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Zhik 2024 February Outlet - LEADERBOARD

American solo sailor Cole Brauer reaches first Great Cape

by Cole Brauer Ocean Racing Media 3 Dec 2023 23:58 PST
Cole Brauer reaches the Cape of Good Hope © Richard Mardens

At 7:00 UTC on December 3, Cole Brauer passed the Cape of Good Hope after just over a month at sea. She is competing in the inaugural Global Solo Challenge, a "budget-friendly" solo sailing race that will have sailors circumnavigating the globe via the three great capes, beginning and ending in A Corun~a, Spain.

Having reached the first of these capes, South Africa's Cape of Good Hope, she will continue into the Indian Ocean to Australia's Cape Leeuwin, and then across the Pacific to Chile's Cape Horn before returning to the Atlantic north to Spain.

At just 29 years old, Brauer is one of five Americans on the roster of 20 skippers competing in the race. She is both the youngest skipper and the only female sailor in the fleet. If successful, she will become the first American woman to have raced solo around the globe.

While passing Cape Town, Brauer also officially moved into third place on the scoreboard, passing the Solaire 34, SolarWind, skippered by Edouard De Keyser who has suspended racing to make repairs there.

The Global Solo Challenge was organized with a pursuit start, meaning that competitors are assigned a start date based on their boat's speed rating. The slowest boats start first and the fastest leave last with around five months between them. All other things being equal, the boats could be expected to finish around the same time, leaving the results up to the skill of the sailors and the weather conditions. Brauer, sailing the Class40 First Light, departed with six other boats on October 29.

Despite a start plagued with days of sickness—Brauer has twice now had to insert an IV into her own arm while at sea for supplemental fluids—by the time she reached the equator, she was leading the October 29th pack. And, despite her distaste for light air sailing, the doldrums only served to increase her lead.

Since her start, Brauer has twice set new 24 hour distance records for the course (220 and 265 nautical miles) and is consistently on the projected finishers podium, calculated based on each boat's performance up until that point. It hasn't all been smooth sailing, however. In addition to illness, Brauer has struggled with some autopilot issues, including one failure that led to a dramatic near knockdown.

"After that I was pretty spooked, so I didn't sleep very much last night. I just couldn't really silence the thoughts in my head," she recalls. Brauer has been able to fix all the issues that have arisen, and First Light is in good shape entering the difficult southern stretch of the race.

She has now overtaken five boats from previous starts, beginning with Canadian skipper William MacBrien's Class40, Phoenix, which departed one week before her on October 21. Next she managed to surpass the Finnish Class40 ZEROchallenge and the Bulgarian Farr 45 Espresso Martini when severe weather in the south Atlantic slowed them all down. Finally, on the approach to the Cape of Good Hope, she crossed Louis Robein's Le Souffle de la Mer III by staying several hundred miles to the south in significantly better breeze.

Of the two boats left ahead of her, one is heading to port for autopilot repairs in Australia, giving Brauer a good chance at catching up soon. The other—a French Actual 46 called Mowgli skippered by Philippe Delamare—will be Brauer's toughest competition.

"The last 10 days have included three windy and wet low pressure systems. They have come and shown 20-50 knots of breeze and then left, leaving a beautiful sunny day. Today was no different. As I walked out of the low yesterday the squalls still came but instead of 40-50 knots of breeze, they only blew a maximum of 35," Brauer wrote on her skipper's blog on December 2. The cascading fronts typical of this part of the world necessitate sound strategic decisions.

Brauer, who documents her progress through chipper, unflappable videos that offer an honest look into the ups and downs of racing solo, has risen to Instagram stardom during the race. Interestingly, the common refrain from many commenters is that they've never been sailing before, but are learning so much from stumbling upon her adventure. She runs her account with an eye towards accessibility and helping non-sailors understand a sport that otherwise isn't always beginner friendly. Brauer's account is colebraueroceanracing on Instagram.

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