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She went around the world in 235 days to win sailing's most grueling competition

South African sailor Kirsten Neuschafer beat 15 rivals in the 2022 Golden Globe Race, a grueling, nonstop, round-the-world sailing competition. She is the first woman in the race's history to have taken first place.
Kirsten Neuschafer
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GGR2022
South African sailor Kirsten Neuschafer beat 15 rivals in the 2022 Golden Globe Race, a grueling, nonstop, round-the-world sailing competition. She is the first woman in the race's history to have taken first place.

After 235 days alone at sea in a tiny fiberglass boat, South African Kirsten Neuschafer sailed to victory on Thursday in the 2022 Golden Globe nonstop, round-the-world race, crossing the finish line a day ahead of her closest rival.

In sharp contrast to the rough conditions she experienced during much of her voyage, Neuschafer, aboard her 36-foot Minnehaha, spent the last few hours with almost no wind, inching into the same harbor at Les Sables-d'Olonne, France, that she and 15 competitors departed on Sept. 4.

All but three of those entrants were subsequently forced out of the grueling race, regarded by many as the most challenging competition the sailing world has to offer. One boat sank in the Indian Ocean, with Neuschafer sailing to the skipper's rescue. Several others lost their masts or experienced other problems.

The Golden Globe is a unique race in which participants are not allowed to use most modern electronics to find their position at sea, relying instead on celestial navigation. It is a reboot of a famous 1968 race that resulted in the first nonstop, unassisted circumnavigation — a feat so rare that even today, more people have gone into space. The race was revived in 2018, and Neuschafer is now the first woman to win.

"I knew before I started that a large aspect of this race is luck and a large aspect is preparation," Neuschafer told NPR by satellite phone in February as she was about to round Cape Horn, where she faced 55 mile-per-hour winds and seas of 25 feet.

"The single-handed aspect was the one that drew me," she said of her decision to enter the race. "I really like the aspect of sailing by celestial navigation, sailing old school."

Neuschafer's closest rival, Abhilash Tomy, an Indian navy commander, is about a day behind her. Another competitor, Austrian sailor Michael Guggenberger, is not expected to finish for several more days.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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