The solo around-the-world yacht race took out all but five of its 19 competitors. For awhile, Golden Globe race champion Jean-Luc Van Den Heede thought he was doomed, too. After setting out in July, the 73-year-old Frenchman suffered a damaged mast in a storm in the Southern Ocean in November. He considered heading to Chile for repairs that would disqualify him, but "I have never abandoned a single race," he said at a Tuesday press conference, per Yachting World. Van Den Heede completed the necessary repairs himself just before rounding Cape Horn, reports the Guardian. On Tuesday, after 211 days and 23 hours at sea, his 35-foot yacht Matmut appeared in excellent health as it carried him to Les Sables d’Olonne in western France and the finish line of the 30,000-mile race. That's more than 300 miles ahead of skipper Mark Slats, who's expected to arrive Friday.
It was Van Den Heede's first sailing win in his sixth circumnavigation, though he holds the record for the fastest east-west circumnavigation at 122 days. Van Den Heede, in the lead since rounding South Africa, also became the oldest skipper to sail solo non-stop around the globe. "I admit that climbing a mast is no longer OK at my age. I climbed seven times!" he said, per Yachting World. "No, I don't plan to go around the world again," he added, noting his boat is now "for sale." He was greeted Tuesday by British sailor Robin Knox-Johnston, who won the only other Golden Globe race in 1969. Marking its 50th anniversary, sailors had to navigate with a sextant and paper maps and communicate with a short-wave radio, per the Guardian. After all the trouble, Van Den Heede said he was dreaming of a bath, steak, and beer, in that order. (The only female competitor had her boat turn end-over-end.)