The inaugural Global Solo Challenge has been an ocean race like no other. From a sizable percentage of American sailors to a pursuit start that took several months to get everyone on the racecourse, it has generated a lot of conversation. The race pits pro and amateur sailors on whatever boat they chose against an around the world course south of the Three Great Capes, starting and finishing in A Coruña, Spain.
At this stage in the race, the homestretch is in sight for a few competitors. Fleet leader Philippe Delmare is two weeks past Cape Horn, and though he’s struggled with some difficult light winds in the south Atlantic, it looks like he may be back on dry land within the month. The French skipper, who began his race on September 30 aboard the Actual 46 Mowgli, is currently projected to finish on February 20.
Delmare has led the fleet since early December when he crossed the wake of Welsh skipper Dafydd Hughes. Hughes, who’d started first on August 26 with the slowest boat in the fleet, had led the race up until that point. With about 1,000 miles between him and the second-placed Delmare, he was forced to stop in Hobart to assess and ultimately retire from the race due to an autopilot failure on his S&S 34 Bendigedig.
After taking the lead, Delmare entered the Pacific with nearly a whole ocean separating him from the second-place skipper, Cole Brauer. With just shy of 4,000 miles separating them, the young American had ground to cover. Her Pacific crossing was plagued with wear and tear repairs, particularly to her hydrogenerator. Still, the pedal was to the floor, and by the time Delmare was rounding the Horn, Brauer and her Class40 First Light had narrowed that gap by 1,000 miles.
At press time, she is making final preparations for rounding the Horn, precisely threading the needle between two extreme storm systems, and even slowing her boat down for a period to let a system pass her by to make a safe rounding in these infamous waters.
Brauer began the race on October 29 with six other boats, and upon finishing will become the first American woman to race solo around the globe. At 29 years old, she is the youngest skipper in the fleet, and she is the only woman in the race.
Rounding out the projected finisher’s podium is American skipper Ronnie Simpson aboard the Open 50 Shipyard Brewing. Simpson had been Brauer’s closest competitor for much of the race, but the Indian Ocean took a toll on his boat. Though he was able to make many repairs, including patching significant mainsail tears, he made the difficult decision to stop in Hobart for maintenance before continuing on. With the long South Pacific stretch ahead and no possible ports to pull into for thousands of miles, it was the only prudent course of action. Fortunately, unlike many other ocean races, stopping for help is allowed in the Global Solo Challenge, though it incurs a time penalty.
Simpson is currently 1,200 miles or about a week behind Brauer and contending with the tail end of the same vicious system that she is trying to stay south of. He also reports tactical slow downs to manage the conditions.
Behind them, 10 boats remain in the race, scattered across the Indian and Pacific oceans. For the Finnish skipper Ari Kansakoski, the race came to an abrupt end when his Class 40 ZEROchallenge dismasted just two months into his race, over a thousand miles from shore. Without enough fuel to reach shore, he was forced to jury rig a sail and limp back westward. He arrived safely over three weeks later in Durban, South Africa.
Though in its first edition, the Global Solo Challenge has undoubtedly already become a race to remember, with all the heartache and perseverance that define ocean racing. And if you haven’t been following along, the podium isn’t expected to be filled out until mid-March, so there’s still time to tune in for the final weeks of this race.
For more on the Global Solo Challenge and to view the race tracker, visit globalsolochallenge.com.