South African sensation Kirsten Neuschäfer makes history as first woman to win old-school round-the-world yacht race

South African sensation Kirsten Neuschäfer makes history as first woman to win old-school round-the-world yacht race
South African 🇿🇦 sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer has just become the first woman to win the Golden Globe, a solo round-the-world yacht race. She also won hearts by rescuing a fellow competitor whose boat had sunk. (Photo: Twitter @SportUpdatesSA)

South African sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer of Gqeberha has rewritten the history books by becoming the first woman to win the solo Golden Globe Race – a journey around the world reliant on no use of modern technology while navigating the globe’s temperamental oceans.

On Thursday, 27 April 2023, as South Africa commemorated the country’s first free and fair elections (starting in 1994), South African sailor Kirsten Neuschäfer rewrote history as she became the first woman to win a solo round-the-world yacht race, as well as being the first South African of any gender to achieve the feat.

While politicians were reciting recycled speeches of hope and the need for change to rescue South Africa from the darkness they’ve helped plunge the country into – Gqeberha native Neuschäfer was gingerly crossing the finish line of the 2022/2023 Golden Globe Race, to provide a beacon of light and positivity for her home country.

Kirsten Neuschäfer officially became the first woman to win a round-the-world race at the three great Capes, including solo and fully crewed races, non-stop or with stops. She is the first South African sailor to win a round-the-world event. (Photo: Twitter @Golden Globe Race 2022)

Nearly eight months at sea

After almost 235 days and about 48,000km of sailing her Cape George cutter (named Minnehaha) – without any external assistance or the use of modern technology – she arrived at Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. She began her historic journey there nearly eight months ago, alongside 15 others. She was the only woman in the running.

As Neuschäfer crossed the finish line – to a heroine’s welcome by the townsfolk – only two of her fellow competitors were still formally in the race. Former Indian naval officer Abhilash Tomy and Austrian Michael Guggenberger.

Simon Curwen (who finished ahead of Neuschäfer) and Jeremy Bagshaw, who is also South African, were the only other remaining racers from the start list. Neither of those two qualified to win after being relegated to the Chichester class, a section for those disqualified, who wanted to complete the race anyway.   

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“From the outset it wasn’t a question of taking any boat that was available and in my price range; it was to choose a boat that I believe can win and can survive the Southern Ocean, and then get that boat at any cost, no matter how much work,” Neuschäfer told Yachting Monthly from Prince Edward Island.

Others who failed to tame the raging waters that they called home for the past few months, dropped off one at a time.

What makes Neuschäfer’s victory even more impressive and emphatic is the fact that she was granted 35 hours extra, after assisting fellow sailor Tapio Lehtinen when he encountered some trouble close to Cape Town and his watercraft sank. 

For her brave effort, The Cruising Club of America named her the recipient of the 2022 Rod Stephens Seamanship Trophy.

The accolade is awarded to a sailor annually “for an act of seamanship which significantly contributes to the safety of a yacht, or one or more individuals at sea”.

So efficient were Neuschäfer’s yacht-whispering skills that she still made up the time and didn’t need to tap into the extra hours provided to win.

“South Africa has had other sailing heroes, like Bertie Reed and John Martin, who have done the circumnavigation. But Kirsten is the first South African to do it non-stop and unassisted. How’s that for a gender statement,” said president of SA Sailing Michael Robinson on the 39-year-old’s incredible win.

“We are so proud of Kirsten. She has made not only the country’s sailing community proud, but the whole of South Africa. And provided an exceptional example to both women and men of what’s possible with incredibly hard work and determination.”

Kirsten Neuschäfer made history by winning the Golden Globe Race and becoming the first woman to win a solo navigation of the globe. (Photo: Twitter @VilleDesSables)


This is not the first massive solo adventure Neuschäfer has embarked on. When just 22-years-old, she cycled around 15,000km down the African continent from Europe to South Africa on her own.

“I truly love adventure – it really is what drives me. And I love to undertake these adventures alone and know that I only have myself to rely on once I am out there. To know that I will have to dig deep within myself to find the strength that I need to overcome the inevitable obstacles,” the 39-year-old said before heading to the ocean last year.  

“I love the unknown. It really is a way to get to know myself, and to know my own potential – very much an inner journey too.”

According to the Golden Globe Race website Neuschäfer has also sailed several film crews to help them capture the beauty of the Antarctic. 

She was featured in National Geographic series ‘Wild Life Resurrection Island with Bertie Gregory’ as she sailed his crew throughout South Georgia Island to shed light on the beautiful ecosystems and hardships they’ve faced.

She also sailed and was a support vessel for several crews from the BBC series ‘Seven Worlds, One Planet’ for footage of leopard seal predation against gentoo penguins. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Rudd van Deventer says:

    No words, this is an incredible achievement. A shining example of what people can do with the right attitude and perseverance.

  • Anthony Katakuzinos says:

    Incredible. No small adventure. WOW, what a brave person to tackle this alone. Well done. You make us proud. She must have incredible mental power to overcome the challenges and remain positive WELL DONE BRAVO

  • Wayne Gabb says:

    A true hero and deserves all the many accolades coming her way. Let’s hope our Minister of Sport realises and honours her achievements on behalf of the Country ??

  • johanw773 says:

    An achievement like this is beyond words. Well done Kirsten, well done!

  • David Banford says:

    Power of positivity. Bravo!

  • Nic Tsangarakis says:

    Way to go Kirsten!


    A truly remarkable achievement. Kirsten is a great inspiration to all. Hopefully more young girls and women will be inspired by her and join the world of sailing.

  • Fiona Jackson says:

    Congratulations Kirsten! What an inspirational win. You rock!

  • Heather Hansen Hansen says:

    What a brave, wonderful, inspirational woman! We could do with a few more people like her in this world of ours.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    With so much negativity around, especially in SA, Kirsten, you are a breath of fresh air , a shining light. Congratulations on your very well-deserved win. Perhaps Freedom Day owes you another medal.

  • Eugene Isaacs says:

    Well done to you Kirsten Neuschäfer! So proud to call you a fellow South African.

  • EVAN SAMUEL says:

    My earlier post refers: No SA government representative present for Kirsten’s amazing achievement

  • David Muller says:

    Kirsten Neuschäfer brings fresh, positive, exciting feelings into my heart. Some of her comments after this epic event of hers can be directly related to the state of our beloved land and how with her tenacity, spirit and willingness to suffer some of those hardships at sea she shows us the way. Annemie Landmeter is another woman who comes to mind. And the pilot Earheart, I forget her first name, Emily I think, is another. Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale. And the nun, sister Theresa. Sisters who knew what was needed to survive the hum drum, the stresses and strains, and stains of life on this planet. Time we had such a person running our country.

    • Charlie de Boer says:


    • Pierre Joubert says:

      The pilot was Amelia Earhart, pioneer female aviator who made the first female solo flight across the Atlantic, in 1932. She died at 39, same present age as our Kirsten Neuschäfer, in 1937, while attempting the first female avian circumnavigation, in her twin engine Lockheed Electra. With the navigation aids of the time, she missed her next stop, Howland Island, a pinpric in the vast central Pacific ocean and was never found. The sadness and mystery of her loss continues to be felt today, 84 years later.

  • Viv Hart says:

    So proud of our girl, Way to go, Kirsten!!!!

  • Jennifer Hughes says:

    Wonderful! Such a positive sorry. Well done, Kirsten!

  • Luan Sml says:

    What an outstanding achievement Kirsten, your words on digging deep and finding that inner strength are inspirational! What an exceptional example you are to us all, you have truly found your freedom!

  • Inga Lawson says:

    Absolutely incredible. So impressed with her dedication, tenacity and bravery. News I want to share with all I know

  • Erwin Lingenfelder says:

    This ranks with winning the Rugby World Cup and Madiba presenting the trophy to the Sprngboks in 1995. Go Kirsten!

  • Judy Moolenschot says:

    Huge cheers, great respect and sincere Congratulations to Kirsten for her amazing achievement! What a girl! Would love to have her do a talk about this and other trips to our Retirement Village?

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Wow, fantastic! Well done!

  • David Crossley says:

    As a fan of Robin Knox-Johnson and his circumnavigation of the world in his ketch Suhaili back in the sixties, I salute you, Kirsten, for your bravery and determination. Well done!

  • Roger Symes says:

    This courageous woman’s achievement has certainly emphasized how women are so often under-estimated when their leadership capabilities are challenged. She has demonstrated that one does not need the physical strength of a strong male to take on a life-threatening challenge such as she has done – at the “end of the day” she has exposed the need to apply a strength of mind & character to face up to such a demanding challenge – yes,”it’s all in the mind, you know!” My most hearty congratulations go out to her on such a splendid single-handed achievement. RSA should be so proud of you. Words fail me in my attempt to express my admiration.

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