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STOP PRESS – Storm clouds surround Mark Slats

STOP PRESS – Storm clouds surround Mark Slats

Dutchman faces time penalty for breach of Satellite communication rules

Dateline: 18:03 UTC 28. 01. 2019 – Les Sables d’Olonne, France

Second placed Golden Globe Race skipper Mark Slats tonight is facing a time penalty for a breach of satellite communication rules, and direct outside assistance from his Dutch team manager Dick Koopmans.

Slats is facing a dilemma: To run ahead of an approaching north-westerly storm and hope to reach the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne on Thursday evening before it strikes the Vendee coast – a lee shore; lie hove-to outside the Bay of Biscay until the storm has passed, or seek a refuge, which is allowed under the race rules, provided he does not step ashore or communicate with the outside world other than via VHF or HF radio.

At 10:30, Race HQ received a communication from Dick Koopmans, Mark Slats‘ team manager, asking for the Race finish line to be moved 50 miles offshore. This was denied.

11:59, Race HQ responded to Koopmans saying that Race Chairman Don McIntyre had sent a weather warning to Slats and that Mark and subsequently called via his safety sat phone to discuss the weather scenario. Slats advised that he was receiving weather forecasts onboard and was aware of the approaching storm. The email advised Koopmans that Slats was not slowing down and continuing towards the finish line. It added. “But if you want a message passed on the weather, we are happy to do that. Just email here.”

12:21 Koopmans replied by e.mail saying that “I spoke to Geerit Hiemsta, one of our leading meteorologists in Holland…In his opinion it is completely unsafe to sail into the Bay of Biscay. He suggests to stay outside and finish in La Coruna or Brest, but not in Les Sables d’Olonne. This is also the (unofficial) opinion of the Dutch Coastguard and Falmouth Coastguard.
I am very unhappy with your advice and consider to call Mark on his Iridium phone, whatever the consequences may be.”

13:16, Race Chairman Don McIntyre responded: “Just a reminder, we never give directives to entrants. We give opinions and the final choice is up to entrants. Mark is receiving weather reports on his radio….

I would strongly suggest that you do NOT call Mark. I have offered to message him any advice you wish to send him in relation to safety avoiding the storm. I am awaiting for that advice. All decisions are the responsibility of the skipper.…I am now officially asking you for your advice on the safest route for him to take if you wish to be involved with efforts to send him to the safest place. I will then pass him that from you.”

13:28: message from GGR HQ to Mark. “Dick advice: head to la Corunna or Brest to miss the storm.”

13:33 Email from Koopmans to GGR: ”Ignoring authorities like Coastguard and top meteorologist. I do not trust the Race Committee on their knowledge in the situation. I think safety is now more important than rules.

I will send Mark messages to his Iridium phones from now on.

Advice from Mr Hiemstra – ‘Have a helicopter ready’

13:34. Email from Koopmans to GGR: Do not speak to Mark in my name.

13:38 Race HQ to Koopmans: Mark will be penalised for breech of rules. We have NOT been directed by any authority and if you look at your emails, we are awaiting your advice on where to send him. Your actions and comments DO NOT relate in the best interests of Mark’s race and we are both working towards Mark’s Safety. PLEASE place your message through GGR. If you need clarification, please ring. WE ARE STILL WAITING YOUR ADVICE.


13:46: Email from Koopmans to Race HQ: “Safety is more important than penalties. You can read all the messages later and decide on penalties.”

Koopmans ignored RACE HQ advise and messaged Slats directly – a direct breech of the Notice of Race.

16: 00 (approx.): Mark phoned Race HQ to discuss the weather and asked permission to call Koopmans for advice, and asked for Koopman’s phone number. GGR agreed as Koopmans would not give GGR the safety information. At subsequent meeting of the Race Committee, it was decided not to provide the number since a call to Koopmans constituted outside assistance and a further breech of the Notice of Race.

16:12: Mark called Race HQ to say that he had altered course to La Corunna and confirmed that Koopmans had contacted him directly. Slats was advised that he now faced a time penalty.

The Race Committee will meet tomorrow to access the evidence and any time penalty will have to be served at sea before the finish.

In a statement tonight, Don McIntyre said: “There are two issues here. One is safety and we all work in the best interests of Mark Slats. The second is process under the Notice of Race. GGR continues to offer safety weather advice to all competitors. Unfortunately, Slats’ team manager decided not to abide by the Notice of Race.”

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Day 211: Van Den Heede – Last 100 miles to finish

Day 211 – Van Den Heede – Last 100 miles to finish

ETA – 08:00 UTC Tuesday 29th January
2nd placed Mark Slats trails 321 miles

Dateline: 11:00 UTC 28. 01. 2019 – Les Sables d’Olonne, France

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede endured another tough night with 45knots winds and 6-7m seas but his Rustler 36 Matmut is now within 100 miles of the finish line at Les Sables d’Olonne and the 73-year old Frenchman is expected to arrive to a huge welcome at 08:00 UTC tomorrow (09:00 French time)

His great rival, Dutchman Mark Slats sailing a second Rustler 36 Ophen Maverick, narrowed the lead by 91 miles over the weekend, but remains 312 miles astern. He is not now expected to finish until late on Thursday, experiencing another Bay of Biscay gale just before his arrival.

The weather in the Bay of Biscay is forecast to moderate today, and barring light winds at dawn, should provide good sailing conditions all the way to the finish.

3,600 miles astern, Estonian Uku Randmaa sailing a third Rustler 36 One and All, is making the most of his last day of SE trade winds, sailing at 6.6 knots today, and is expected to run into the Dolrdums sooner than he expected. This marks the start of a frustrating period of calms, squalls and thunderstorms as he makes his way to his next goal, the Equator 500 miles north

Fouth placed American/Hungarian Istvan Kopar sailing his Tradewind 35 Puffin is still enjoying the SE tradewinds but making 4.6knots because the Trades are lighter than usual. These will hold for a few more days, so he has a chance to close on Randmaa once more.

Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen is still in the Southern Ocean sailing at 4.4knots some 850 miles from Cape Horn. There is plenty of strong Southern Ocean weather blowing at 45knots+ but his Gaia 36 Astreria is covered in barnacles which is slowing her progress. Today, this additional drag has cost Tapio the lead in his virtual race against Sir Robin Knox-Johnston‘s Suhaili from 50 years ago. Suhaili‘s relative position on 26th January was just 8 miles behind Asteria in terms of distance to finish, and she would now be more than 100 miles ahead.

Follow the drama as it unfolds on GGR Facebook Page . Further updates will be posted at 12:00 on Friday and Saturday and at frequent intervals thereafter. The finish and press conference for both skippers will also be streamed live here, so watch this space.

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Praise of patience, VDH expected Tuesday, January 29 Morning

Golden Globe Race: praise of patience

VDH expected Tuesday, January 29 Morning
Quiet and storms for the last days of race
Mark Slats expected for Thursday 31

Certainly, nothing will be spared to the Golden Globe Race leaders. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, on the edge of the Bay of Biscay, had to undergo long hours of quiet white in the day Friday before having to face its last legs a particularly forceful storm. His arrival is now scheduled for Tuesday morning.

One could fear the worst. Early Friday afternoon, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede was pointing to a small knot of speed, and for several hours. Given his weakened rig, one could imagine a major damage until the information eventually fall: the browser sablais fell into a wind hole, a small zone of high pressure which left the sails flapping off Iberian Peninsula. ultimate paradox of being stuck, while a particularly virulent looming depression that promises to make the final miles of very uncomfortable race.

Fortunately, VDH has seen others. But in the day Sunday, he will have to contend with higher average winds at 40 knots, gusting to over 50 knots and above all seas and valleys of more than eight meters. Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is already anticipating the bad weather coming by influencing its way north, so as to face the northwest winds advertised downwind.

Sir Robin

Between calm and storm, the latest estimates from the race director gave this Saturday noon, an estimated arrival around 10:00 Tuesday, January 29. Especially as the wind should ease off again abruptly behind the passage of the depression.
Marck Slats should not be affected, in turn, by the passage of this depression. The Dutch navigator should benefit from a much quieter road for its final miles to the Vendée harbor where it is expected during the day of Thrusday 31.

Les Sables d’Olonne, it mobilizes to make the celebration beautiful. Already, the Sablais organize to fill the docks that line the entrance channel and provide a welcome worthy of the name to that, three times already, was able to climb the path of honor that leads to Vendée Globe pontoon (in his two Vendée Globe finished on the podium as well after his record round the world from east to west against the prevailing winds).

At the pontoon, it is rumored that the legendary Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in person will be there to greet the man who, 50 years later, took up the torch of this exploit unconventional. A transfer of power, but also the recognition of the link that connects these sailors made a funny wood.


Yannick Moreau, Mayor of Les Sables d’Olonne and President of Urban Olonne Sands:“Between calm and storm, Jean-Luc Van den Heede and Mark Slats we reserve breathtaking final after 212 days at sea. It’s just incredible. The suspense is over with Mark Slats, always in ambush in the wake of VDH.

On land, each made his prognosis. The excitement of major events is palpable. The Sablais are preparing to party, journalists are eager to gather initial impressions hero of the Golden Globe Race and their families count the minutes that separate them from the reunion.

Favorable or contrary wind, calm or rough seas, the first arrival Monday 28 or Tuesday, January 29? Whatever, the Sables d’Olonne are ready for the event! “

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Day 208 – Van Den Heede within 450 miles of finish

Day 208 – Van Den Heede within 450 miles of finish

ETA – Monday 28th January
One last storm due on Sunday
2nd placed Mark Slats trails 412 miles astern

Dateline: 11:00 UTC 26. 01. 2019 – Les Sables d’Olonne, France

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede is now within 450 miles of the Golden Globe Race finish line and expected to receive a huge welcome home in Les Sables d’Olonne on Monday 28th January

The 73-year old Frenchman and his Rustler 36 yacht Matmut have led this 27,000 mile solo circumnavigation since rounding the Cape of Good Hope on 23rd August last year and stretched this out a 2,000 mile lead before suffering a capsize and serious mast damage during a southern ocean storm on 8th November when 1,900 miles west of Cape Horn.

Since then, second placed Dutch rival Mark Slats (41) sailing another Rustler 36, Ohpen Maverick, has been catching up. On 15th January, the difference between the two yachts in terms of distance to finish, was just 50 miles. But since then the French veteran, who is about to complete his 6th solo circumnavigation, has delivered a master class in ocean racing strategy to extend his advantage to 412 miles by 08:00 UTC today.

Now, Jean-Luc, and more importantly, the damaged mast on Matmut face one more test when a storm is due to blow across the Bay of Biscay producing 45-55 knot NW winds and viscous seas with waves building to 9 -10m..

Race Chairman, Don McIntyre, says: Jean-Luc is a great seaman with vast experience and he knows what is coming. This is his backyard. The Bay of Biscay has a fearsome reputation and he will have to be very careful. If he needs to run off downwind for safety, he will he heading away from Les Sables d’Olonne and the finish line, and then have to sail back more into the wind once the storm has passed. This all adds time and distance, so his ETA is still not clear. This morning we are looking at sometime between 10:00 and 14:00UTC on Monday, but this is like a game with this storm presenting one last roll of the dice.

The Challenge in the next few days is great and the opportunity for Mark is real. While Jean-Luc is struggling to make the finish line, Slats will be sailing hard and fast in wonderful weather ready to exploit any further damage that Matmut might sustain.”

Follow the drama as it unfolds on GGR Facebook Page Further updates will be posted at 12:00 on Friday and Saturday and at frequent intervals thereafter. The finish and press conference for both skippers will also be streamed live here, so watch this space..

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Day 204 – Van Den Heede regains the initiative… for now

Day 204 – Van Den Heede regains the initiative… for now

Leader within 1,000 miles of finish. ETA – 31st January
Kopar’s challenge for 3rd place runs out of steam
Lehtinen battles with Southern Ocean storms
Accusations of illegal weather routing and position reporting lack evidence
Van Den Heede and Slats dropped from Ham radio broadcasts

Dateline: 14:00 UTC 21. 01. 2019 – Les Sables d’Olonne, France

The elastic between Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats has stretched in the Frenchman’s favour over the weekend allowing him to open up a 215-mile lead over his Dutch rival. A week ago, the difference in terms of distance to finish was just 28 miles. Both skippers have used up what remained of their 160 litre supply of diesel fuel, with Slats expending the last drop pushing his way through the windless high pressure system sitting over the Azores. The two are now within the same weather system.

Slats is currently 330 miles south of Van Den Heede’s upwind position at the start of what could be a straight drag race to the finish. The unknown factor is the forecast – especially for these two skippers, for both have been cut off from weather feeds from the Ham Radio Net community for using unlicensed call signs throughout the Race. This came to light last week when Dutch and St Lucia radio authorities issued warning notices against the skippers. Licenced Ham radio operators who communicate with them not only face losing their licences, but the threat of a large fine and possible prison sentence!

Forecasting is particularly acute for Van Den Heede whose Rustler 36 Matmut has the prospect of running straight into another high pressure system predicted to form to the north east by Wednesday. It could affect Slats too, but not before his yacht Ophen Maverick has closed the distance.

The question then for Jean-Luc is whether to push hard for the finish and run the risk of breaking Matmut’s damaged mast, or settle for second place. The fact that 3rd placed Estonian Uku Randmaa trails 3,450 miles behind, could well persuade the Frenchman to push all out for a win, knowing that if the worst happens, he could still finish 2nd under a jury rig.


Illegal routing and position reports?

Recent allegations circulating on social media and in print that Jean-Luc Van Den Heede has been receiving illegal radio position reports have proved unfounded. Race Chairman Don McIntyre made the following statement today:

“French and Dutch passions, already roused by the prospect of a nail-biting finish between Jean-Luc Van Den Heede and Mark Slats, were stirred further when it became clear that first Mark, and then Jean-Luc did not have valid Ham radio licenses. Then, other accusations began to fly between the two camps; the most serious being that J-LVDH may have been breaching the rules governing weather routing and position reports. One transcribed JL VDH radio recording proved to be a simple weather forecast – NOT weather routing. Some have suggested that there are other recordings of these breaches, but after continued requests by GGR officials to hear them, these recordings remain ‘unavailable’.

The GGR Notice of Race is very clear, but some do not appear to understand how the GGR skippers operate and what the rules actually mean. GGR is confident that no entrants have received weather routing, which is forbidden, nor LAT/LONG positions of their own and other yachts. To stop any further confusion, the French GGR Ham network has stopped broadcasting any weather information to J-L VDH and Mark Slats, and now transmit relevant information including forecasts only to Uku Randmaa, Istvan Kopar and Tapio Lehtinen who all hold valid Ham Radio licences.”

Click here for full interview with Don McIntyre


Back to the Race

For the moment, Istvan Kopar’s charge up the South Atlantic to challenge Uku Randmaa for third has run out of steam. The American/Hungarian lost some time repairing his self-steering and is now caught in calms while Randmaa is making most of the SE trade winds, and holds a 580 mile cushion

5th placed Tapio Lehtinen is making most of the Southern Ocean weather systems and is looking to round Cape Horn in two weeks time. The Finn celebrated his 61st birthday last Friday enjoying 45knot north-westerly blast and can expect two more gales at least before rounding the Cape. He is also holding his own in the virtual race against the passage time set by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in the original Sunday Times Golden Globe Race 50 years ago and should round the Horn ahead.

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