Friday 3 March

Dutch skipper Pieter Heerema brought his No Way Back across the finish line of the Vendée Globe at 2126 hrs UTC this evening (Thursday 2nd March) to finish in seventeenth place. Heerema, at 65, completes this epic eighth edition becoming the first skipper from the Netherlands to complete the Vendée Globe. His elapsed time is 116 days 9 hrs, 24 mins and 12 secs. He sailed 29,747 miles at an average speed of 10.65 knots. 

During his crossing of the Bay of Biscay aboard his brand new foiler, a boat built in Italy for Andrea Mura, based on designs from VPLP-Verdier and launched in the spring of 2015, Heerema faced a few minor technical problems, in particular with his mainsail hook and a rudder that kicked up several times. The Dutch sailor also suffered from back pains for several days at the start of the race. These problems were resolved but he lost miles to most of the fleet and was in 25th place off the coast of Portugal.  The list of repair jobs and technical problems continued to grow. Heerema soon vented his frustration openly criticising equipment manufacturers and the way his boat was fitted out. He also realised his sail choices were not suited to the conditions he was facing.  By the time he got to the Doldrums he was in a different weather pattern from what those ahead had experienced and the small losses gradually grew in importance. No Way Back crossed the equator at 2000hrs UTC on 19th November after 13 days and 7 hours.

Conditions were much more pleasant as he went down the coast of Brazil, but he knew he needed to prepare his boat fully for the Southern Ocean. However, Heerema soon got used to the big southern swell and higher speeds. In mid-December in the Indian Ocean, Heerema encountered a lot of problems with his autopilot with the instruments malfunctioning, which meant he experienced some very stressful moments. Once again, this led to a lot of frustration for the Dutch skipper, who was unable to get the advice he was looking for about how to set up his autopilot system.

© Jacques Vapillon / Sea & Co

As Christmas approached, the weather worsened and Heerema admitted he was no longer in race mode preferring to stay inside his boat. He would spend Christmas and Boxing Day working on his autopilot system trying to find the right set-up mode. Before entering the Pacific, his list of repair jobs continued to grow with a lot of wear to deal with on his mainsail. After 60 days at sea, Pieter Heerema passed the halfway mark of the Vendée Globe. « From  a  competition  point  of  view,  during  the  60  days  of racing,  I  have  rarely  been  in  contact  with  my  competitors  and  my various technical concerns have forced me to make major detours and slowdowns. Today I am sailing at 60% of No Way Back’s potential. » After 79 days on 24th January, Heerema rounded Cape Horn, a highly emotional moment for the skipper.

The start of the climb back up the Atlantic was far from comfortable. “The banging and smashing worries me. Not for the fillings that may fall out of my teeth. No,no. Not for the teeth that might fall out of my jaws. No, no. Not for the jawbones that may fall out of my head. No, no. I am worried that my head will fall off my torso.” A few days later in warm sunshine in the Forties, his mood lifted and he was able to enjoy some good sailing conditions. But his wind instruments and the data fed to his autopilot still continued to pose problems. He was unable to sleep for long periods as he could not rely on his autopilot and consequently was close to exhaustion at times. Heerema crossed the Equator at 2258hrs UTC on 10th February after 96 days of racing.

In the Doldrums, conditions were very wet and he suffered from a lack of wind. He compared the conditions to being in a tropical rainforest. For his penultimate week conditions were fine, offering good sailing, but Heerema continued to suffer from his electronic and instrument problems. During his final week at sea, the Dutch skipper was forced to slow down to let a nasty storm go by in the Bay of Biscay where 9m high waves were forecast.

Pieter Heerema (No Way Back) in his own words :

“116 days. 4 months. It’s a really long time. Alone. But that’s not the worst. Everyday something happens. There are some nice moments, but also a lot of difficult moments.”

“I had planned to be here on Monday, but there was a huge weather system and it was too dangerous to go into the Bay of Biscay. I had to wait off the coast of Portugal. It was weird, as I just had no goal any more. Being alone is not a problem. But it would be nice to choose when you are alone. 120 days alone is a bit long.”

“There was one thing that started right away. And came back again and again. All the wizards looked at it, but it just wouldn’t work. I had three capsizes one night. I went out each morning and said Wow the mast is still standing. That problem stayed with me until Australia. Then I said forget it. I’ll do it my way without that system, so I was slower.”

“It’s not super important to be the first Dutchman. I have done it, which is the most important thing.”

“I would do it again and on this boat, but it was the wrong boat for me. It was too much to learn in a very short time. It was so physical. I wore knee pads 24 hours a day as you bounce around. It’s violent. For an old fogey like me, it’s too much.”

“Age is a strength and handicap. A few years ago I was sailing off Alaska with my daughter. We walked up to see the bears. We saw a young bear jumping around. Then an old bear came out – I said here comes experience. The old bear sat there doing nothing, while the young bear was in and out of the water trying to catch fish but not succeeding, while the old bear just got one each time. That’s experience.”

Hard times?

« There have been some very difficult moments. The technical breakdowns but with the support of people, people on facebook for example showed such support that even if I was so slow, I had to continue. The mechanical things were not serious, but the electronics… »

The foils?

« The foils were not a good choice for me. I had never sailed on an IMOCA a year before and never alone six months before, so the learning curve was straight up. The foils were an extra complication. Yesterday was the only real race days. I was a little unlucky as I did something with the rudder and lost an hour. Otherwise I could have come in last night. »

No Way Back?

“I had used the name No Way Back before. But it has a meaning too. I think that once you decide something, you have to do it. That’s a life principle for me and I hate other people who go wishy-washy.”

Regrets

“I was not ready. The Vendée Globe came one year too early. The adventurers had all done this sort of thing before. I had never sailed alone until six months before the start.”

Motivation

“I don’t know what I was looking for. It’s a good feeling to have done it. The start and the finish is fantastic, but everything in between is difficult. In 116 days there were very few moments of pleasure. There are other ways to enjoy yourself.”

The other competitors

“I think this was an extraordinary edition. Usually the front runs away but then gets caught. But this time they just kept going. At the back we were beating upwind. The differences between groups of racers just grew and grew. I take my hat off to Armel and Alex. This is a different level of racing from wha I am used to. You can only have the deepest respect for such guys. The same for Didac Costa and Alan Roura. It was amazing. You only understand that when you have done it.”

Dutch pride

“Holland has a long history. The capes are Dutch. The Horn, Leeuwin and Good Hope are all Dutch capes! It was a home race for me.”

Discovering Facebook

“At some times, you don’t see the light any more. Somewhere south of Australia I had had it. People sent me messages. Facebook in particular from people… I have no clue who they are. It’s been a huge support. I told myself I’m going to show them, I can do it, however long it takes.

I had never been on Facebook before. It took me ages to learn. For some reason what I did attracted people and I had so much support. That really pushed me to go on. I thank all the people on Facebook for pushing me and all the funny messages.”

What next?

“I’m going back to my old love, the Dragon. Then, there are some interesting possibilities in sailing – the TP52, the Jules Verne Trophy, the new Melges… I have the time to think about that now. I already have a shed full of boats, so I must sell this boat. If I don’t sell it it would be nice to do the Transat Jacques Vabre, but my first priority is to sell the boat.”

Source: Vendée Globe