Portrait Jean-Luc Van den Heede


Record holder of a round the world trip, the wrong way, on his monohull Adrien”, second in the “Route du Rhum”, race winner of the 60 foot world championship, Jean-luc Van Den Heede is an experienced and accomplished seaman who keeps his two feet on the ground.

The meeting

The broad shouldered gray bearded man is sitting in the cockpit of a latest model cruise ship just coming out of a French shipyard. There he is, near the gangplank, the center of gathering. A few company representatives, his publisher and his public relation manager are also here. Ties are in order. The man has a good sense of the medias, he holds his own on the Grand Pavois in La Rochelle, so much so that he has been nominated this year’s official godfather. The man is a seaman. A (plastic) glass of champagne in one hand, he stands on this 54 foot sailboat to promote its image. This must be some fantastic boat since a famous man has just acquired one for himself.

The man

According to everyone: fellows sailors, friends, partners, this man is particularly friendly and open. He readily answers questions from journalists as well as passers -by. The seaman, who has a clear and somewhat mannered voice, bursts out laughing in mid-sentence. Jean-luc Van Den Heede, called VDH, was born in Amiens one month after the surrender of Germany on the 8th of June 1945. As he proudly claims, he was born in the same town as Jules Verne, perhaps that is where he got his taste for traveling. Whether it is a case of selective memory or just a beautiful story, in the way he remembers it, but the first gift he was ever given would have been a boat. Jules Verne, a boat, those few elements directed the man towards new horizon: the sea.

Inhabitant of the earth

However, the land is still holding him back; that’s where he holds his real job: that of a maths teacher. His logical side keeps him firmly grounded. Within him, there is no room for any of the mysticism which those vast expensive of sea could inspire. In fact he, himself claims: “solitude offers no interest but for the carrot of competition”. When at race he is there to win, when he is on a cruise he’d rather be in the kitchen. When at sea, VDH enjoys instants rather than moments. Sunsets, a passing fish, a turtle, are special moments. His favorite reading during his latest round-the-world trip was a novel by a fellow adventurer: The Song of the Great North by Nicolas Vanier. The call from the land always remains under laying and seems to accompany the mariner at sea.

The winner

What he likes is novelty, perpetual change. VDH is a pioneer in single-handed race. His first important race was run on a muscadet during the first mini transat in 1977.Then, one race follows an other, as the mini transat worked as a starter plug or rather as a confirmation of his vocation. He will take part in the second mini transat and finishes in second position in 1979.The adventurer takes part in the second BOC challenge, then in the two first editions of the Vendee Globe. He finishes third in 1989 and second in 1992. After 5 round the world journeys, numerous ocean crossings, and a record in the world tour against the wind in 2004, VDH tackles the channel-crossing trophy for which he already holds the title unofficially.

Soon he will launch into new challenges on his boat “Adrien” and he is laughing with glee at the idea.

Photos: RivaCom

His website:

His last book:

“L’océan Face à face”

Jean-Luc Van Den Heede
Ed. : Michel Lafon
Prix: 19€ Euros

– CdB –

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