French sailor, 73, wins round-the-world solo-race without modern instruments

By Staff and agencies

A 73-year-old French sailor has won an unusual, around-the-world yacht race after 212 days alone at sea without modern instruments, in what was his first sailing victory.

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede arrived on Tuesday in Les Sables d’Olonne in western France in his 35-foot yacht Matmut, the first boat to finish the 30,000-mile Golden Globe race. Of the 19 sailors who started out last July, only five were still in the race on Tuesday.

Van Den Heede was making his sixth circumnavigation of the globe. He hit trouble in November, when his mast was damaged during a storm in the Southern Ocean. Heading for land for repairs would have disqualified him from the race, so he attended to the damage himself at sea before rounding Cape Horn shortly afterwards.

“Until then I [had] never abandoned a single race,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “But I admit that climbing a mast is no longer OK at my age. I climbed seven times. The worst thing was trying to undo the pins. It’s not easy in a workshop on land, but six meters high is a little bit [like the adventure TV show] Fort Boyard.”

Jean-Luc van den Heede approaching the Golden Globe race’s finish line on Tuesday
Jean-Luc van den Heede approaching the Golden Globe race’s finish line on Tuesday. Photograph: Sébastien Salom-Gomis/AFP/Getty Images

Among those greeting Van Den Heede on Tuesday was British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston, who won the only other Golden Globe race 50 years ago. The race involves solo sailors navigating with a sextant and paper maps, and communicating only occasionally with the outside world via short-wave radio.

Van Den Heede told reporters he had no immediate plans to make another circumnavigation. “Now I will not sail around the world unless someone makes a great thing that still interests me,” he said. “But hey, no, I don’t plan to go around the world again. That said, my boat is for sale and I can do coaching…”