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In Rarefied Company: The Aura Surrounding Cole Brauer


  • In Rarefied Company: The Aura Surrounding Cole Brauer

    Waiting for the "second winner" of the Global Solo Challenge
    By Marco Nannini.

    After the first to cross the finish line of the Global Solo Challenge, French Philippe Delamare on Mowgli, we’re getting ready to welcome the second winner, the young Ms. Cole Brauer on First Light. Let me explain.

    Cole Brauer on crossing the finish line will become the first American female to ever complete a solo non stop circumnavigation by the three great capes and will therefore write her very own page in history. She will join an elite of less than 200 men and women that have ever achieved this incredible feat.

    In 1969, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston became the first ever person to complete a solo circumnavigation by sail without stopping in a time of 313 days on his 32ft Suhaili. It was not until nearly 20 years later in 1988 that Australian Kay Cottee became the first female to succeed in achieving the goal on board her 37ft Blackmores First Lady.

    "Even as I make this reel, I cry. So many emotions. Happiness that this journey has been the most magical journey of my life or sadness that it’s almost over. Thank you to my wonderful team and supporters. Truly. I am so unbelievably grateful for this experience. I will never forget it."

    Cole Brauer - First Light @colebraueroceanracing

    Since then and including Kay, a total of only 16 women ever managed to gain an entry in the solo (non-stop) circumnavigators register which is maintained by the International Association of Cape Horners (IACH) whose president is the very Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and the Vice President is sailing legend Jean-Luc Van Den Heede who came to A Coruna to welcome Philippe Delamare on his arrival.

    I am also a Cape Horner and member of the Committee of the IACH, but with a much humbler achievement to my name than Cole will have, as my circumnavigation in 2011/2012 was double-handed and with stops whilst Cole will be part of ultimate elite of offshore solo sailors.

    I extracted the list of female solo circumnavigators, please forgive me and let me know if I accidentally skipped a name: 1988 Kay Cottee, 1995 Lisa Clayton, 1997 Catherine Chabaud, 2001 Dame Ellen MacArthur, 2005 Anne Liardet, 2005 Karen Leibovici, 2006 Dee Caffari , 2009 Samantha Davies, 2010 Jessica Watson, 2013 Jeanne Socrates, 2019 Asia Pajkowska 2021 Clarisse Cremer, 2021 Pip Hare, 2021 Miranda Merron, 2021 Alexia Barrier, 2023 Kirsten Neuschefer.

    Many will be familiar with the name of Dame Ellen Macarthur, also known through her three books, “Taking on the World”, “Race against time” and “Full circle”. The minute British sailor certainly carved herself a very special place in history by coming 2nd in the 2000 Vend?e Globe just behind “The professor”, sailing legend Michel Desjoyeaux. I think in many ways she is the female sailor that broke all the gender rules books and stereotypes and it is no surprise that Cole Brauer cites her as one of the sailors that inspired her.
    We certainly do not want to overlook the achievements of other female sailors on this list, Dee Caffari is the only female sailor to have sailed both ways around the world, east-about and west-about, and Kirsten Neuschefer was the first to take overall first place in an event in the GGR 2022.

    Just like Dame Ellen MacArthur, Cole Brauer is quite petite, both are excellent sailors as well as excellent communicators. However, there is at least a generation in between the two. Ellen born in 1976 is a Gen Xer, which she seems to represent well with her individualism, fierce ambition and extreme focus in all she does. Cole adds many new dimensions, probably because she’s on the cusp between being a Millennial and a Gen Z. I hope you’ll take with a pinch of salt my using generational stereotypes in my narrative as breaking stereotypes is what we are talking about! Bear with me, you will see it is only a way of telling the story.

    Millennials are digital natives and Cole clearly stood out during the Global Solo Challenge for her skill in communicating with a modern style that differed from most of her peers, a style that reached a public well beyond the traditional sailing circuits. As organisers we have plenty of data about our public which we normally expected to be primarily composed by Gen Xers, 90% of which males. During the course of the event we saw that our public, especially on Instagram began to change and became unlike what we were used to, with a near 50-50 split between male and female followers and a distribution that now includes far many more Millennials and Gen Zers than just Gen Xers and Boomers. I think it is fair to say it is all thanks to Cole as, for example, on platforms like Facebook which are not as popular with the younger generations we have only seen a marginal change in the traditional public distribution.

    Millennials marked a shift from the practical and often workaholic vision of life of the Gen-Xers and began to express with a louder voice their dissatisfaction with the world around them, are ambitious and want to achieve their goals: this seems to be a fitting description for Cole Brauer who certainly has chosen to work hard to follow her passion, goals and ambition. Where she really does not seem to fit the broad generalizations of Millennials, is their 2014 description by the Time Magazine as the “me-me-me generation”. Perhaps here is where Cole shows more the traits of Gen-Zers who are often described as being better at looking beyond themselves and are thought to be the ones who have given more of a voice to social causes than their predecessors.
    Cole wishes to change how female sailors are considered and treated within the sailing world and she does not simply talk of representation, as a sterile matter of numbers and percentages. Cole wishes to be her feminine self and break the male oriented stereotypes of this sport. As the NY Times recently put it “Ms. Brauer has been happy to turn the image of a professional sailor on its head. Competitors in the Ocean Race and the America’s Cup tend to pose for static social media posts with their arms crossed high on their chests, throwing stern glares." Cole, instead, has gained her 400+ thousands Instagram following with her smile, her timeouts from racing to look after herself and generally by being the woman she is without ever feeling the need to portray herself as a male version of herself managing to remain genuine and true.

    As the event comes to a close with the winner declared and more competitors on their final approach, more interviews are taking place and we are often asked, as organisers, what we think of Cole’s participation. The first point I always make is that I always considered and treated Cole exactly like any other participant in the Global Solo Challenge. I too read and was inspired by reading Ellen MacArthur’s books, amongst many, and I really want to take immediately the focus away from the discussion of whether female entries can compete against men in this sport,I think this question is over 20 years old and I don’t think it should even be brought up. What I try to convey is that the barriers that Cole wants to break go further than the mere physicality of being a man or a woman, she wants to deal with their essence. 20+ years after Ellen MacArthur, Cole is competing in the sport with all her femininity and without feeling the need to change and adapt to conform to the stereotypes of sailing and she won’t cross her arms high on her chests and throw a stern glare. Cole will, Instead, give you a warm smile.
    I remember when we were doing the official photoshoot before the star and I also wanted to break away from that imagery of overly serious poses. Cole was jumping up and down, raising her arms and showing her bright smile, unprompted, it was great. With others I had to enlist the help of my 8 year old daughter to pull faces at the skippers until they had no choice but break their posture and laugh.

    Cole embodies many of the goals that the Global Solo Challenge strived to achieve. The home page of the event focuses on the motto “Achieving a dream”. First and foremost we wanted to create an inclusive and open event that would allow people to enter with a reasonable budget (relatively speaking) and on the boat of their liking, perhaps one they already had, as long as they could make the modifications to comply with the safety framework of the event. All participants share this dream of completing a solo circumnavigation by the three great capes.

    In the case of Philippe Delamare this was a long held dream and his sense of satisfaction for achieving it was palpable when he arrived. This accomplishment is something that no one and nothing will ever be able to take away from him and will in many ways now be part of his new self. For some participants, and for Cole more than others, the Global Solo Challenge was the opportunity she was looking for to prove herself to the world, and did she not?!.

    We are ecstatic that we could offer a stage for her ambitions, even as a first edition of an event, Cole made the most of it and owned it and even gave so much to the event by bringing additional visibility. We feel more like we prepared the kindling but that ultimately she lit her own fire.

    I deliberately do not want to focus on Cole’s sailing skills, why would I need to explain to you how well she’s doing considering she’s holding 2nd place? Philippe on arriving was asked what was the hardest part of his circumnavigation and without hesitation he responded that it was the mental aspect, the ability to deal with the emotions, ups and downs, difficulties that bring you to the brink of desperation alternating with the highs of the adrenaline of the great adventure. Cole’s sailing skills are very evident so I want to draw your attention instead to her mental abilities in keeping all the aspects of the entire campaign together.

    For a modern sailor with ambitions to become a pro in the elite circuit of races like the Vendee Globe, sailing skills alone are no longer enough. A sailor must offer a clean positive endorsable image, communication skills and strong positive values. We believe Cole ticks all the boxes and that she has skillfully paved her way to a very bright future. The merit is hers but we are glad to have been part of this journey.

    As we write Cole is just over 1200 miles away from A Coruna, sailing around the Azores high. She will soon be able to point her bow straight towards the finish line which she’s expected to reach between the 6th and the 7th of March. The excitement is high and I think everyone is holding their breath and waiting for her to be able to scream relief and elation, rejoice and cry knowing what she did is beyond extraordinary. Until then, we must patiently wait.
    I apologise to the other skippers for focusing exclusively on Cole today but each will be given their space and admiration. It was not by chance that I started this article by saying we were in A Coruna waiting for the second winner of the Global Solo Challenge after Philippe Delamare, because each skipper is a winner in some way. Next time we will tell you why so many Italians are following Andrea Mura on a daily basis, we’ll talk about his dreams, trials and tribulations that brought him on the start line of this circumnavigation and how crossing the finish line of this adventure will make him a winner too.

    Watch Cole's Arrival in A Coruna

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