Kirsten Neuschafer has become the first woman to win a solo, round the world yacht race after winning the 2022 Golden Globe Race
Kirsten Neuschafer made it very clear from the start that she was aiming to win the 2022 Golden Globe Race. And now the South African skipper has achieved her goal, and made history in the process.
After just over 235 days at sea, the sailor crossed the finish line off Les Sables d’Olonne in France at 9pm CEST on 27 April 2023 and became the first woman to win a solo, round the world yacht race.
After a painfully slow final few miles as she ghosted towards the finish, Neuschafer actually crossed the finish line around 10 hours behind competitor, Simon Curwen, but a previous stop for repairs for the British sailor had already relegated him to the Chichester class (for those who make a single landfall).
Second-time Golden Globe Race competitor, Abhilash Tomy will be the next boat across the finish line, lying some 100nm astern of Neuschafer. That these three will finish within the space of a couple of days after 235 days at sea speaks to the high level of competition between these front runners.
Tired but jubilant, the focussed 39-year-old, who throughout much of the race had no idea she was leading, celebrated a hard-fought victory. Her Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha was then towed up the channel to the pontoon as thousands of people cheered and applauded her incredible achievement.
Among them were 2022 Golden Globe Race skippers Ian Herbert-Jones, who had just arrived from Cape Town, having been rescued from his dismasted boat just weeks before, and French sailor Damien Guillou, whose race ended after windvane steering failure on approach to Cape Town.
‘I feel very emotional and honoured,’ said Neuschafer after finishing the race. ‘I am never going to forget the welcome. I want to thank my fellow skippers as without them, there would have been no race. Simon was very difficult as he was always in front of me and I knew Abhilash was close, and this encouraged me to navigate as quickly as possible.’
1997 Vendée Globe veteran Catherine Chabaud, the first female sailor to race solo non stop around the world without assistance, and the winner of the 2018 Golden Globe Race, Jean-Luc van den Heede, were there to greet Neuschafer as she stepped off her boat after nearly 8 months at sea.
Her official finishing time was 233 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes and 47 seconds. This takes into account the 35 hour time compensation and 30 litre fuel allowance given to her following her role in the rescue of fellow race skipper, Tapio Lehtinen,
Neuschafer said she was driven to keep going, even in calms and the doldrums on the way up the Atlantic, where she regularly went swimming to deal with the frustration.
‘I never thought I would give up; there was no reason to think this as I had full confidence in the boat. I never doubted I would get to the finish line.’
Throughout the 2022 Golden Globe Race, Kirsten Neuschafer has fought to be at the front of the fleet, her ambition to win driving her more than many of the other entrants.
She deliberately chose a boat that she believed could win the race and survive the Southern Ocean.
Speaking to Yachting Monthly from Prince Edward Island, where she was refitting the boat, she said: ‘From the outset it wasn’t a question of taking any boat that was available and in my price range; it was to choose a boat that I believe can win and can survive the Southern Ocean, and then get that boat at any cost, no matter how much work.’
Her choice of the Cape George 36 paid off. Minnehaha has the longest LWL in the fleet, and with a generous cutter rigged 806sq ft sail plan, the boat achieved slightly higher speeds than her counterparts.
As a result, she holds the 2022 Golden Globe Race records for the best 4 hour speed average (9.80 knots), best 24 hour distance (218.9nm) and best 7 day distance (1,216.2nm).
The boat’s performance was evident after her average start in the race, but she constantly pushed, choosing to hand steer the boat rather than just rely on her Hydrovane windvane steering to make up for lost ground. Her disappointment coming 6th through the first race gate at Lanzarote was evident, but her motivation was stronger.
Having exited the Bay of Biscay in 10th place, she was soon climbing the leader board. Coming down the Atlantic, she chose a more coastal route to keep the island of Trinidade to port; a strategy to make the most of the current and receive weather information via her weather fax so she could identify the location of the South Atlantic High.
She took the longer, southern route with a more comfortable point of sail to reach the race’s second gate at Cape Town; a strategy that paid off when she was second through the gate behind the then race leader Simon Curwen.
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By this time, Curwen was extending his lead as he began crossing the Indian Ocean. Days after leaving Cape Town, Kirsten Neuschafer diverted from her race route to rescue fellow entrant Tapio Lehtinen, after his Gaia 36, Asteria sank around 450 miles south east of South Africa.
At the time, Neuschafer was 105 miles from Lehtinen’s position; she hand steered through the night, posting speeds of 7 knots to reach him the following morning. Once safely onboard, they waited for the arrival of the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Darya Gayatri, which would take Lehtinen to port.
Neuschafer was awarded a 35 hour time compensation and a 30 litre fuel allowance by the Golden Globe Race organisers.
Back in race mode, she pushed hard across the Indian Ocean, gaining 500 miles on Curwen and arrived just 29.5 hours behind him in Hobart. She briefly took first place when passing through Tasmania but then became trapped in no wind zones around New Zealand for several days.
This allowed Curwen to extend his lead by 900 miles; by this time, he was also sailing in a different weather system to Neuschafer and her nearest rival, Abhilash Tomy.
Neuschafer and Tomy swapped second and third place positions across the South Pacific, Neuschafer often frustrated by the calms, and her inability to find the better wind, which was often in the race’s Pacific exclusion zone.
She dived for 8 hours to remove the barnacles from the boat’s hull to improve her speed.
Curwen, who had a 1,200 mile lead, then reported the failure of his Hydrovane self-steering gear, which forced him to make a 1,000 mile detour to Chile to make repairs; this also put him in the Chichester Class for entrants who make one stop.
This meant both Neuschafer and Tomy were back in the race for first place.
After 150 days of racing, Neuschafer took the lead and was the first to round Cape Horn on 15 February 2023.
But her routing decision up the Atlantic allowed Tomy to make gains in his Rustler 36, Bayanat, despite battling problems with his Wind Pilot windvane steering, his rig, rigging, and having to hand-stitch his mainsail after it ripped in two.
Unlike Tomy, who stayed close to the rhumb line, Kirsten Neuschafer, who was sailing more conservatively due to a bend in Minehaha’s bowsprit, decided to take a more easterly route.
At the time she said: ‘I read up in Ocean Passages for the World what is the best route for this time of year and the route is to pass 80 miles south of the Falklands and make for a point to the east of 35°S and 30°W at this time of year, and this is what I’ve been doing. I don’t know if it was a good idea to follow the suggestions or not.’
Doubting her easterly route, she took a more northerly route; it was a decision which would prove incredibly frustrating for Kirsten Neuschafer, who sailed through more light winds than any other 2022 Golden Globe Race sailor while sailing up the Atlantic, and meant she crossed a very wide doldrums.
This allowed both Tomy and Curwen to make gains on her position before Curwen in his Biscay 36, Clara, took the lead and become the first of the 2022 Golden Globe Race fleet to cross the finish line.
Positions of the Golden Globe Race 2022 skippers on 27 April 2022 at 2100 CEST
Kirsten Neuschafer, (South Africa), Cape George 36 cutter, Minnehaha – FINISHED 1st
Abhilash Tomy, (India), Rustler 36, Bayanat – 100nm to the finish
Michael Guggenberger, (Austria), Biscay 36, Nuri – 1800nm to the finish
Edward Walentynowicz, (Canada), Rustler 36, Noah’s Jest
Guy deBoer, (USA), Tashiba 36, Spirit
Mark Sinclair (Australia), Lello 34, Coconut
Pat Lawless, (Ireland), Saltram Saga 36, Green Rebel
Damien Guillou, (France), Rustler 36, PRB
Ertan Beskardes, (UK), Rustler 36, Lazy Otter
Tapio Lehtinen, (Finland), Gaia 36, Asteria
Arnaud Gaist, (France), Barbican 33 Mk 2, Hermes Phoning
Elliot Smith, (USA), Gale Force 34, Second Wind
Guy Waites (UK), Tradewind 35, Sagarmatha
Ian Herbert-Jones (UK), Tradewind 35, Puffin
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