Against the odds: Tales of the Global Solo Challenge 2023-2024

Against the odds: Tales of the Global Solo Challenge 2023-2024

Text: Marco Nannini
Image: Kevin Le Poidevin – Roaring Forty @RAAF


The Global Solo Challenge (GSC) 2023 marked the launch of a new solo nonstop round-the-world sailing event with a unique format. It took three years to go from concept to reality, and as the staggered starts saw skippers leaving A Coruña for their voyage, the adventure came to life through the stories of the skippers at sea. This inaugural edition saw 16 starters from diverse backgrounds and experiences embark on a grueling journey around the world. The challenge tested not only sailing skills but also mental and physical endurance. None of the sailors had sailed solo around the world before, and only a few had seen the southern seas.


Six participants managed to complete the circumnavigation with Louis Robein set to become the seventh, each with a unique story of struggle and triumph. The boats were of different sizes, classes, and types. Only one, Andrea Mura’s “Vento di Sardegna,” had been specifically designed for circumnavigation. All other boats had to be adapted for the challenges of such a long and difficult navigation.


While the GSC 2023 celebrated remarkable successes, it also reminded us of the unforgiving nature of solo ocean racing. Nine skippers faced insurmountable problems that forced them to retire from the race.


Philippe Delamare: The winner
Frenchman Philippe Delamare, an experienced captain with notable prior experience, including some solo sailing in the southern seas and several roundings of Cape Horn, took first place aboard the Actual 46 “Mowgli.” Philippe did not come from a history of offshore racing, but his journey was a masterclass in preparation and execution. He demonstrated exceptional strategic planning and seamanship, sailing the shortest route of all competitors and maintaining a relentless pace, never holding back even in tough conditions. Two storms, in particular around Cape Horn and near the finish, proved his courage and fierce determination.

Cole Brauer: A sailing and media sensation
At just 29 years old, American sailor Cole Brauer finished second, the youngest and only female competitor making history becoming the first American woman to complete a solo circumnavigation by the three great capes. Sailing her Class40 yacht “First Light,” Cole’s meticulous preparation, including a detailed refit and a strong shore team, paid off handsomely. Her journey showcased her impressive skills and speed, building a sensational media following and inspiring a new generation of female sailors.


Andrea Mura: The importance of experience
Italian sailor Andrea Mura, aboard “Vento di Sardegna,” finished third. He paced his navigation skillfully, finding the right balance between speed and risk. Dealing wisely with severe storms and technical difficulties and putting the foot on the gas when conditions allowed. Mura’s strategic navigation and decades-long racing experience highlighted his competitiveness and the importance of meticulous preparation and adaptability. He became the fifth Italian sailor to ever complete such a voyage.

Riccardo Tosetto: The pragmatic and practical Skipper
Riccardo Tosetto’s fourth-place finish was marked by a pragmatic approach to the entire project and skill in solving problems at sea with calm and resourcefulness. Sailing the Class40 “Obportus,” Riccardo faced numerous technical issues, including autopilot failures and sail damage. His greatest strength was his self-awareness, calm and practical approach to each difficult circumstance, and the ability to preserve the boat and skillfully resolve each problem at sea. After Andrea Mura, Riccardo earned his important place in sailing history, becoming the sixth Italian to sail solo nonstop around the world.


François Gouin: Sailing with a purpose
French oncology surgeon François Gouin finished fifth, using his journey aboard “Kawan3 Unicancer” to raise awareness about cancer prevention and treatment. François faced significant technical challenges, including a flooded engine and mainsail track issues. His commitment to his cause and his persistence and patience even when technical issues and unpredictable weather slowed his progress, made his journey particularly inspiring, with educational outreach efforts adding a meaningful dimension to his participation.

David Linger: Overcoming difficulties
David Linger, the quiet American sailor and professional skipper with a quirky sense of humor, finished sixth after a 175 days journey aboard “Koloa Maoli.” His voyage was marked by significant personal and technical challenges, including passing a kidney stone at sea and a broken boom just before Cape Horn. His ability to deal with these hardships and maintain a positive outlook was key to his success, demonstrating his capacity to cope with unexpected and difficult situations and his dedication to completing the journey.


Louis Robein: The Spirit of Perseverance
French sailor Louis Robein, sailing on his X37 “Le Souffle de la Mer III,” is on his last stretch home to secure the seventh spot with just over 1,500 miles to go. His journey was fraught with technical challenges, including a severe grounding incident that required assistance from the Argentinian Navy. Despite these setbacks, Louis’s perseverance and a wave of  support from the public helped him overcome significant obstacles and become a true inspiration with his epic journey and incredible perseverance.


William MacBrien: A dramatic rescue
Canadian sailor William MacBrien’s journey took a dramatic turn in the Southern Pacific, not far from Point Nemo. A likely collision with an unidentified floating object, debris, or perhaps a growler caused significant water ingress in the front cabin of his Class40 Akilaria RC1 “Phoenix.” Despite his efforts to manage the situation, William had to send out a distress signal. A cargo ship was diverted to his rescue but he had to wait for 48 hours in very low temperatures, donning a survival suit. The loss of all communication in the last 24 hours before he could be reached led to the most tense and stressful emergency of the entire event. William was brought to safety, marking the end of a nightmare and highlighting the importance of strict safety rules which in this case contributed to giving him a fighting chance to survive the ordeal.


Ari Känsäkoski: An epic voyage back to land
Finnish sailor Ari Känsäkoski faced a severe dismasting incident that abruptly ended his journey. On the night between December 21st and 22nd, a lower diagonal shroud broke, causing the mast to collapse in the remote waters of the roaring forties in the Indian Ocean. Ari’s quick thinking and resourcefulness allowed him to rig a temporary mast and arrange two separate refueling operations with passing ships. After a grueling 25-day journey under jury rig, he reached Durban, South Africa, where he made the difficult but inevitable decision to retire. He has since managed to ship his boat via cargo to Europe and intends to be on the start line of the GSC 2027.

Ronnie Simpson: A very difficult choice
American Marine Corps veteran Ronnie Simpson encountered severe challenges aboard his vintage Open 50 yacht “Shipyard Brewing.” On February 12, 2024, his mast unexpectedly came down in the darkness of the night off the coast of Argentina when he had already completed over 70% of his journey. With a storm looming, and after clearing off the broken mast, which was at risk of damaging and flooding the boat, Ronnie activated his emergency beacon. The Taiwanese bulk carrier Sakizaya Youth responded, rescuing him just before the storm hit, forcing him to make the incredibly difficult and painful decision to abandon and scuttle his boat. Though his journey ended prematurely, Ronnie is determined to attempt the circumnavigation again, either at the GSC 2027 or, if enough funding can be found, at the Vendée Globe 2028.


Dafydd Hughes: A prudent decision
Welsh skipper Dafydd Hughes set out on his Sparkman and Stephens 34 “Bendigedig” with high hopes and the goal of completing without stopping. However, a critical autopilot failure forced him to reassess his situation. Navigating south of Australia without reliable autopilot equipment posed significant risks, especially with the long Pacific crossing looming ahead. Recognizing the potential dangers, Dafydd made the prudent decision to retire in Hobart, prioritizing safety over completing the circumnavigation. It was a difficult choice to make: after more than 100 days at sea on the slowest boat in the fleet, Dafydd had already been a great inspiration to many in a remarkable voyage to the other side of the world.

Edouard de Keyser: Broken rudder and time running out
Belgian sailor Edouard de Keyser faced significant technical challenges aboard his environmentally-friendly yacht “SolarWind.” The breaking of the starboard rudder south of Australia called for emergency navigation to a safe harbour. Edouard chose to head for Port Lincoln. Upon arrival, the extent of the damage, combined with engine failure and the risk of not being able to reach Cape Horn before the end of summer, led him to retire from the race.


Pavlin Nadvorni: Medical and technical hurdles
Bulgarian skipper Pavlin Nadvorni’s journey was marked by a series of setbacks. Even before the start of the race, his boat “Espresso Martini” suffered rudder damage from an orca attack. Pavlin repaired the damage himself and, when he set off, continued to show his determination and resourcefulness. Engaged in a fascinating duel with Ari Känsäkoski all the way to the roaring forties, he pressed on after his friend dismasted. A mounting number of technical issues brought Pavlin to exhaustion, yet he still managed to keep sailing unassisted across the Tasman Sea to reach Bluff Harbour, South Island, NZ, for repairs. After setting off, his difficulties did not end there. Just like David Linger, he too suffered from a kidney stone. While dealing with excruciating pain, he injured one of his shoulders and had to turn back and put into Littleton, NZ. There, after medical consultation, he was forced to retire.


Alessandro Tosetti: Rigging problems
Italian skipper Alessandro Tosetti encountered persistent technical problems aboard his ULDB 65′ yacht “Aspra.” From autopilot failures to generator issues, Alessandro’s journey was fraught with challenges that hindered his progress. He put into Cape Town for repairs and, when he set off again, he started to find his pace and made excellent progress through the Indian Ocean. South of Australia, however, one of his shrouds unexpectedly broke, and Alessandro managed to secure the mast to reach Hobart, where he replaced the broken rigging. After this second stopover, he sailed through rough weather in the Tasman Sea and was past New Zealand when new rigging issues forced him to sail north out of the roaring forties strong winds and eventually reach Waitangi in the Chatham Islands. He had no option but to retire. He then moved his boat to Auckland, where he will fit new rigging before bringing the boat back to Europe.

Kevin Le Poidevin: Time slipping by
Australian sailor Kevin Le Poidevin embarked on his journey aboard “Roaring Forty” with a strong sense of purpose, supporting veterans and brain cancer awareness. However, a seemingly unstoppable series of logistical and technical issues significantly delayed his departure from Europe. While sailing in the Indian Ocean, he noticed some wear issues with his autopilot ram attachment that could develop into a serious problem if not addressed. He decided to head for Hobart with only a very tight window to restart after repairs. Eventually, realizing he would not make it to safely reach Cape Horn before the end of summer, Kevin decided to retire in Hobart, valuing safety and mission integrity over completion.


Juan Merediz: Funding challenges and autopilot failure
Spanish sailor Juan Merediz faced early technical challenges with the mainsail halyard and autopilot on his Class40 “Sorolla.” Despite his efforts to repair and continue, recurring autopilot failures ultimately forced Juan to retire. His campaign had been marked by the common struggle to find adequate funding in due time for a thorough technical revision of all equipment, and his retirement was a great personal disappointment, who is now finding renewed motivation and intends to campaign his boat again and be on the start of the GSC in 2027.


The Global Solo Challenge 2023 was not an elite professional sailors’ event. Far from the stellar budgets of some races, each participant’s journey was an incredible challenge even before the start. Whether they finished the race or were forced to retire, reaching the starting line is a tremendous achievement in itself. Each sailor contributed to bringing the event alive with their stories that inspire and demonstrate the true spirit of adventure. The lessons learned in this first edition of the GSC will undoubtedly pave the way for future sailors to dream big and sail far offering an event that is financially approachable whilst providing a safety framework to manage the inevitable risk of such a voyage.


The stories of those who retired from the Global Solo Challenge 2023 go to show the harsh and unpredictable nature of the oceans and of solo sailing on a long route. Each skipper faced unique challenges that tested their skills, determination, and decision-making abilities. Their journeys, though incomplete, are marked by courage and the wisdom to prioritize safety. These sailors embody the true spirit of adventure, proving that sometimes the bravest decision is knowing when to stop.


Together, the achievements and the retirements from the GSC 2023 brought us amazing stories of human endurance, courage, and perseverance, setting a high standard and serving as an inspiration for future participants in the GSC 2027 and beyond.