m 28s

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