South African sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer has been sailing the world as part of the Golden Globe Race (GGR) since September 4, 2022, aboard her Cape George Cutter, Minnehaha.
The 2022 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race is the third of its kind and is held much in the spirit of the first GGR in 1968. The race is a non-stop, solo endeavour starting in the port of Les Sables-d’Olonne, France and travels eastward by The Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Cape Leeuwin in Australia and Cape Horn in Chile.
The race is done without the help of modern navigational aids and other technology besides emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) and automatic identification systems (AIS). Any vessel used must have been designed prior to 1988 with a hull length between 9.8 to 11 metres long and a minimum displacement of 6,200 kilograms.
Neuschäfer’s vessel, Minnehaha, is named for the fictional Indigenous woman in Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 poem The Song of Hiawatha and translates to “waterfall” in the Dakota Sioux language. At the end of 2019 in the wake of the previous 2018 race, she started searching for a permissible boat for the 2022 race.
“A boat came up that wasn’t actually on the pre-approved list, but a friend in Seattle said that it was a boat that should tick all the boxes, which was a Cape George 36. I then confirmed with the race organization committee that the boat would be allowed, and they said yes,” said Neuschäfer.
“Then I was on a mission to find a Cape George 36 and there were only three on the market at the time — one in Seattle, one in Newfoundland and one in Italy.”
The Cape George 36 in Newfoundland and Labrador was sold to Neuschäfer by an affiliate of Atlantic Boating, TriNav Group of Companies’ Ocean Yacht Sales.
“I was in Maine at the time, so I flew out to Newfoundland and saw this boat that I now have — Minnehaha — close to St. John’s. I saw the boat, I loved it immediately and I knew that was the boat for me,” said Neuschäfer.
Neuschäfer is currently in second place as of early January as she passes around New Zealand and sets off into the Pacific Ocean, trailing behind the UK’s Simon Curwen and just ahead of India’s Abilash Tomy. Her race wasn’t without delays, however, as Neuschäfer was instrumental in the rescue of fellow GGR participant Tapio Lehtinen, a Finnish sailor who came in fifth during the previous 2018 GGR.
On November 18, 2022, Lehtinen’s 36-foot vessel, Asteria, began to take on water. Lehtinen quickly activated his emergency position-indicating radiobeacon (EPIRB), boarded his life raft and activated his raft’s personal locator beacon.
Abilash Tomy, a friend of Lehtinen who was 170 nautical miles from his location, was the first to receive his distress signal and began to head toward him.
Tomy was informed that Neuschäfer, who was 105 nautical miles from Lehtinen, would participate in his rescue and he was free to continue on in the GGR.
“I sailed through the night with as much canvas at the helm as I could all the time to make sure I was on the best course I could be on, and by morning I reached Tapio,” said Neuschäfer. “It’s amazing how difficult it is to spot a life raft. I only really saw him when I was right close.”
Neuschäfer threw Lehtinen a line and pulled him aboard, where they shared a glass of rum as they waited for his rescue ship, bulk carrier M.V. Darya Gayatri, to approach.
“When the captain was ready, he radioed over and said, ‘We’re ready for you to approach.’ We approached, they threw a line over to us onto the deck, we tied the line onto the life raft and Tapio got back into the life raft. I kept the life raft loose on my side and they pulled him up to the boarding ladder and he got on board the ship,” said Neuschäfer.
For her rescue of Lehtinen, Neuschäfer has been awarded the Rod Stephen Seamanship Trophy by the Cruising Club of America. The award is given “for an act of seamanship which significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht, or one or more individuals at sea.”
Neuschäfer is excited for the latter half of the race and while she was daunted by the lack of GPS at first, has found the lack of modern navigational equipment has made her more in-tune with her surroundings as time went on.
“It makes you be more observant as to the sun and the celestial bodies moving around and making sure your watch is on time,” said Neuschäfer.
“Not getting modern weather forecasting, you’re far more observant as to what the clouds are doing — the sky, the sea state and the things you learned that you never had to use because you had a screen telling you what was going on. I’m enjoying that aspect. Yeah, I’ve got some down days where some company and some land would be good but on the whole, it’s a really good challenge and I’m glad and really privileged to be in it.”
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