Cole Brauer and the Class40 First Light at the GSC: A Woman’s Breath Over the Ocean

©Samuel Hodges Photography

Cole Brauer, a young American sailor, entered in the Global Solo Challenge aboard her Class40 First Light, adds a feminine touch to the event with her infectious enthusiasm and passion for sailing. Cole works tirelessly to prepare for her round-the-world trip and has assembled a team that shares her values and assists her in managing the project. “Sailing is both my profession and my hobby; I never take breaks. Preparing for a round-the-world race means constantly thinking about the next step. Thankfully, I have an extraordinary team that supports me and tries to relieve the psychological pressure so I can focus solely on the race aspect. Moreover, I wholeheartedly believe in my boat and her equipment.”

For her round-the-world journey, Brauer chose a boat to which she is sentimentally attached: “I’ve always wanted to sail around the world and envisioned doing it on a boat I know, love, and trust. For this reason, I chose First Light. To me, she embodies all of this. When we’re at sea, I talk to her as if she were my child. When she’s fine, I’m fine. We have a wonderful relationship and deep mutual understanding: when things aren’t going right, I feel she’s showing me she’s doing her best to improve the situation. Furthermore, as a Class40, she was born and built sturdy and resilient for challenges like this.”

First Light was previously named Dragon, and Cole had captained the boat for four years before she was sold to the Day brothers, who subsequently changed her name. The two brothers didn’t have enough time for the boat, so they asked Cole if she’d continue sailing her and develop a racing program. Initially hesitant and busy with other boats, Cole eventually agreed and relocated to Florida, where First Light was based. She participated in various races, honing her skills and forming an even stronger bond with the Class40. This led to her desire to expand her horizons to international competitions. “The original plan wasn’t to participate in the GSC; I wanted to compete in the Transat Jacques Vabre. However, when one of the Day brothers asked if there was a chance to win it, I said ‘no.’ Given her age, First Light wouldn’t be competitive.”

©Samuel Hodges Photography

 

First Light is a 2008 Class40, designed by Owen Clarke Designs and built in the UK by Composite Creations, the same model as ZeroChallenge (formerly Fuji) sailed by Ari Känsäkoski.

The Owen Clarke design studio, based in Dartmouth, UK, with branches in the USA and New Zealand, is renowned for designing performance cruising and racing boats, superyachts, and high-latitude exploration boats. Their designs range from Mini 6.50s to eighteen Class40s and eight IMOCAs that participated in the Vendée Globe, culminating in the creation of a massive 75-meter aluminum schooner.

Founders Merfyn Owen and Allen Clarke began collaborating in 1993, bringing their unique skills to the table to devise high-performance, seaworthy, and attractive vessels. Merfyn Owen, a graduate of University College London, boasts extensive experience not just in naval architecture but also as a sailor with over 250,000 miles covered in races and expeditions. Allen Clarke, trained at Falmouth Boat Building College and Southampton Institute, is a reference point in the world of Class40s and in the development of fast cruising boats. He gives particular attention to details and aesthetics, thanks to his previous career as an interior designer.

In preparation for the Global Solo Challenge, First Light underwent a detailed refit and thorough examination at the Newport Shipyard in Newport, Rhode Island. “By November 2022, the mast and rigging had already been replaced and are now brand new. First Light was in the yard from June to September this year. The mainsail track on the mast has been reinforced. The keel was inspected, repaired, and subsequently reattached. All running rigging, including halyards and sheets, have been renewed. The team dedicated an entire month to reinstalling the equipment, making sure every single detail was examined. We only entered the GSC a few months ago and therefore started preparations later than other teams. Without the patience and understanding of Newport Shipyard, which believed in this project from the start, none of this would have been possible. First Light’s sails, made by North Sails, are new, and during the Atlantic crossing to A Coruña, I had the opportunity to test them, and I was pleased with the results.”

©Samuel Hodges Photography

 

Cole loves the boat that will help her realize her dream but she is also aware of her weaknesses: “First Light is structurally very sturdy, and I believe she will prove to be a reliable vessel for my project. I know every inch and have explored every corner. However,she has her weak points, such as friction spots that tend to wear out materials rather quickly. She’s a real war machine; she destroys everything in her path, including things trying to make her go faster!”, the sailor jokingly comments.

For power generation, Brauer will rely on the hydro generator and a methanol battery, the Efoy, which can also serve as heating in colder seas. She hopes to primarily use renewable energy sources but will also have the engine’s alternator for emergencies. Moreover, along with the electrician who revised the onboard systems, she’s considering installing backup solar panels.

Regarding rest onboard, the sailor is confident: “I’ve always managed my sleep cycles well onboard. In areas away from marine traffic, I can sleep for two hours, then wake up, check the boat to make sure we’re on course and that the sails are set correctly, and then go back to sleep. I also follow navigation from my bunk, so when I feel drowsy, I sleep. I tactically plan my sleep cycles in relation to sail changes and wind conditions. In light and unstable conditions, like in the Doldrums, it will be harder to stop thinking and turn off the brain.”

©Samuel Hodges Photography

 

There is one distinguishing trait of her character, which the sailor emphasizes, which will probably help her in situations where not every detail can be planned. “In general, I have the ability to let things go. When something doesn’t go right, I might get upset at that moment, but then, much like a goldfish, I forget and move on to the next challenge ahead.”

For provisions, Cole has a very pragmatic approach, revealing she’ll mainly bring dried foods, which she confesses she sometimes even uses on land for the convenience in preparation. “We’ve already prepared bags with three full meals a day, plus one or two snacks to ensure I eat enough.”

Cole’s project is a solo voyage, but one of its pillars is her team. The sailor tells us about what unites all the members of the group and how the message she wishes to convey at the GSC concerns all of them.

“My team has made this journey possible. Before meeting them, I was losing weight due to stress. I called upon the universe for help and was gifted the best team I could have ever wished for. I cannot thank them enough for all the work and energy they’ve invested in this project. I am very happy to be able to share this adventure with them. Special thanks go to the core group: Duncan Nevard, Brendon Scanlon, Jimmy Carolla, and Sammy Hodges, but also to everyone else.

©Samuel Hodges Photography

 

Through my sporting challenge at the GSC, I want to promote the idea that any individual, no matter how “small” or limited they might seem, can achieve great things. Every member of my team, at some point in their lives, has felt overlooked, underestimated, or rejected for who they were. Each of us carries stories of pain and challenge. We came together with the common purpose of realizing this dream, supporting one another.

My desire is to be a competitive sailor but also to maintain a positive and joyful attitude, seizing every opportunity to have fun, smile, and savor every moment. My goal is to give a voice to those silenced and belittled and ensure that, especially women, are taken seriously in the sport of sailing. I just wish it were possible to enjoy the sea and sailing, even in a competitive setting.”

The boat’s name aligns well with the strong social message Cole tries to bring into sailing and sports. First Light, an initial glow meant to illuminate many stories and make them known so that certain episodes don’t repeat. It’s a call for more respect in sport and in life, in general. “I liked the boat’s original name, Dragon, because for the first time, I was in the role of captain. Even though she wasn’t mine, I