Cole Brauer: Right place, Right time, Right person

Published on March 14th, 2024

There are times when the sport melts the internet, and Cole Brauer did that when she finished the 2023-24 Global Solo Challenge. We all got to know the 29-year old Cole for 130 days as she shared her non-stop race around the world, and amidst the media flurry that followed her finish, she caught up with Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck for this chat:

How surreal was your arrival?

It’s been a very, very strange feeling. When people are crying and hugging me and staring at me and congratulating me, it feels like, “Oh, it’s too soon,” like I haven’t done enough yet. It felt as if I had never left; it’s like a time warp. We are now staying in the same hotel that I stayed in for almost a month before the start, four months ago. I’m nearly in the same room. All of the employees are exactly the same. But then everyone congratulates you.

When will I see you on the late-night show circuit in the USA?

We’re working on it, particularly as the majority of my followers are not sailors. I think that’s why the following has exploded because it wasn’t about the race details. When I left, we had 13,000 followers, and 85% of those followers were men, and 15% were women. But at the end of the race, we had nearly 500,000 followers, and it was 50/50. So big growth in the female audience, and as the race progressed, the audience got older. Now 55 years and up is almost 30% of our followers.

My trip connected with so many of these older women who maybe wished they had this opportunity when younger, rather than following a more traditional path of marriage and family. We all take our own path, but there is always more we can do, and we found that we were inspiring this older generation to exercise or take on other new challenges.

I’m racing around the world and being thrown across the boat and having to cook my own food out of a plastic bag, and they ‘re like, “Well, if she can do that, I can do things too.” I think that’s why I make it such a woman thing because so many of my strongest supporters are older women.

Did you seek to be an example of what’s possible?

I think back to when this project got started, and the choices I made for my support team. This group was all very new, all very young, and had always been kind of passed up for prominent opportunities, much the same way that I had been passed up on the big-name regattas. I wanted to give people a chance to show me what they got, as when you give an opportunity to someone that has had their face shoved in the mud over and over again, they work three times as hard, and they work really extremely long hours, well beyond the call and action.

When I sat down with my support team very early on, we went through what my expectations were. I said, “I want to have fun. I want to show the world that this can be fun. It doesn’t have to be so serious” because then if you make a mistake, they’re like, “Oh, well, she’s already human. We already know that she’s human” versus if you’re always the serious French sailor and then you make a mistake, it’s big news. That makes the headlines, and I didn’t really want to make headlines from a “mistake.”

How important were the doubters to you?

My mother actually reads every comment on Instagram. She will sit down and read every single one, and she’ll screenshot the ones that are proposals and all the weird ones. She loves them. It’s her entertainment. It’s her reality TV.

For me, I love the doubters. I have a lot now that pop up on Instagram because once you put your world and your life out in the middle of social media. But my followers, these 55-and-up women, they have my back. You do not mess with them. They treat me like I’m their daughter or grandbaby, and they will rip that person apart. Plus, I have the backing of my team that are with me no matter what. But it’s not just my 15-person team. It’s half a million people.

Who inspired you to take this leap?

What really pushed me over the edge in the beginning was Ellen MacArthur’s book, Taking on the World. I loved that book because it wasn’t your typical French sailor. She was sensitive. After she got second, she cried at her press conference because she was winning and then to lost it; it was heartbreaking. She got criticized for showing emotion because this was 2005, before the Me Too movement. You couldn’t be in a male-dominated place and show that kind of emotion. You’d be considered weak.

But I really respected her for being the frontrunner of what I’m doing right now. She was the original. My race attracted a lot of attention from mainstream media who say how I am changing the world, but there are so many others like Ellen MacArthur, Dee Caffari, Sam Davies, Clarisse Crémer – many, many other women that have been breaking this barrier well before I waltzed in.

Opportunities have increased for women in sailing, but aside from you being in the right place at the right time, you are proving to be the right person. Nearly 500,000 followers on Instagram agree, but it takes courage to showcase yourself in a way that doesn’t trivialize offshore racing.

I’m allowed to be me because of the women that already opened this door. Speaking with Dee Caffari, where she was always sponsored by corporate sponsors, there was a fear of being dropped. I had a sponsorship that was not as flexible as the one that I had for this race years, and years ago, they eventually said, “We can’t take the risk. We’re going to drop you.” It was that cold.

There was no like, “I know you don’t have any money, and you spent your entire life savings. We’ll give you a stipend or something.” It was more like, “No, and we’re going to take the boat, and now you have nothing.” It was so cut and dry, and I get why these women before me had to rein in their personality for fear of having their dream taken away. You had to swallow that inner personality rather than lose their dreams.

Dee’s this wonderful, charismatic person, but then on television, she’s quiet and more calculated while I’m acting ridiculous because it’s fun. But it was for all these women before me that opened the door so I could be able to express myself 100%.

The focus has been on you being the first American women, and how you are now this social media darling, but I don’t think this would be nearly the story if you didn’t sail a great race. If you were still struggling to finish, do you think you’d have the same attention?

No, but at the same time the performance aspect does not translate as well with the non-sailing mainstream press. For that matter, neither did my followers care how I was doing. They only cared about my mental side. Questions about tactics, weather, and sail configurations just don’t get asked, which I get as most viewers don’t sail, and the press likely don’t know what to ask either.

Why this race?

I had won the 2023 Bermuda 1-2 in June, and I was going to take a little time off as I had been training and working so much. I usually work in Miami all winter long, and then I take some time off in the summer and go up to Newport and focus more on the fun and spend all the money that I made in Miami.

I was ready to just start my Newport Summer, but my sponsors were interested in supporting the next endeavor. I thought for a moment, and told them about the 2023 Transat Jacques Vabre which is a doublehanded race from France to Martinique in November, and also about the 2023-24 Global Solo Challenge.

They didn’t know much about either race, but then asked me which one I could win. I knew there was no way on God’s green earth that I could ever win the TJV with our vintage 2008 Class40. The mast is six feet too far forward, it’s super heavy, there are no kick-up rudders. I could go on about the vintage style of the Class40 and how it’s not competitive with the modern designs. But for the Global Solo Challenge, it would be the newest Class40, which is saying something, and I would be the youngest competitor and the only woman.

More so, the Global Solo Challenge would actually cost a little less because of shipping costs and things like that, so without skipping a beat my sponsor said, “Well, let’s go big or go home. We don’t care what it takes. We want to be a part of whatever you want to do, and we want you to stand on our shoulders to push your career forward.”

They’ve been big proponents of women in athletics. They usually sponsor cycling teams in the Tour de France. They sponsor four cycling teams, and three of them are women’s teams, so they’re very used to sponsoring women’s teams. It’s a family of three brothers. Two of them are financially involved, and one of them is just emotionally involved. We text all the time. They’re a wonderful, wonderful family.

This sounds philanthropic.

They have a couple of nonprofits already in place. They’ve been very philanthropic before I even walked into their presence. They have another Class40, and we’d always been training partners. They had watched me for four years be the boat captain of another Class40, and then one day said, “We’ve watched you work your tail off for four years. What do you want to do? You’re so young, and you’re so into it, you’re the only woman on this dock, and you’re quick as a whip. You don’t let anyone talk any shit to you. What do you want to do?” And I said, “Well, I want to be the first American woman to race non-stop round the world.”

They sound like a dream.

I was coming in after a training day with First Light and one of the brothers had his phone out, taking photos with this massive smile. He said, “Thank you so much for bringing us along on this journey of yours. We’re just so excited to be a part of your journey.” And I was like, “But you’re the biggest contributor This is your hard-earned cash.” And he was like, “Yeah, but this is your hard-earned time.”

He actually looks at it like, “My time is just as expensive as what he is put into the boat.” I think a lot of people in our world maybe don’t look at time and money in that type of equal currency, but he does. I don’t think I’ll ever get a sponsor like this ever again. There was no return on investments. He wanted absolutely nothing from me and it has allowed me to be me.

That goes back to Dee Caffari in the corporate world, not being able to have a personality because she’s fearful. But the message for me was, “You can say whatever you want. If you want to say something political, it doesn’t matter.” He was like, “You’re the front-runner. This is your program and if you make a fool of yourself, you make a fool of yourself. It’s your program.” He even downloaded Instagram, and I’m the only person he follows on Instagram.

Your sponsor owns the boat?

Yes. They had bought the boat from Michael Hennessy when the boat was called Dragon. I was the boat captain of Dragon for four years. That’s how I kind of got brought into the family. They said, “You know, why don’t you just come and you can race on the boat you know as much as you want, and you can take care of the boat as much as you want.” I was like, “Well, you know okay. That sounds like fun.” So, I went and did the SORC stuff, which was great because I got to pick who I wanted to sail with. Of course, I was going to pick another woman to bring her on the boat. We had a wonderful time. We won a bunch of trophies, and that was the beginning, the catalyst.

I read how Taylor Swift’s mom chose a gender-neutral name so her daughter would not be pre-judged. Any similar gameplan in the Brauer family?

Yes, my parents did it on purpose. I have a twin sister. Her name is Dalton, so we both have very strong male names. They did not want us to have problems when we put our name on a CV, which helped me get jobs but not always keep them.

When I first started working as a boat captain, I was hired a lot of times, and then I was fired on the spot when they saw me. That happened a lot in the beginning. Or I would be told, “My wife doesn’t want me going offshore with a woman.” I got that a few times.

I had one guy just say, “Oh, we just didn’t know who you were.” But they had already hired me, and I had already fronted all the food for the delivery and everything. And then they hired this random boat captain who ran their boat aground. They ended up actually hiring me afterwards, and I finished the job because I had all the food. Plus, I needed the money.

So yeah, I would say it’s a blessing and a curse. There was an option where someone had said, “Well, why don’t you name her Nicole?” And my mom said, “No. We should hold with the male-dominated names because we just want to make it a little bit easier in the long run.”

I’m still trying to get past the fact that there’s another one of you out there.

Oh, don’t worry. She’s like six inches taller than me. She’s dirty blonde. She went to an Ivy League school. We’re very different.

Your achievement is largely being recognized because of your gender, but do you feel like you need to move beyond being termed a female sailor?

I actually don’t look at it like it’s a pigeonhole. I think the way that my social media has been, before the start of the race and through the whole thing, is just me being me. I really did want it to show that the female side– I would say not even the female side, the feminine side because I think that men can also have a feminine side. You can take care of your body and your mind. You can wash your hair more than once a week.

There are men in the offshore racing world that boast about not showering for three months or at all, or only when it rained, but I wanted to show that it’s not really about being a female or even a woman. It’s about being feminine and that that’s not a bad thing to take care of your body and your mind, and then step off the boat and feel like, “Oh, I just went for a little booze cruise round the world.” I think it’s showing that you don’t have to be shoved in the typical male mold box.

I think you broke the internet when you did your nails on the race.

Which time?

Clearly, I didn’t watch enough videos.

They’re a mess right now because I did them the day before I got here, and then it blew 58 knots. I had to put in a reef, and when I came back down below, I looked down and all my nails were destroyed. So I did them again, and when everyone came up to me after the finish, they were like, “Oh, your nails look so good.” And I was like, “You should have seen what they looked like yesterday.”

Aside from all the work to prepare the boat, you organized a prop box. Aside from the nail polish, I saw an inflatable palm tree and holiday outfits. How?

The credit goes to Dave White, a super famous high-performance yacht rigger, who reminded me that four months at sea is a long time, and bringing along fun things helps with happiness. Even Dee Caffari said to bring wine to celebrate, though I did go a bit on the further side of the spectrum as I like fluffy and comfortable things, but it was these veterans that deserve the credit.

You have made it known that you now want to do the 2028 Vendée Globe, which is quite a leap from this race. How do you make that happen, particularly as an American.

There’s a ton of paths on how to get there on the French way, but I’m trying to navigate on doing it the most American-style way. Ideally, that’s building a boat in the United States with a local support team. I want to be home. I want to be with my supporters. There’s no reason for me to move to France where I don’t speak the language and I can’t really get sponsorship.

But the first step is to get the money. While my sponsors love what we’ve done, and while remain close, they do not have 10 to 15 million dollars to give me. Right now, it’s more or less just seeing where our options lie. I’m always going to say five years down the line, this is what I want to do. And if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m still going to be in the industry. That doesn’t change my job or my job title.

So, the progression is to first secure the budget, second is the facility, third is design team, fourth is the support team, and fifth is how do we get to the start line. I’ve gotten a lot of calls so the conversations have started but the money still has not come in. However, other things are coming along such as where to build and who to use.

While I would love 2028, I’m not afraid to do this when I’m 50. I did my dream of racing round the world so now I’ve got a lot of time for the next step.

Race detailsEntry listStart timesTracking

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

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.

Source: OGR

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