Around the time this article comes out, Rhode Island-based sailor Cole Brauer should be rounding South America’s treacherous Cape Horn, alone. And for a few moments at least, she’ll be doing it in a pink gown and matching stilettos. “The dress is vacuum-packed and labeled ‘Do not open until Cape Horn,’” the 29-year-old Brauer said in late October, a few days before starting the 26,000-nautical-mile Global Solo Challenge from A Coruña, Spain. Brauer, who hopes to become the first American woman to race solo nonstop around the world, plans to wear the outfit just long enough for her shore crew remotely monitoring First Light, a Class40 yacht, to snap a shot. Then, it’s on to more pressing matters, like navigating the Horn’s ferocious winds and merciless currents.
Brauer intends the image to be both sight gag and pointed commentary on the male-dominated world of professional sailing. “To be respected, you must look like a man and be masculine, and I think that’s stupid,” says Brauer, a five-foot-two, 100-pound elite sailor who has trained her mostly male team never to ask whether she’s OK during a race because “it feels like you’re being undermined for something you’re already in the middle of doing or very capable of doing.” Brauer’s six Global Solo Challenge competitors are men with decades more sailing experience.
Brauer’s been pushing for equality in sailing since the early days of her career in Boothbay Harbor. After college, in 2018, she moved in with her parents on nearby Barters Island and stayed the summer, coaching J/80 racing at the Boothbay Harbor Yacht Club, sipping vanilla lattes at the Red Cup, and working for yacht captain and mentor Tim Fetsch, who taught her that her size could be an asset. “I could fit into tiny spaces,” Brauer says, “so he could teach me to splice wires and do a lot of stuff that bigger men couldn’t do on boats.”
Now, Brauer lives year-round in her Ford Transit van and returns to the midcoast often to visit her parents on their wooded property along the Back River. Some mornings, when she’s alone on their private dock, the river is so solitary it reminds her of the otherworld far out at sea. “I could look at that view from that dock every day,” Brauer says. “That’s my favorite place.”
Headshot by Richard Mardens
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