News Stories

Cole Brauer Comes in Second but Wins 450,000 Hearts

Photo by Associated Press

By Alistair Temps, BoatTEST Correspondent 

If you are one of tens of thousands who have followed Cole’s feat reel by reel, post by post, charmed and transfixed by this brave and talented young woman who took our social media feeds by storm, this will not be news to you. Those daily glimpses of her joy, pain, awe, and resilience have allowed us to experience First Light’s circumnavigation vicariously, in the best of what social media can be. 

Cole Brauer, 29, the youngest competitor in the race, has joined the select ranks of record-breaking solo circumnavigators, completing one of the toughest sporting endeavors out there, but something else she did along the way may be just as impressive: she took us all along with her.

Making it Look Easy

As she sailed northward across the Atlantic, braving winter gales that felt like child’s play after the relentlessly towering waves of the Southern Ocean. The New York Times published a profile of the Cole Brauer phenomenon, noting that with her “spa days” and cozy, colorful fleece blankets, the solo sailor’s Instagram feed “does not feel like the work of someone racing a 40-foot sailboat around the world in the Global Solo Challenge. But Ms. Brauer is not an average ocean racer.”

Cole Brauer, view from masthead while making repairs

View from the masthead while making repairs.

Anyone who has sailed solo or read about the historic exploits of Joshua Slocum, Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, or Ellen MacArthur will know that single-handed sailing is not for the faint-hearted. It requires uncommon reserves of grit and self-reliance, and having pushed through with broken ribs after violently broaching in December, Cole showed that she had more than enough of both. Yet she also showed us awe-inspiring sunrises, visits from seabirds, and moments of unadulterated bliss among the waves. 

A "Budget-Friendly" Ocean Race

The inaugural Global Solo Challenge 2023-24 seeks to be a budget-friendly solo, non-stop race around the world. Using a pursuit format for the 2023-24 race, 20 entrants from 34 to 70 feet have start times between August 26 to January 6 from A Coruña, Spain, with the first boat to return deemed the winner.


Solo sailor Cole Brauer has become the first American woman to race solo, nonstop and unassisted around the world, finishing the 2023-24 Global Solo Challenge March 6 at 8:23am CET after 130 days at sea.

A Star is Born

She finished in second place, setting a new Class40 around-the-world speed record and amassing 450,000 followers on Instagram in the process. At just 29 years old, Brauer was both the youngest skipper and the only female sailor in the fleet of 16 boats.

The “budget-friendly” solo sailing race has professional and amateur sailors circumnavigating the globe via the three Great Capes, beginning and ending in A Coruña, Spain.

Cole Brauer, Southern Ocean was wild and wet

The Southern Ocean was wild and wet.

The Global Solo Challenge had a pursuit start, meaning that competitors were assigned a start date based on a speed rating for their boat. The slowest boats left first and the fastest last. All other things being equal, the boats could be expected to finish around the same time, leaving the results up to the skill of the sailors and the weather conditions – theoretically! [BT Editor] 

Cole Brauer, her daily reels on Instagram chronicled life aboard

Her daily reels on Instagram chronicled life aboard.

In Cole’s Words

It hasn’t really hit me yet. Everyone’s so excited, but for me it hasn’t really sunk in that I now hold these records,” says Brauer. ”It just feels like I went for a little sail, and now I’m back.

“The race was for me. It was this amazing experience that I got to have, so I feel like the celebration at the finish is almost for everyone else who was involved with this. I already had the amazing experience, I already had the experience I went out there looking for. So, this celebration at the end is for the team and the supporters.”

Cole Took an Early Lead

Brauer started on October 29 with six other skippers. She led the group to the Equator and began picking off the competitors from earlier starts. As she turned east and headed for Cape Horn, she began having autopilot issues, one of which led to a broach that tossed her across the boat and injured her ribs. 

There was concern that she would have to pull into port, but despite the injury, she was able to make the necessary repairs and continue sailing.

Gear Begins to Go Wrong

In the South Pacific, Brauer also began having trouble with her hydrogenerator, which supplies much of her power onboard, keeping her steering instruments, autopilot, watermaker, and Starlink going. Despite a back-up system and regular maintenance, power-rationing was required through the end of the race.

Cole Brauer, first light with the finish line in sight March 7, 2024 off the coast of Spain

First light with the finish line in sight March 7, 2024 off the coast of Spain.

While being one of the top competitors of the race, the hallmark of Brauer’s campaign was her social media presence. Her honest, chipper updates brought followers along for the ups and downs of four months on the seas. She received hundreds of comments from people saying that although they’d never sailed before, they were so amazed by her bravery, tenacity, and positive outlook.

The Perspective of her Project Manager

This monumental milestone is not just a physical triumph, but a testament to her courage in facing challenges head-on,” says Project Manager Brendon Scanlon. “As she sails the rough seas and navigates life’s complexities onboard, we celebrate the indomitable spirit that defines her remarkable journey.”

“Very few people get this opportunity and fewer still actually succeed when they do. It’s a small club of people who’ve accomplished this,” says James Tomlinson, one of the team’s photographers. “She might not have won the race, but in our eyes she’s the champion.”

Brauer is a Long Island native who began sailing while attending the University of Hawaii at Mānoa. After moving back east, Brauer spent several years captaining the Class40 First Light, then called Dragon, for a previous owner who raced the boat primarily on the east coast and in Caribbean circuits.

Cole Brauer, a few hours after finishing, holding the silver cup for second place

Cole a few hours after finishing, holding the silver cup for second place.

Winning the Bermuda One-Two

New owners purchased the boat in late 2022 and offered to let her continue sailing it for the 2023 season, during which Brauer won the Bermuda One-Two with co-skipper Cat Chimney. The duo were the first women to win the event in its 24-edition history.

After that victory, Brauer set her sights on the Global Solo Challenge. Her next goal is to compete in the 2028 Vendée Globe — the highest level of solo circumnavigational races.

Attrition List:

DNS: Peter Bourke – Class40, Imagine
DNS: Ivan Dimov – Endur37, Blue Ibis
DNS: Curt Morlock – IMOCA, 6 Lazy K
DNS: Volkan Kaan Yemlihaoğlu – Open 70, Black Betty

RTD: Juan Merediz – Class40, Sorolla
RTD: Dafydd Hughes – S&S 34, Bendigedig
RTD: Ari Känsäkoski – Class40, ZEROchallenge
RTD: Ronnie Simpson – Open 50, Shipyard Brewing
RTD: Édouard De Keyser – Solaire 34, SolarWind
RTD: Pavlin Nadvorni – Farr 45, Espresso Martini
RTD: William MacBrien  – Class40, Phoenix
RTD: Kevin Le Poidevin – Open 40, Roaring Forty
RTD: Alessandro Tosetti – ULDB 65, Aspra


And the winner is -- Philippe Delamare (FRA). On his Actual 46, Mowgli won the 2023-24 Global Solo Challenge by finishing first, on February 24, 2023, with an elapsed time of 147d 1h 3m 37s.