When I finally made it to the finish line, tears streamed down my face. I saw a crowd of people cheering me on, and I could not believe I won. I felt ecstatic. Becoming the first woman in history to win this race fills me with pride.
CAPE TOWN, South Africa —On April 27, 2022, I set off in a 36-foot boat that I helped to rebuild as a competitor in the Golden Globe Race. My friends worried I would return looking like an animal wrapped in a human body with ragged hair. Instead, I returned glowing, ecstatic as I approached the finish line to a wild welcome. It felt surreal to become the first woman to win the race; a dream come true. As I stepped onto land for the first time in eight long months, one thought entered my mind. “I want a giant bowl of ice cream!”
I first heard about the Golden Globe Race in 2019. To prepare, I spent a lot of time at sea, sailing from Canada to South Africa and France. I practiced celestial navigation every single day. The Golden Globe Race felt different than anything I had done before. I knew it would be much more intense.
When the event first emerged in 1968, nine men attempted to circle the planet in sailboats. Only one man completed the race, Sir Robin Knox-Johnson, and one man was declared dead by suicide. At sea, it’s not a competition, but a fight to keep your mind and boat intact while sailing with no modern instrumentation or communication devices. One small mistake could threaten my life.
Yet, I believed I could do it. As a teenager, I used to hitchhike on ships to the Arctic to train huskies in the icy wilderness. I once went across Africa on a bicycle and led sailing expeditions to the bottom of the globe as a yacht delivery skipper. With my preparations, by the time the race started, I felt capable. I could work out my positions relying solely on the wind and sky. Yet, I would soon face challenges.
A spot exists between Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope at the Southern tip of South Africa. Here, the wind gets really rough. They call the passage “the roaring forties,” said to be the most dangerous route of all for sailors.
As I began to navigate the pass, rough winds threatened to damage my sails. I felt a surge of anxiety creep in and did my best to remain calm. The only way to navigate safely would be to rely on old sailing manuals from the 1960s and ‘70s. I studied them the best I could.
Facing the challenge alone proved to be the biggest difficulty of all. I needed to take extra caution to hold the boat myself and ensure I suffered no injuries. There was no margin for error in my situation. Thankfully, in the end, I kept the boat steady and coursed through.
Once the coast became clear, a huge weight released off my shoulders, replaced by an incredible feeling of pride. I laid on the floor of the boat. After such a draining experience, I let myself relax. Many parts of the journey frustrated me and at times, I considered giving up. At one point, I got stuck in windless doldrums near the Equator for almost two weeks, waiting endlessly for the sailboat to move. I felt distraught, certain others had passed me in the race. During the wait, I swam in the ocean, saw dolphins, and read, but I desperately missed my loved ones. Negative thoughts plagued my mind day and night.
Then, for the last few months of the race, complete peace settled in. I began to feel one with the ocean. I sailed at sea for 235 days. Through the whole trip, I only had a vague awareness of my place in the standings. When the organizers told me I had won, I stared at them in disbelief.
One day during the race, my satellite phone began buzzing with alerts of a man at sea. The authorities informed us that Tapio Lahtinen’s boat sunk and he was floating on a life raft in the middle of the Indian Ocean. His boat sank 100 nautical miles away from me.
I knew I had to try and help anyway I could. I quickly navigated towards his last known location; my body filled with adrenaline. Once I spotted him in the distance, it felt almost surreal. I shouted to get his attention. When I got him on my boat, an immediate bond formed between us. I served him some food and drinks and we toasted to life while we waited for his cargo ship to arrive.
When Tapio and I said our goodbyes, the smell of salty air surrounded us. I watched them leave and, quickly, my motivation surged. It felt nice to feel useful, especially after being so aimless for weeks. I resumed my travels with three more months to go before the finish line, determined to make it.
During the rest of the journey, I lived off coffee and one meal a day. I embraced solitude and peace and created my own routine to stay sane. I kept on reminding myself that I was not really alone, and that people were watching my progress on trackers and wishing me luck. The trip itself felt terrifying to take on initially, but I feel so grateful for it. I tried to focus on one day at a time. Every day, the first thing I did was wake up before the sunrise so I could sit and watch it patiently.
When I finally made it to the finish line, tears streamed down my face. I saw a crowd of people cheering me on, and I could not believe I won. I felt ecstatic. Becoming the first woman in history to win this race fills me with pride. The industry is largely made up of men, and for many years, I was the only female charter skipper.
I worked extremely hard to make it in this male-dominated field, and I feel grateful my efforts paid off. I wanted to be treated as their equal. I also wanted women to know they can do anything they set their minds to. The days after the win felt like one long party. My mother and family members came to greet me at the shore and stayed with me afterwards. My emotions escalated seeing my mother so happy. She was my biggest supporter through the entire journey.
The next chapter of my life has yet to be decided. For now, I want to be near my father who is growing old and awaiting my return. I will sail my boat one last time on holiday before I give it away to someone else. It’s been a long time since I haven’t thought about what I want to do. For the last three years, my focus has been on the race. It feels nice to have some time off, to just be. Life always comes up with surprises anyway, so I remain open to whatever it throws my way.
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