Jean-Luc Van Den Heede had been promising Golden Globe Race organizers that he would cross the equator on Christmas Day UTC, and, like Santa Claus, he delivered. The French solo-sailor leads the 30,000 nautical mile, retro-race for 32-to-36-foot sailboats that started on July 1, 2018. His nearest competitor, the Australian-born, Dutch sailor Mark Slats has been losing ground in recent days and trails by nearly 1,000 nm.
Both sailors skipper Rustler 36 sailboats, but Van Den Heede suffered a pitchpole that weakened his mast prior to Cape Horn. Van Den Heede says the mast is most vulnerable on a port tack with wind forward of the beam coming from the left side of the boat. In recent days, the Frenchman has been on a starboard tack. Second-place Slats has been fighting headwinds while Van Den Heede has had more favorable winds. Van Den Heede had 3,200 nautical miles to at 0:00 UTC on December 26, 2018.
2018 Golden Globe Race – Jean-Luc Van Den Heede (FR) arrival in Hobart, Tasmania at the Boatshed.com Hobart film drop on October 6, 2018. The 73-year old French Veteran and his Rustler 36 yacht MATMUT has a 1,600 mile lead over 2nd place Dutchman Mark Slats. Credit: Christophe Favreau/PPL/GGR
If Van Den Heede does not suffer a major mishap, he could finish the race in Les Sables-d’Olonne, France, his hometown, in three-to-four weeks after 200 days at sea. At 73 years old, the five-time circumnavigator, Van Den Heede, is the oldest competitor of the 18-person race, which has shrunk to five boats after five dismastings and eight drop-outs for other reasons.
The Golden Globe Race has put his equator crossing at 05:30 UTC December 26, 2018, but their Apple iOS YB tracker app put him north of the equator at 0:00 UTC on December 26, 2018, implying that he crossed on Christmas Day, December 25, 2018. Regardless when he crossed into the Northern Hemisphere, Van Den Heede is the closest racer to home. He remarked in a tweet that his summer (in the Southern Hemisphere) was being cut short and replaced by winter. The French sailor will eagerly take that trade.