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Celebrating Cole Brauer, America's newest sailing hero

by David Schmidt 12 Mar 08:00 PDT March 12, 2024
Cole Brauer – First Light - Global Solo Challenge © globalsolochallenge

Years ago, a mentor told me that one of the biggest problems facing American sailing was a lack of heroes. I'd love to revisit that conversation now, as I'm happy to report that America has found its newest sailing hero. I'm even happier to report that this hero is Cole Brauer, the first American woman to sail alone and nonstop around the world via the three great capes and an absolute bad ass.

Regular readers of this newsletter will know Brauer's name from Sail-World's coverage of the ongoing Global Solo Challenge, a nonstop, around-the-world-alone pursuit-style race. The first GSC skipper to begin racing, Dafydd Hughes, crossed the starting line aboard Bendigedig his 1971 S&S 34, on August 23, 2023.

Brauer, who sailed alone aboard First Light, her Class 40, began racing on October 28, 2023.

While Hughes (and others) enjoyed a huge initial lead, Brauer sailed a smart, dedicated, and determined race. Impressively, Brauer, who was turned down to sail aboard a team in The Ocean Race for her physical size (she's not tall), started racking up the miles and the social media influence.

Soon, large swaths of the non-sailing public started tuning in to Brauer's epic circumnavigation.

Unfortunately for Brauer, Phillipe Delamare (FRA), who started sailing on September 30 aboard Mowgli, his Actual 46, managed to amass an insurmountable lead, both in miles and weather systems, and crossed the finishing line on February 24 after 147 days, 1 hour, 3 minutes, and 37 seconds at sea to take first place. His official corrected time over his 26,522 nautical-mile circumnavigation was 160 days, 3 hours, 8 minutes, and 48 seconds.

Brauer, who has been sitting in second place for months, crossed the finishing line on March 7 after 130 days, 2 hours, 45 minutes, and 38 seconds at sea. Brauer's official corrected time for her 27,916 nautical mile journey was 162 days, 15 hours, 27 minutes, and 3 seconds.

While one could argue that Brauer could have sliced a tiny fraction of time off her proud circumnavigation during her final hours at sea, the bold American sailor made the decision to intentionally slow her pace for the last miles, timing her arrival to match her vessel's moniker.

This touch, plus myriad others, helps conjure the term "class act" when describing Brauer, who—according to official race reports—is already talking about her plans to be on the starting line for the 2028 Vendee Globe. (We at Sail-World would love to see her win this largely Francophile affair!)

Hundreds of thousands of cheering fans, both physical and virtual (myself included in the latter category), cheered Brauer as she crossed the finishing line. Delamare—another class act—was on hand to present her with her trophy.

In all of my decades of covering sailing, I'm not sure I've seen more joy expressed by more people for a second-place trophy than I witnessed last week. I'll admit that I loudly cheered when I saw that Brauer had rounded Cape Horn (January 26, 2024, at 1230, UTC), and again when she crossed the finishing line.

But, for anyone who followed this story, this was always about something much bigger and bolder than a sailboat race.

Simply looking at photos of Brauer and Delamare on the dock together is the kind of thing that forges dreams, and I can only imagine what some young sailor out there, eyeing this imagery, will envision for her own bold future.

This, of course, is the real power of heroes: to light the fire of an otherwise-impossible dream in the hearts of others.

In this case, I hope it sparks an absolute wildfire for American sailing and especially for female participation—and leadership—in the sport.

While my mentor described the need for a sailing hero to help animate the then-flagging sailing industry, I'll go much bigger and argue that Brauer is exactly the kind of hero that America—and the entire world—needs right now. I've never met Brauer, but I know that offshore sailing is one of the absolute hardest pursuits—both mentally and physically—afloat, and one that requires a massive amount of gumption, self-confidence, and determination to pull off.

It's fair to say that Brauer, now a veteran of the Southern Ocean and all three great Capes, has exactly that. Better still, she accomplished this feat with the kind of heart, humility, and all-out commitment that's downright infectious. I, for one, cannot wait to watch—and again cheer on—Brauer's next adventures, and I also can't wait to see what future dreams, ambitions, and accomplishments her proud circumnavigation helps inspire.

As the saying goes, a butterfly flaps its wings...

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt North American Editor

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