Races are meant to test your endurance, power and grit. But a few also test your mental capacity and ability to survive. One such race? The Golden Globe, a non-stop, around-the-world yacht race, which is done completely solo. We chat to Kirsten Neuschäfer, winner of the 2022 Golden Globe Race, a nautical lesson in grit and endurance.
The 2022 Golden Globe Race
The race, also known as the ‘voyage of madmen’, is an 8-month solo trip, where you carry all of your own provisions that you will need from the start to the finish of the race. There’s no WiFi or connection with the outside world for the entire race, other than an occasional check-in with the event organisers or to call for help.
Of all the competitors, nine men started and only one finished, along with one woman, South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, who won the race this year, breaking multiple records, including best distance over 24 hours (unofficially 218.9 nautical miles), and best distance over 7 days (unofficial at 1143.7 nautical miles). And of course, as the winner, she’s the first woman to win the Golden Globe Race.
Kirsten became a professional sailor in 2006 and has been sailing since her childhood. She has over 150,000 nautical miles of sailing experience. Per her profile on the Golden Globe race website, “Kirsten’s longest single-handing was a delivery from Portugal to South Africa with only a wind vane as self-steering, on an old and maintenance-intensive 32-foot ferro-cement sloop.”
Dealing with loneliness
Alone at sea for months on end can take its toll on almost anybody. Some even opt out of the running because of loneliness. But Kirsten had things to keep her occupied and despite her prolonged solitude, kept going. She’d talk to her boat, Minnehaha, and read one of the 200 books she’s brought along with her. Sometimes, she’d interact with the odd dolphin swimming by. “One surely gets a lot of time to think,” Kirsten says. “Using Celestial navigation and not relying on modern weather forecast forced me to think more about the weather systems, and think ahead of the next weather systems.” She also enjoyed watching the sunrise with her morning cup of coffee in her peaceful solitude.
Crossing the finish line
Upon landing on the ground, Kirsten said she felt emotional after such a long time away at sea by herself. “By the time I got to land, I had known for a few hours that I had won the race,” says Kirsten. “After spending two weeks stuck in the doldrums, I thought my chances were over.”
For the last two weeks, I decided to race and push my boat, since I did not have to worry about major breakage any more. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed it.
I thought Abhilash (another competitor) was way ahead of me, but I thought to myself, ‘Now is the time, if there is a chance at all.’”
As I got 7 miles out of Les Sables d’Olonne, the wind totally stopped and I got stuck. Then the first boat arrived at me and told me, “You won!”. More and more boats joined me, and started celebrating, we were making jokes. Then I spotted my mum on a boat who was ready to jump on board, but that would have been disqualifying before the finish line! I spotted my managers Jérôme and Charly, and we all drifted very slowly towards the harbour over 4 hours, everyone blowing their fog horn and I my vuvuzela.
It was a very gentle arrival. Then after I crossed line, I entered the channel and there were thousands of people lined up along the canal, cheering and screaming. What a welcome. I did not expect this.” Well done to Kirsten on this stellar achievement!