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An insight into Cole Brauer's future after the Global Solo Challenge

by Marco Nannini / Global Solo Challenge 9 Mar 00:16 GMT 9 March 2024
Cole Brauer – First Light © YACHT / M.Strauch

Where to begin to tell you about the fantastic, emotional, monumental day that it was yesterday as we witness Cole Brauer make history sailing her aptly named Class40 "First Light" into A Coruna just as darkness was giving way to a beautiful day of celebrations.

Cole had informed the organisation at around 2 am that she intended to slow down just enough to time her arrival with the beginning of the new day. She was initially expected to cross the finish line at around 5:30 am but she eventually did at 8:23 local time, after 130 days 2 hours and 45 minutes at sea. The fastest known time for a solo circumnavigation on a 40ft boat which can't be ratified as an official record, but which effectively improves the reference record time set by the late Guo Chuan in 2016.

By 5 am we were ready to head out on our rib with two photographers and two special guests, Philippe Delamare, winner of the Global Solo Challenge on February 24th and Dafydd Hughes, the first to start his circumnavigation on August 26th last year. He was one of the protagonists of the first half of the event, with his cheerful and humorous blogs. Unfortunately he ended up deciding to retire in Hobart following autopilot issues but having earned great admiration from all the world around, as he was on the smallest, slowest, oldest boat in the fleet and his achievement in sailing halfway around the world should not be underestimated.

After heading out past the iconic Tower of Hercules we began trying to spot which of the faint lights on the horizon may be Cole's boat, it was still a dark moonless night. When we finally made visual contact, it was very emotional, again my heart skipped a beat just like when I had spotted the orange hull of Philippe Delamare's Mowgli riding huge waves just over a week ago.

The conditions were ideal for her arrival, the sea state was not difficult and the wind ranged from around 15 to just over 20 knots in the gusts. Enough, however, to make the ride on the short choppy waves stirred up by the south-easterly winds bumpy on the rib, the live broadcast was more than just shaky, and the attempts to take photos were initially quite difficult until more light allowed for faster shutter speeds.

As Cole closed into the bay things improved and the moment she lit her flares to cross the finish line will remain etched in history. After docking at Marina Coruna it was a whirlwind of joy, tears and emotions. Offshore solo sailing is a sport of great sportsmanship and camaraderie and Philippe Delamare was there for Cole; the same tradition exists in the Vendée Globe.

The bond that these sailors have formed directly or indirectly through their circumnavigation will last for life, so much so that one sailor, whose name I now unfortunately forget, when asked why he sailed solo, he responded "I do it to make friends". It was Philippe Delamare that presented Cole Brauer with her Global Solo Challenge trophy before hugging her, visibly emotional.

Finally all tension was released in a jubilee of celebrations as she slammed a magnum of champagne on the dock generating an explosion spray and joy that drew in all those standing by and welcoming Cole.

In a matter of hours American media was on fire: ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, New York Daily News, New York Post, Fox News and many more, together with local press and all the sailing related websites in Europe and around the world, immediately covered the story. It was just the moment where all of Cole's efforts were coming together, and we believe this is just the beginning for her.

So much has been already written about Cole in the space of 24 hours that the risk of repeating what you have read already is great. So I want to give a different perspective and insight and have a peak at what the future may hold for her.

Cole has already announced she intends to start campaigning for the 2028 Vendée Globe and as Philippe Delamare jokingly said, "when she'll be at the start line of the Vendée Globe I will be able to go around telling everyone I know Cole! I was the guy who presented her the trophy at the Global Solo Challenge!"

In an article written just prior to her landing I have explained the many reasons that lead me to feel sure she will attain the goal, modern offshore solo sailing, at the pro elite level requires a variety of skills combined and I strongly believe Cole ticks all the boxes to allow her to take the giant leap from a Global Solo Challenge to a Vendée Globe.

The scale of a Vendée Globe campaign compared to a Global Solo Challenge stands at the very least at a ratio of 10 to 1 in terms of complexity, financial commitment, skill level of the pro elite sailors and competence of the shore team that accompany the skipper during a campaign.

During the Global Solo Challenge 2023, Cole Brauer Ocean Racing was undoubtedly the best prepared and funded project of all the entries in the event. Unlike other participants she was the only one to have a full shore team, not just a few friends and helpers. I don't know the exact number but I think around 25 people were involved in one capacity or another, directly employed or contracted to the project. This was great to see as very often those trying to step up from non-pro circuits to the pro elite do not quite comprehend the many orders of magnitude you have to scale your operations by.

For this circumnavigation Cole managed to put together a very solid team with some very young talented professionals that grew together with the project and therefore very justly should feel proud and celebrate this as a collective achievement. I often chatted with Cole via WhatsApp during her circumnavigation and expressed my sincerest appreciation for all the work she did and how well prepared she had come and I am sure she's only happy that I mention her shore team for their tremendous commitment to the project.

I also mentioned to her how I believe this challenge will lead her to face a whole new level of milestones to achieve to break through into the elite pro league. A Vendée Globe campaign is a different game and cannot be built on dedication and enthusiasm and it will be key for her to attack the learning curve to step up the IMOCA world as soon as possible and make sure she immediately seeks to add to her team the people she needs to learn from the best and avoid the pitfalls of trial and error. During her Global Solo Challenge campaign it was OK to have some members of the team that did not have outright experience of navigation in the roaring forties for example, but the next step will require getting things done right, or fail. Failure in a Vendé Globe campaign is a very costly exercise as she will be looking at a 10 to 20 fold increase in budget for a 4 year campaign.

She may also have to deal with a culture shock moving from the camaraderie of a non-professional event to the pro circuit. Back in my day of navigating, being only an amateur playing in the bigger field, I found it quite overwhelming to deal with some of the bigger events and that's where a shore team with specific experience in the circuit comes into play to make the transition as smooth as possible to reach pro level.

Offshore solo sailing is still French dominated and it is often easy to forget how much knowledge, experience and infrastructure exists in France where the Global Solo Challenge has recently been amicably referred to as the Petit Vendee Globe for amateurs. Given what the Vendée Globe represents in the sport, we take it as the biggest compliment French media could have paid to us, I really feel very grateful for the positive welcome that the event had in the French press. Which was by no means to be taken for granted.

There may even be a culture shock in being suddenly thrown into a french pro world as I can't see the personalities of hardcore Bretons/French sailors and the bigger-than-life American style immediately integrating smoothly. An ideal scenario would be for Cole to fall under the wings of someone like Alex Thomson who is behind the campaigns of Clarisse Cremer and Scott Shawyer. Alternatively she could seed the mentorship of Sam Davies, Dee Caffari or other equally experienced sailors.

We really hope that the Global Solo Challenge will have proven to be just a stepping stone for Cole and that she will keep her smile, strength, positivity and energy when the learning curve will suddenly feel like her new Everest. As we said many times the mental factor is always the most important and we are sure Cole will have no difficulty making sense of a future which at present might feel like a giant puzzle. Fair winds Cole, we wish you every success and you will forgive us if in future we'll go around too bragging about having had the pleasure to meet you.

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