Happy man - Jean-Luc van den Heede

Happy man - Jean-Luc van den Heede

New westabout solo non-stop round the world record

Jean-Luc van den Heede enters the history books - updated story

Tuesday March 9th 2004, Author: Jean-Luc van den Heede, Location: France
At 0226 French time (0126GMT) this morning Jean-Luc van den Heede on board his faithful 26m Gilles Vaton-designed yacht Adrien entered the history books as the fourth person ever to set a non-stop singlehanded circumnavigation westabout record against the prevailing winds following Chay Blyth, Mike Golding and Philippe Monnet.

Having set off on 7 November the former maths professor from Amiens in northeastern France recrossed the start/finish line off Ushant's Le Créac'h lighthouse this morning demolishing Philippe Monnet's record of 151 days 19 hours 54 minutes and 36 seconds set between January and June 2000. From the lighthouse World Sailing Speed Record Council timer Claude Breton recorded van den Heede's finish time announced his complete journey time for the 25,564 mile passage as being 122 days 14 hours, 3 minutes and 47 seconds, a gain of 29 days, 5 hours, 50 minutes and 47 seconds over Monnet.

"I thought about it in the following way: Adrien sails 10% faster than than Monnet’s yacht," said van den Heede this morning of his record time. "I thought I would beat him by a fortnight and then taking into account the problems Philippe had, I thought I could get five days more. I thought I could get up to 20 days better. 25 just seemed out of the question,. I really treated it as a competition against a virtual enemy. Every four or five hours, I checked out where he was. I did that all the time. The advantage was I didn’t have all the constraints of a race. There wasn’t any pressure from a competitor catching me up. There were times when I slowed down, whereas if I had an opponent 10 miles behind me I wouldn’t have done that."

While during his record attempt Philippe Monnet claimed he went through hell, for VDH is went much better: "Philippe Monnet said he had 10 days of pleasure with 140 days of struggling. Personally, I would find it difficult to find 10 days of hard slog. I really enjoyed myself throughout the trip, especially off Cape Horn. Rounding the mythical rock with a 40 knot wind behind me in that direction, is something extremely rare and I couldn’t have dreamt of that. Incredible, while last year, I went through a really bad gale just as I passed by it. Going through the Doldrums was the most unpleasant part - 30 hours to do 30 miles is really tough. In spite of that there was a lot of physical work to do. First of all, the boat moves around a lot. It was violent when there were sudden lurches. I went flying two or three times. But I didn’t hurt myself fortunately. I didn’t have to open the medical box once. I took two aspirins during the whole trip plus a vitamin pill every day. That’s all."

Most impressive about van den Heede's achievement is that this is his fourth attempt on the westabout record. The first was made on board his former red Open 60 yawl while his second and third were made on his new purpose-built aluminium-hulled yacht Adrien, the first finishing just past the horn through keel damage and second through a dismasting in the Southern Ocean forcing him to jury rig and head for Hobart. Van den Heede has finally signed off this record as a result of dogged determination and we salute him for it.

"I had to go on, and it was by trial and error," van den Heede said earlier. "There were very few examples of racing boats racing around the world in that direction. The forces on the boat were not very well known. The stresses and strains sailing upwind, when the boat slams down into the waves are completely different from those experienced during the Vendée Globe. I therefore experienced a few failures. This time, when I arrived in the south, I was more confident. We had really taken care of the solidity of the boat. The only unknown element was my mast, which was brand new and lighter than the previous one. I must admit that at the start I was a little worried about the rigging. This was the first time I have been around the world without having to climb up the mast. In the past, I had to climb up quite often… To be honest, we didn’t have much time to go out in a gale, but I soon experienced that as I came out of the Bay of Biscay. There, I was able to see how Adrien reacted and I started to feel a little more confident. When I arrived in the south, I was fairly relaxed. But I always felt the need to remain cautious during this adventure. I never left the boat with too much sail up. As soon as I felt the wind getting up, I took in the sails... "

Aside from sailing around the world westabout van den Heede is a fondly remembered competitor from both the BOC Challenge (now 5 Oceans) and the Vendee Globe. He finished second and third in the 1986 and 1995 BOC Challenges respectively, including an encounter with an Australian beach during the second. He was also third in 1989-90 Vendee Globe and beat Philippe Poupon to second place in the closing stages of the 1992-3 running of that race. Van den Heede was well known for bucking the trend and sailing narrow yawl-rigged Harle-Mortain Open 60 designs when other top competitors were going for maximum beam surfboard-shaped machines.

Van den Heede sums up his latest achievement: "In the Vendée Globe, you are pushed along by the wind. Here, you have everything head on. It’s the same difference between a cyclist going up a hill and one going down. It’s the toughest thing a yachtsman can do in a single-handed event. "

His router Pierre Lasnier of MétéoMer gave his view: "Jean-Luc managed to get some really great conditions. What really counts is avoiding tough situations and light winds. He kept an eye on things. The elements were with us, especially off Cape Horn. Sometimes, I had to really argue my case, particularly in the difficult areas."

Rather than stop in Brest Jean-Luc van den Heede is currently heading for his homeport of Les Sables d'Olonne where he is due to arrive at the harbour entrance at 4.15 on Thursday.

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