So, how’s she doing today?
This question hops to the top of my morning scroll through the usual feeds and takes me to the YB tracking app, where I check the blue path and yellow pin that shows Cole Brauer’s progress across the Atlantic. It’s late September as I write this, and a couple of days ago she left Newport for A Coruña, Spain, on her final qualifier to the start of the Global Solo Challenge. The only female entry, she is to start the race on October 28.
She’s sailing First Light, a Class40 on which this summer she and her doublehanded co-skipper, Cat Chimney, became the first women to win the Bermuda One-Two—first to finish on both legs, and not by a little. She hopes to win the Global Solo Challenge. No less significantly, she also hopes to become the first American woman to successfully race solo nonstop around the world (“Leading the Pack,” October 2023). I know I’ll be as glued to her tracker in November and December as I was to Kirsten Neuschäfer’s earlier this year, as she became the first woman to win a solo round-the-world race, sailing her stout and beautiful 36-foot Cape George cutter Minnehaha to win the Golden Globe (“Golden Globe Glory,” August/September 2023).
Two totally different challenges on polar opposite boats, but each with a significant common thread: both sailed by women who are winning on the same playing field as men.
In a September column in The New York Times, Kurt Streeter said that “the biggest story in sports right now” is how women are capturing the attention and energy across the spectrum, from tennis to basketball to the Women’s World Cup. Unfortunately—but not surprisingly—he neglected to mention sailing.
He also noted that despite this reality, it’s still mostly men who run the teams, control the sponsorship dollars, and dominate the media that cover sports. “The decks remain stacked in favor of guys, but women continue their fight…Change is coming. But change will take more time. Maybe a few generations more.”
I’d like to think that sailing could be the shining exception to the stacked decks, but while I reckon that’s being naïve, there’s no question that something is already changing. There’s a kind of deep, rolling swell of momentum building on the stories of so many women sailors doing so many majestic and powerful and wild things in a sport long dominated by men—Pip Hare, Clarisse Crémer, Ellen MacArthur, Nathalie Criou (in the singlehanded leg of this year’s Bermuda One-Two, third in class and fleet on her Figaro 2 Envolée), Sam Davies, Jeanne Socrates, Sally Lindsay Honey, Shirley Robertson, Dee Caffari, Nikki Henderson, the list goes on.
SAIL Managing Editor Lydia Mullan and I caught up with Cole and her team in Newport as they sorted through piles of gear just days ahead of her departure. First Light’s cockpit was a controlled chaos of tools and parts undergoing final fixes and maintenance.
Amid the bustle, I was transported about 30 years back, when a young French sailor named Isabelle Autissier held me spellbound aboard her Open 60, Ecureuil Poitou Charentes II, in Cape Town, South Africa, as she prepped for leg two of the 1994-95 BOC Challenge. The only woman in the fleet, she’d crushed the competition on leg one from Charleston, South Carolina, to Cape Town.
She’d be dismasted in leg two, and despite subsequent tries, a solo circumnavigation victory would never be hers. But standing there watching Cole and her team working, that didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was the affirmation, across the years, that women have always been here in sailing, carving a path despite the stacked decks. And now, more and more, they’re leading the way.