Kirsten Neuschäfer, the first woman to win solo round-the-world race

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Kirsten Neuschäfer made it! After 30,289 miles, 235 days, 5 hours and 44 minutes, is the first woman in history to win a round-the-world regatta. Kirsten achieved this historic result at the toughest and most controversial regatta: the Golden Globe Race (the nonstop solo round-the-world trip on “vintage” boats with long keels and zero instruments).

Kirsten Neuschäfer aboard Minnehaha, her Cape George 36
Kirsten Neuschäfer aboard Minnehaha, her Cape George 36

Kirsten Neuschäfer wins Golden Globe Race 2022

Today, April 27, 2023 at 9:44 p.m. Kirsten Neuschäfer (read her bio here) was first to cross the finish line of the Golden Globe Race, the 30,000-mile “vintage,” nonstop, unassisted round-the-world race passing by the famous three capes (Good Hope, Leewin, Cape Horn). The South African skipper had left last Sept. 4 from Les Sables d’Olonne in France along with a fleet of sixteen boats, all strictly long keel boats built without the use of exotic fibers (carbon, Kevlar, etc.) at least 35 years ago. No electronic or computer equipment on board, only sextant, nautical charts, compass, and windvane steering. Only link, but limited communications, an SSB Radio (shortwave radio) and satellite used to communicate with the organization (not the family) and in case of emergency. No watches, digital cameras or calculators may be used either. All equipment on board must be similar to that which accompanied Sir Robin Knox-Johnston on Suhaili in the legendary 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race.

Golden Globe Race: the regatta where you risk your life

This is the second edition of the new life of the Golden Globe Race. In the first, of 2018, out of sixteen participants only four crossed the finish line, Jean Luc Van den Heede won. Many risked their lives like 44-year-old Indian Abhilash Tomy who capsized four times and was rescued in extremis off Australia. Not satisfied with the risks he took, he came back to the start with a Rastler 36 and is now in second place with less than 140 miles to go.

Kirsten herself starred in a heroic rescue, in this second edition of the Golden Globe Race. On Nov. 19, after rounding the Cape of Good Hope, in the waters off her native Port Elizabeth, the South African sailor rescued Finland’s Tapio Lehtinen, who was shipwrecked aboard her Asteria and recovered in less than 24 hours. To date there are only three competitors left in the race. The latest to be forced to retire was Ian Herbert Jones, rescued in the Atlantic Ocean by a Taiwanese ship just over 2 weeks ago.

Ian Herbert Jones (52) capsizes in the Atlantic and is rescued by a Taiwanese ship after rounding Cape Horn
Ian Herbert Jones (52) capsizes in the Atlantic and is rescued by a Taiwanese ship after rounding Cape Horn

The other female myths of solo sailing

While Kirsten Neuschäfer enters history today, there are some names of female sailors who have charted this course that are worth remembering.

Isabelle Autissier (class of 1956) was the first woman to participate in a solo round-the-world race without assistance. In 1991 comes week at the BOC Challange (later renamed Around Alone, solo round-the-world trip with stopover). He also participated in the 1994-95 and 1998-99 editions without success. Famous was his rescue in extremis in the South Pacific by Giovanni Soldini in the last edition.

Soldini with Isabelle Autissier after the rescue at Around Alone 1998-99

Florence Arthaud (born 1957), a great French sailor known in her homeland as “the little sweetheart of the Atlantic,” paved the way for women’s professionalism in sailing. His greatest victory was winning the Route du Rhum (a 3,542-mile nonstop, unassisted transatlantic solo race from Saint-Malo, Brittany, to Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe). He won the fourth edition, in 1990, aboard the 60-foot trimaran Groupe Pierre 1er. Just before this feat he had crossed the North Atlantic solo in 9 days, 21 hours and 42 minutes, breaking Bruno Peyron’s previous record.

Florence Arthaud

Tracy Edwards (born 1962), in 1985 was the first woman to participate in the Whitbread Round the World Race (now known as The Ocean Race, the round-the-world crew race). Four years later, in 1989, she took part again, in command of the first all-female boat to participate in a round-the-world race. She was the first woman to receive the Yachtsman of the Year award from the Yachting Journalists’ Association.

Tracy Edwards in command of Maiden, the first all-female boat to participate in a round-the-world race
Tracy Edwards in command of Maiden, the first all-female boat to participate in a round-the-world race

Dee Caffari (born 1973), is the only woman to have completed five round-the-world sailing trips, three of them nonstop . In 2004, she took part in the Global Challenge Race (29,000-mile round-the-world crewed race from east to west). In 2006, she made history by becoming the first woman to solo circumnavigate the globe from east to west, against prevailing winds and currents (took 178 days). Not content, in 2008/09 she took part in the Vendée Globe (nonstop solo round-the-world race) finishing in sixth place overall. The third non-stop round-the-world race was in 2011, when Dee completed the Barcelona World Race. Caffari also took part in the Volvo Ocean Race (the round-the-world crewed stage race) with Team SCA in 2014/15.

Kirsten Neuschäfer,Dee Caffari
Dee Caffari

Ellen MacArthur (class of 1976), Is the woman of record. In 2000 he crossed the Atlantic from east to west in 14 days aboard a monohull and comes in second overall at Vendèe Globe, the round-the-world solo non-stop race in 94 days (a record for a woman on a monohull). She holds the women’s multihull ocean crossing record (7 days and 3 hours). In 2005, with a 70-foot trimaran, snatched the record for non-stop solo circumnavigation of the globe (71 days 14 hours and 18 minutes) from Francis Joyon. Joyon re-beaten him in 2008, but there are only four sailors in history to have completed a solo round-the-world race on a multihull, with no stopovers or assistance.

Ellen MacArthur

James Barbaro

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