If his damaged Rustler 36 sailboat can survive the Bay of Biscay’s steep waves, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede will be the first racer to cross the finish line early next week. With 315 nautical miles to go, he had half the distance to travel of his nearest competitor, Dutch sailor Mark Slats, to finish. Still Slats’ team are hinting at a potential challenge as the Frenchmen Van Den Heede’s first round the world race victory at age 73 seems all but assured for the five-time (and soon to be six-time) circumnavigator.
Nine-meter waves are forecast overnight and into the morning of UTC January 27, 2019, for Van Den Heede and his chase team. Van Den Heede will be accompanied in the rough waters of the Bay of Biscay by a motorized catamaran operated by his shore support, according to Golden Globe Race (GGR) 2018 chairman Don MacIntyre. Windy is only forecasting gale force conditions but up to 9-meter waves over the next 24 hours in the French solo-sailor’s path.
Over 600 miles from the finish at UTC 0:00 January 27, 2019, Mark Slats needs nothing short of a disaster for Van Den Heede or a technical challenge to win the first place trophy. Slats came within 10 nm of the lead before his tactical blunder of motoring at 3 to 4 knots in the dead zone of the Azores High while Van Den Heede ripped off at 7 knots along its western side and extended his lead to over 400 nm before giving up some ground in wind hole before the Bay of Biscay. Slats decision to motor slowly rather than sail was all the more puzzling since he was consistently the fastest sailor since Van Den Heede damaged his mast in a pitchpole about 2,000 nm from Cape Horn in the Pacific Ocean. Since the Azores High in the North Atlantic Ocean, Van Den Heede has shown the sailing skill that let him build a 2,000 nm lead over Slats in the Pacific Ocean prior to the pitchpole disaster, ripping off near hull speed on the slow, GGR-class 36-foot boat in moderate winds.
If Van Den Heede sails to his home port of Les Sables D’Lonne, France first, a new strategy for team Slats may be emerging. They may protest the weather reports Van Den Heede has been getting over SSB radio. Dick Koopmans wrote the following for Mark Slats Facebook page:
Although it is a race without assistance, there is a lot of assistance allowed. Jean Luc had the best preparation and has support from his team from start to finish. Very detailed weather information and positions of the other boats were sent to him on a daily base. We just did not have the time nor the money to get this organised, it was all about getting the boat ready. It took us a few months and only around Cape of Good Hope we could send the same sort of info to Mark that Jean Luc had from the start. But preparation is an important part of the race and Jean Luc beat our shore team here. Because of this, Mark lost a lot but nearly overtook Jean-Luc by sailing faster.
Golden Globe Radio Club which has been posting the French language weather transmissions to Van Den Heede for the last several days seems to be arguing that Van Den Heede is getting “weather routing” which is illegal according to the 2018 GGR notice of Race. Golden Globe Radio Club wrote on its Facebook page on January 26, 2019, the following:
GGR ROUTING. TWO DEFINITIONS.
1. Routing definition from Golden Globe Race 2018-19 NOTICE OF RACE:
p.1.14 Routing means any personalized indication, especially prepared or tailored for one or a group of entrants, information coming from the outside, allowing the understanding of different weather scenarios and choice of route or routes to follow or avoid.
2. Routing definition from Don McIntyre Q&A 26.01.2019:
“You can get weather reports from anywhere you like. Over there at this longitude, latitude you have this particular weather, 24 hour later that’s gonna happen there, … that all fine. That is weather reporting.
The weather routing is when someone tells to skipper – I wanna you to go to this latitude, longitude, or I want you to steer the course to East for 48 hours, or 12 hours. That is weather routing and it is not allowed. You can have any number of personalized weather reporting (???) but you cannot tell to skipper where to go. You cannot give the clear directions. It is very simple principle.”
Seriously? “personalized indication, allowing understanding” and instruction “I wanna you to go..” – is it the same definition of Routing?
We, as radio operators team, were very strict with regional official weather reports transmitted to several GGR participants over the shortwaves to comply to the signed by them GGR NOTICE OF RACE.
Now, instead of penalties to entrants who ignored the rules, GGR Administration just replacing the rules. Why?
And who is cheating then?
Van Den Heede is expected at 10:00 AM in Les Sables D’Lonne at the finish on Tuesday, January 29, 2019. He probably will have to slow down just so his fans can greet him in daylight.