Cole Brauer

Cole Brauer: “I loved every moment of every single day”

On 7 March, aboard her Class40 First Light, Cole Brauer (29) became the first American female sailor to complete a non-stop round the world race (130 days), finishing second in the Golden Globe Solo Challenge behind France’s Philippe Delamare. This performance, combined with her enthusiasm, has made her a media phenomenon in the United States. Tip & Shaft spoke to her on Thursday.

▶︎ Can you tell us how you started sailing?
I started sailing at the University of Hawaii where I studied medicine, I was training to be a doctor, I was about 18 years old. Before that (she grew in Maine), I was always a water person, I loved being on the water, but there was no opportunity to sail. You had to have a lot of money, to be part of a yacht club. And it was just not an option. At the Hawaii university, you can either get into kayaking or paddle, and sailing was an option. I talked to a coach and just said that I would like to come sailing for fun, not racing, not anything. He took a look at me and he said I was the perfect size to come on small boats, like the 420, where you have usually a big man and a really small girl or guy. And so, I fit in pretty well and it was so wonderful! From this day, I decided to do more sailing than studying, my parents were shocked!

▶︎ Did you know anything about offshore racing or about competition or nothing? 
Not till university. That’s where I learned about the Volvo Ocean Race, which is quite well known in the United States, the Vendee Globe is not. I discovered the Vendee Globe when a mentor of mine gave me the book of Ellen MacArthur when I was 23 years old. I read it in a day so fast, I was crying and I immediately realized that this was what I wanted to do. You know, we’re the same size, both petite, and that’s amazing to see someone who is the same size as me finishing second in the Vendee Globe. She’s by far my number one idol, and that was the start of the story. I always wanted to do The Ocean Race and my mentor said: ‘you know, in The Ocean Race, the guys are so big and they can be a little rough’. He said I should look into the French solo sailing circuit because the camaraderie might be much more better.

▶︎ And finally, you decided to launch this Global Solo Challenge project, why?
I had been sailing offshore all through university and then on boats like 40 feet. I did a couple of Pacific Cup and Transpac and then I moved to the East coast and I started working as a boat captain and preparator on bigger boats, moving them from a point to another for the owners. I was doing all the deliveries so it gave me a lot of time to learn and work on my projects. The Global Solo Challenge came up last year. I had some sponsors for other races that I was doing and we were actually planning to do the Transat Jacques Vabre with my Class40, I was also thinking at the Global Solo Challenge. My sponsors said: ‘Which one can you win?’ I answered that with an older Class40 it was not possible to win the TJV and they asked: ‘Can you win the Global Solo Challenge?’ I said much more likely than the TJV! So they said: ‘Let’s go big or go home!’ And that was how I got the sponsorship for this.


“There was no fear at the start”


▶︎ How much did you get?
We definitely brought a larger team than any of the other competitors in this race so that always makes your budget much higher. We also based it in the United States which is more expensive. So we did it a high budget, but our sponsors were in it to win, so we wanted to make sure that like we were going into it 100%. The budget began at around 300 000 $ (275 000 €), I think we’re probably with the boat included about a million (920 000 €).

▶︎ What was your mindset before starting the race?
I think I was the only one on the team that wasn’t afraid! My whole team was very nervous because we’re a very new and young team, but for me it was something I had dreamed about and worked on for so long that it just felt like another day. I didn’t have any fear or anything because I trust the boat, I had been the boat captain for four years, I would have never done it on any other boat, we’re like two people. So there was no fear.

▶︎ And how did you feel during the race? Was it hard? Was it long? In tour pics, you were always always smiling, as if it wasn’t difficult….
I loved every moment of every single day! I don’t remember the worst day because it’s not important compared to how good the rest of the event was. There was a couple difficulties for sure like I had injured my ribs really bad. During the same week, we had autopilot problems and a rudder issue so I had to go in the rudder compartment for two days with my injured ribs in the Southern Ocean, it was quite painful but, one day it feels like your whole world is falling apart and then the next day feels so much better because it can’t be as bad as the previous horrible day, so you keep moving forward! At the end of the race, I didn’t really want it to finish, when the team and I were discussing about the arrival it didn’t bother me to slow the boat down to get the finish at first light because it was the name of the boat. A lot of competitors would have been like : ‘Oh just get me out of this boat I just want to go to the dock!’ For me I was totally okay to stay a little bit longer on the boat.


“I was the only one not crying!”


▶︎ Tell me about your feeling when you cut the finish line….
It’s interesting because I got to the dock, everyone was crying and I was the only one not crying! I kept thinking to myself I should be crying but for me, it was such a every day, so normal, because I’ve been on this boat for such a long time that when I got to shore I didn’t realize that my family and my friends had been so scared and so nervous for me. It’s taken me a week to really understand what my mind was.

▶︎ Is that important for you to show that a female sailors can make it? It seems that you are very committed in the defense of women’s rights, can you tell more?
It’s not really about just being a woman it’s about showing that you can have feminine energy to do it, you don’t have to be this typical offshore sailor that is masculine and strong and I wanted to show that even the men can have a softer side and clearly from my following you can see that people are craving that they want that type of feminine energy not just from women but also from men. And yes, I’m pretty committed for women’s rights, it’s not right to be discriminated against because of something you can’t control. The sailing community is very male dominated, the women are paid less than men, are respected less and a lot of times we’re not given the skipper position. You can see it just by the amount of women that are in the Vendee versus the men. So I’m just here just to show what’s going on.

▶︎ Your race has been followed by more and more people, you have now 500,000 followers on Instagram, did you expect that and did you have lots of interviews since last week? And did you receive congrats from people you didn’t expect?
No, it didn’t even cross my mind! Before I left we were sitting with my team in a bar and taking bets of how many people would be following us. I said 30,000 max and one of my teammates said 500,000, I laughed at him because I thought it was ridiculous, we were not Taylor Swift, neither performers, dancers or singers! And finally he was right, it is insane! I made a total of 24 hours of interviews since I arrived, I haven’t even had like a full night’s sleep, now I can’t wait to get on the airplane for eight hours and nobody can talk to me! Finally, I had congrats from like Heidi Klum, lots and lots of congrats from everywhere, I was floored by that. It’s absolutely shocking.


“I would love to do the Vendee in 2028”


▶︎ So it’s a great success for you, does it mean that maybe you will attract more and more sponsors too? 
I hope so. With my sponsors, it was clear that we finished out this campaign at the end of the race. So it’s s over, I don’t have anymore sponsors. But they made it very clear that they will help me to get more and some of them want to continue with me. I’m so overwhelmed with these supports and I’m sure that it will be much easier to get sponsors than it was before.

▶︎ So what’s the plan now for you? 
I get back to the States on March 19. And I’ve got a couple of conferences, and then, I’ll probably do some small racing out of Newport, but it’s mostly preparing the next steps, I would love to do the Vendee in 2028. But it’s a ton of money, a boat to find, there’s so much stuff to do! I’m still taking it day by day, step by step, it’s just getting organized and start the plans. I will very soon go back to being a professional sailor.

▶︎ Let’s see us in November in Les Sables d’Olonne?
Yes, it’s already on the schedule. I will be there. I was in France for the Route du Rhum start, it was incredible, so different than in the United States. In France, the racers are superstars, so I would I would love to come and face-to-face meet everyone.

Photo: James Tomlinson

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