South African Neuschaefer wins Golden Globe; Abhilash Tomy finishes second

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Kirsten Neuschäfer in her Yatch |

Les Sables-d'Olonne, France: South African Kirsten Neuschaefer has made history by becoming the first female mariner to win a solo round-the-world race.

Neuschaefer crossed the line in the Golden Globe on France's west coast late Thursday after more than seven months at sea.

Commander Abhilash Tomy, a retired Naval officer, who became the first Indian to complete in the Race, finished second in the race which started on September 4, 2022 from Les Sables-d'Olonne in France.

"#GGR2022 2nd Arrival Abhilash Tomy (43) / India / Rustler 36 - "BAYANAT", finished his 2nd solo around the world," says the announcement made on the official page of the race.

It was doubly pleasing for Neuschaefer that her victory came on South Africa's Freedom Day -- so named as it was the date in 1994 of the first post-apartheid elections.

The 40-year-old, in her boat Minnehaha, conquered the three Capes (Good Hope, Leeuwin and Horn) and her 15 rivals without being allowed to stop off at other ports, permitted any help or equipped with modern navigation devices.

"It's Mandela Day and of all the people I know, if there is one person I wish I could have met, it's Nelson Mandela," she said at her victor's press conference on Friday.

"I love South Africa the way it is now, and that's thanks to him -- his sacrifice was immense."

Neuschaefer hugged her proud mother on stepping shore at Les Sables d'Olonne.

She said Friday her success was something her mother's generation could never have aspired to.

"Liberty for me is the freedom to have been able to do that race," she said.

"In this day and age, I can do these things if I want to.

"My mother's generation, she couldn't and women couldn't back then, or the battle could have been a lot tougher."

The challenging nature of the race was illustrated by the fact that only two other competitors are on course to officially finish the race.

British sailor Simon Curwen crossed the line first mid-afternoon on Thursday but he had lost his chance of being crowned the victor as he had stopped off at a Chilean port for repairs.

Women sailors have gone close before in winning a solo round-the-globe race -- British great Ellen MacArthur finished second in the 2001 Vendee Globe.

It was not all plain sailing for the redoubtable Neuschaefer, who had to battle through several heavy storms -- but the frown turned to a beaming smile as she absorbed what she had achieved.

"It is unbelievable, it is too much after all these months alone," she said after setting foot on terra firma and taking in the hordes of people who had lined the shore to come and shower her with accolades.

"I am very emotional and honoured that there are so many people here and I do not think I will ever experience a similar moment again."

She might be proved wrong as at 40 she is considerably younger than the previous winner in 2019, Jean-Luc Van Den Heede, who is now 77.

Van Den Heede came to welcome home Neuschaefer, calling her a "great champion".

"It is a very tough race, there is no communication, we receive no encouragement," he said.

Neuschaefer had already rewritten the nautical history books by becoming on February 15 the first woman to pass Cape Horn leading a global yachting race.

In November she had courageously saved her Finnish opponent Tapio Lehtinen, who had sunk off South Africa.

"I received a message that Tapio's boat had sunk and I was the closest to him," she said.

"I did everything I could to reach him quickly, using the motor and staying at the helm all night.

"However, spotting him was difficult as it can be hard to see rafts out at sea.

"Eventually, we managed to get him on my boat, and another ship arrived."

In acknowledgement of her heroism she had her final finishing time reduced by two days to 233 days, 20 hours, 43 minutes and 47 seconds.

The Port-Elizabeth-born yachtswoman has been a professional since 2006, specialising in the transfer and delivery of yachts by sea.

Sadly for her Minnehaha -- which she insisted on sleeping on on Thursday night -- might also have to be delivered.

"I am considering selling the boat because I owe money on it," she said.

"But it will be difficult to say goodbye, it needs to go to someone who will continue to use it with a purpose." AFP

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