April 28/2023: It has finally happened! A woman has won a solo round-the-world sailing race. Non-stop no less. South African Kirsten Neuschäfer, age 39, drifted across the Golden Globe finish line yesterday evening in Les Sables D’Olonne, France, after spending 253 days alone at sea, and so has planted an important flag in the annals of human sport. A female competing on equal terms with males has prevailed in what is arguably the most demanding of all sporting events.
Check out the viddy:
For more background on this historic milestone, and on the women who almost checked this box before Kirsten, you can also ponder my previous post from early February, when Kirsten took over the lead from Simon Curwen, who was forced to stop racing and put into shore to repair his windvane.
In all fairness to Simon, we must also note that in spite of falling about 10 days behind Kirsten while making repairs in Chile, he managed to overtake her on the long passage up the Atlantic from Cape Horn. He took line honors and in fact finished a day before she did.
Some may assert this diminishes Kirsten’s achievement. Do bear in mind, however, that Simon’s chance to haul his boat, scrub her hull, and refresh her antifouling gave him a huge advantage on the last long leg of the voyage. Growth on hulls in this ultimate long-distance race has proven to be a very determinative factor.
By putting into port, Simon did disqualify himself from winning the GGR’s main event, but he has won first place in the so-called Chichester Class, for those who make one stop during their circumnavigation.
Abhilash Tomy should finish second overall behind Kirsten sometime later today. Michael Guggenberger, still some 1,600 miles from the finish, should come third barring mishaps. Jeremy Bagshaw, about 2,500 miles from the finish, is meanwhile still eligible to come second in the Chichester Class.
The other 10 competitors who started the race last September 4 have all been forced to retire.
This now is the big question in my mind: what comes next for Kirsten? Ellen MacArthur became a major celebrity after she finished second in the Vendée Globe back in 2001. Kirsten certainly deserves some sort of celebrity, and the major media is indeed taking note of her accomplishment today.
Will she race again? Hit the big time in the Vendée Globe or some such event? Or will she fade into obscurity?
I certainly hope not.