Text: Margherita Pelaschier
The atmosphere is electric on the eve of the most crowded departure, with seven skippers at the next start of the Global Solo Challenge. The pouring rain and the wind that have dominated in A Coruña in recent days have not deterred the competing sailors. Busy with last-minute preparations and safety checks, they celebrated with their families, friends, and teams on Thursday evening during a convivial event organized by the GSC. A ceremony is scheduled for Friday evening with the secretary of the International Cape Horners Association, Archie Fairley, who will bring a message of fair winds from President Sir Robin Knox-Johnston to the GSC participants and present Roberto Bermúdez de Castro, Director of the FI Group, with an acknowledgment for his roundings Cape Horn during his impressive seven participations in the Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race.
The weather situation remains uncertain. How many skippers will decide to set sail and face the first night off Finisterre with a forecast of headwinds exceeding average 35 knots and waves over 5 meters? The creator and organizer of the GSC, Marco Nannini commented, “The competitors are evaluating their options. Unlike other events, in a round-the-world race, the boats are prepared, in theory, to face any weather condition. Therefore, the decision to start or possibly delay the start is up to each skipper under their own exclusive responsibility. All skippers are aware of the risks that wind acceleration near Cape Finisterre can pose, and some models indicate gusts of up to 50-60 knots, but the worst might pass shortly before the scheduled departure time, leaving skippers with the dilemma of whether to wait for conditions to further improve before casting off.”
Who are the sailors ready to set sail? Amongst those sailing Class40s, we have Riccardo Tosetto on Obportus 3, Juan Merediz on Sorolla, David Linger on Koloa Maoli, François Gouin on Kawan 3, and Cole Brauer on First Light. Ronnie Simpson on his Open 50′ Shipyard Brewing and Alessandro Tosetti on the ULDB 65′ Aspra complete the list of competitors taking up the challenge at this next departure.
Initially, eight skippers were expected to start. Kevin Le Poidevin on the Open 40 Roaring Forty, arrived in A Coruña on the night of October 25th, after a challenging passage from Falmouth. On Thursday morning, he informed the organizers of his decision to delay his start by a week due to a minor back injury sustained during the voyage.
American skipper Peter Bourke, aboard the Class40 Imagine, who was entered in the event and supposed to start on October 28, unfortunately announced his withdrawal a few months ago due to health issues.
With seven skippers on the starting line, let’s learn about their stories and where the passion of these extraordinary sailors originated. Ladies first… We discover the story of the only, young, and vibrant sailor, Cole Brauer, who aspires to become the first American woman to circumnavigate the world, solo and non-stop. Born in 1995, Cole didn’t come from a sailing family but found this passion during her university studies in Hawaii. “When I was young, I loved playing in nature, but it was in Hawaii that I began sailing and was embraced by the sailing community. I started sailing for pleasure, and then it became a job. When my mentor Tim Fetsch gave me Ellen MacArthur’s book in 2018, a horizon of possibilities opened for me, which has brought me to the GSC’s starting line today.”
François Gouin, born in 1960, a French sailor and oncological surgeon by profession, discovered his passion for sailing young and waited forty years for his first solo Atlantic crossing, but then he never stopped. “Since adolescence, I competed with my friends, sailing short distances solo. The passion grew with age. Sailing is an incredible school of life: rigor, foresight, discipline but also flexibility and adaptation to external elements you have to obey. Despite all these apparent constraints, it’s a vast space of freedom. We never stop learning technically or from our reactions. The marine environment requires much humility. It might seem strange, but I find many parallels with my surgical profession.”
Alessandro Tosetti, born in 1960, is an Italian skipper with an architecture firm in Turin. He started sailing as a child at the Albissola Naval League on the Ligurian coast. “I fondly remember my first wooden boat, a Flying Junior. It looked like a violin. Later on, I started working as a professional skipper, working for various owners, including in the United States. The boat is crucial to my way of sailing. When I sail, I am never alone; my creation accompanies me. When I sense the wind and scrutinize the waves, I always think of her, the boat. Will she manage to get past that cape? Will she withstand the storm? I devote my attention to finding harmony between me, the people, the vessel, and the surrounding sea. Now it’s time to face this immense challenge.”
David Linger, born in 1962, is an American sailor and a professional skipper, with expertise in shipbuilding. Currently, he dedicates himself fully to his personal projects and preparing participants for the upcoming Race to Alaska (R2AK), including his partner, Lillian Miller Kuehl. “The heroes of my childhood were all adventurers and sailors: Chichester, Colas, Tabarly. They all accomplished incredible feats that made me dream as a child and continued to inspire me as an adult. Sailing and the sea, through many years of working as a professional sailor, have taught me many lessons: the initiative essential to cross oceans by boat, technical preparation to handle breakdowns and malfunctions that can occur in the open ocean, and teamwork. In my GSC, I’ll be sailing solo, but I won’t be alone.”
Juan Merediz, born in 1969, is a Spanish sailor and expert sailmaker who has made sailing both his profession and the cornerstone of his life. With previous experience in the 2010-11 Barcelona World Race aboard an IMOCA with Francisco Palacio, he’s ready to try again solo. “Sailing is what I’ve done my whole life. When I’m not sailing, I dream of sailing. The most significant lesson I’ve learned that brought me here is: don’t give up. You have to adapt to circumstances but never surrender. Becoming a professional sailor in Spain isn’t easy. This sport is still perceived as something for the elite. With my endeavor, I want to introduce and enthrall the Spanish audience to this type of competition and pave the way for future sailors. After many challenges on land, I am ready to re-encounter the Ocean, its beauty, and its strength.”
Ronnie Simpson, born in 1985, is a Marine Corps veteran who was injured in combat and found his sense of freedom and happiness at sea. “My original passion for sailing comes from the freedom this sport offers. It’s incredible to think you can travel long distances powered only by the wind. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate all the intricacies of sailing. From racing on incredible boats with a crew to speeding over Pacific waves, my life has intertwined with sailing, and I’m forever grateful for it. The most important lesson sailing taught me is the courage to dream.” Ronnie openly admits his ultimate goal is to participate in the Vendée Globe, and the GSC will be his testing ground.
Riccardo Tosetto, born in 1986, is an Italian sailor and professional skipper. His childhood passion, nurtured with determination and seriousness, became his profession. “Since I was eighteen, my love for the sea turned into my profession. Today, I spend at least eight months a year among the waves of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. What captivates me about sailing is its ability to challenge me. It pushes me to overcome difficulties, investing every ounce of energy and dedication. At sea, I experience indescribable emotions. Solo sailing reflects my personality; I love feeling a deep connection with my boat. I’m also driven by the need to immerse myself in nature, in its many manifestations, and to use all my navigation skills.”
The departing fleet includes five Class40 which add to the two already at sea. The choice of these high-performance boats, built for offshore sailing, seemed obvious to many participants. Moreover, the required budget is relatively modest especially on first generation boats. The designers are varied: the English design studio Owen Clarke Design for Kaloa Maoli, the Class40 #15 of Linger and First Light #54 of Brauer; the French “cabinet” Finot-Conq for the Pogo 40S Sorolla #69 and Kawan 3 #75; finally, the French shipyard JPK Composites with designs signed by Jacques Valer for Obportus 3 #60 of Tosetto.
Ronnie Simpson will embark on Shipyard Brewing, a fixed-keel 1994 Open 50’ designed by David Lyons and built for the BOC Around the World. The boat’s accolades already include two circumnavigations, and after a recent refit at the Maine Yacht Center, it is ready to face the third.
Alessandro Tosetti chose an ULDB 65′ self-built for his round-the-world trip, designed by the Italian studio Vallicelli in Rome. The biggest challenge will undoubtedly be managing his significantly sized boat while solo sailing.
Peter Bourke wanted to share his thoughts with the departing skippers, courageously facing the unexpected challenges life put in his path (the entire letter dedicated to the skippers will be published on the website’s blogs section).
“Here is my greeting to all participants of the GSC 2023. Unfortunately, I did not have the pleasure of meeting you in person, but I had a great phone chat with David. Through Dafydd’s posts on the blog, I feel like I almost know this extraordinary man. I also felt close to Ronnie and Curt, both US Marine Corps veterans like me.
Unfortunately, an unforeseen event stopped me in Bermuda. Less than a week before my departure for A Coruña, I contracted a severe form of Covid that turned into pneumonia. I am now better, but I was forced to withdraw, a painful decision. I wish all of you a safe round-the-world journey, have fun, and stay well!”
We have collected well-wishing messages from all the family members, friends, and supporters of the departing sailors.
For Cole Brauer
From her mother, Kimberly Brauer, “I am very proud of Cole for taking on this challenge. She is strong and has confidence in herself. I feel she is ready and will give her all. Cole has the determination to complete what she starts. Nothing can stop her. I wish I could be there to greet her. We will be in touch every day. She will message me or call me on FaceTime once or maybe twice a day, so I will know what’s happening.
I wish Cole a safe journey. We are all very excited to live this experience by her side. Of course, I have to admit, as a mother, I am a bit nervous. But I feel she is capable of doing it and has strong willpower to face all this.
We love you, Cole. Fair winds.”
For Ronnie Simpson
From his partner Marisa Veroneau, “The Global Solo Challenge has created a fantastic opportunity, giving people like Ronnie the chance to chase the dream of sailing around the world. However, just getting to the start line of this race is already a titanic achievement, and I am so proud and inspired by Ronnie for his dedication and commitment in organizing this campaign from scratch, with the support of friends, family, and his communities.
Although this race will be an extremely grueling challenge, there is no one I believe in more than Ronnie, and I am eager to see what he will do in this epic adventure. I wish him smooth sailing and look forward to welcoming him at the finish line, back in A Coruña.”
From Peter Quinn, the Director of US Patriot Sailing, “About ten years ago, I talked with Ronnie about his dreams of racing solo around the world. I told him then that we at US Patriot Sailing were ready to ‘turn that dream into reality’. When he called me last year saying he had been offered the chance to use SPARROW, I asked how we could help and be a part of his team. Eventually, SPARROW (now Shipyard Brewing) was donated to US Patriot Sailing to support our fellow Purple Heart-decorated veteran.
Ronnie began sailing with our US Patriot Sailing team in 2015, long after making a name for himself. While his sailing expertise is a valuable asset to our veteran-focused program, it’s his consistently positive spirit and passion for sharing the sport with others that most drives our mission!
We are genuinely proud of Ronnie’s determination to achieve his dream. We are pleased to support him in our role and excited to see him wear our team’s emblem. We’ll be following every move and wish him a quick and safe circumnavigation.”
From Fred Forsley, Shipyard Brewing, his sponsor for the GSC, “Skipper Ronnie and his partner Marisa Veroneau have motivated Shipyard Brewing to undertake its most significant sponsorship in thirty-three years of operations. We are fully committed to his project and thrilled to contribute to this adventure. We wish Ronnie favorable winds and calm seas!”
For David Linger
From Kathryn Jackson, his sister: “I believe deep down, he always wanted to undertake such a feat. I wasn’t too surprised when he told me he’d be sailing around the world solo. From what I remember, he always followed around-the-world ocean races; so, his wanting to take part is wonderful, and the GSC is the perfect platform for it. He’s worked hard for this project, and I hope everything goes as he hopes. I’m so excited that my brother can fulfill his dream. Fair winds, Dave!”
For François Gouin
From Dolorès, “May Amphitrite watch over our favorite skipper! Madnesses are the only things one never regrets!”
From Vero, “Safe travels, fair winds, good route, and good weather!”
From Alex, “A sailboat represents freedom, not just a means to an end. Fair winds. Enjoy it. Have fun. We think of you.”
From Muriel, “Sail the boat well, have fun, and don’t forget to turn left after passing Cape Horn!”
From Team Okeania, “We have spent so much time with you preparing for the GSC! You and Kawan 3 have fully involved us! And it’s not over: we share your emotion for the departure and will live through the adventure with you!”
From his wife Nanou Gouin: “If everything goes as planned, the start will be in three days, even if we are very concerned about the weather forecast for Saturday… The final preparations to organize the boat, shop, and set everything up are underway; there’s always something to do. Our Tahitians (the two daughters, Jade and Lou) arrived after a long trip. The girls are busy touring the city to find the last missing items. François is relatively calm thanks to excellent preparation. Small details, but it’s time to leave. Between work on board and meetings with family and long-time friends, we are enjoying these last days on land all together, in A Coruña.”
From Roberto, his elder brother, “Dear Ale, When you told me you had decided to participate in the GSC, my first reaction was admiration. I knew you had cherished this dream your whole life, but I thought you had given up on it. So I admire you for nurturing your dream until it turned into a project.
I remember when I took you, just over twenty, to the Santhià toll booth with a backpack on your shoulders to hitchhike. From there to Spain and the Canary Islands, looking for a boarding to the Caribbean, where I came to find you a year later and you hosted me aboard the boat of which you had become the skipper.
And then I admire you because in turning your dream into a project, you remained true to the principles of autonomy that have always guided your actions.
I recall when as a teenager, you’d spend entire afternoons locked in the garage until one day you surprised us by emerging on a 50cc motocross bike that you had built yourself, assembling second-hand parts you got from the neighborhood mechanic in exchange for doing small jobs in the workshop.
And so today, you are ready to embark on the GSC with ASPRA, the boat you wanted and managed over the years, during which you probably never stopped silently thinking about your dream.
It will be tough, Ale, but I have full confidence in your abilities and can’t wait to return to A Coruña to welcome you back.”
To follow the departure on October 28th at 3:00 PM local time (1:00 PM UTC), the live stream will be available on the FB page of the Global Solo Challenge.