Making Waves and Setting Records

Kirsten Neuschäfer, winner of the Golden Globe Race, spoke to how her life has changed in the last 14 months.

Following her Golden Globe Race triumph, Kirsten Neuschäfer was named female 2023 Rolex World Sailor of the Year in November, and earlier this year she was nominated for a Laureus Sports Award in the Action Sportsperson of the Year category. Of the Laureus nomination, Kirsten simply said she is “honoured” and is “in awe” of her fellow nominees.

Far from the glamour of glittering awards ceremonies, which bring together the who’s who of global sport, Kirsten Neuschäfer finds solace in the vast expanse of the ocean, a place where the only spotlight comes from the sun.

She would far rather be all alone on her beloved boat, Minnehaha, but the South African sailor has had to force herself to become accustomed to international attention after winning the 48,000km GGR in April last year.

Not only did she become the first woman to finish first in the GGR, after almost eight months at sea, but she did it solo, using no modern navigational equipment – as per the race rules – and even rescued a fellow competitor on the way (Tapio Lehtinen’s boat sank in the southern Indian Ocean).

Describing the response since she crossed the finish line in France Kirsten said it “has been humbling”.

In the year or so since then Kirsten explained what she has been doing: “I have been travelling a lot, sharing my story with those who have asked me to and trying to digest the immensity of experiencing the GGR and of finding my feet on land again.

“I went from focusing full-time over a period of four years on successfully following through the project of racing and winning the GGR, to dealing with a lot more public interest in my story than I would ever have expected. I have gone from being a usually very private and preferably anonymous person, to trying to honour the public as much as they have honoured me with their support and interest.”

Image: Jean-Luc L’homond

Taking pride in preparation

Speaking about what she is most proud of after pulling off such a monumental feat, Kirsten does not look back on the victory or even the rescue, not even becoming the first woman to achieve the win. For her, it is all about what went in before she even got to the start.

“I am proud of the meticulous preparation of the boat,” Kirsten said. “One other person – Eddie Arsenault – and I did 98 per cent of all the work with our own hands and on a small budget.

“We did the best work we could – we took no shortcuts, we spared no expense and I believe we did a better job than even a professional yard might have done. Doing as much as I could with my own hands was one of the best things in being sure the boat and I were well prepared. It was a huge undertaking for just two people. At times it seemed impossible, but we did it, and we did it well. It is said that a race is often won before the boat leaves the dock.”

Motivated by challenge

Hailing from Gqeberha in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, Kirsten Neuschäfer is no stranger to solo adventures. Before taking on the GGR, apart from numerous sailing ventures, she cycled 15,000km down the African continent from Europe to South Africa on her own.

“The challenges were very different,” she explained. “The dangers, difficulties, the preparation, the budget. What they do have in common, though, is adventure and the love of challenge and the unknown.”

That desire for the unknown has not got Kirsten planning her next challenge just yet though. For now, she is still missing the simple life out at sea.

“I miss, above all, being so disconnected from modern communication and disconnected from the internet and social media. I miss privacy and solitude. I miss Minnehaha.

“I miss being so close to the ocean, to nature, the simplicity of life with one simple goal each day: make my boat glide through the water as fast as I can, keep her safe, be observant, read the weather, do my best at one of the things I love doing most: sailing.”

Courtesy of SportsBoom

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