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An Epic Journey

Cole Brauer became the first American woman to sail around the world solo, after placing second in an international race.

A woman stands on the prow of a boat and smiles as she holds out two flares.

© James Tomlinson/Cole Brauer Ocean Racing Media

Cole Brauer just became the first American woman to sail around the globe alone. Brauer placed second out of 16 competitors in the Global Solo Challenge, a 30,000-mile (48,000-kilometer) race around the world.

Brauer’s boat arrived at A Coruña, Spain, on March 7, 2024, after 130 days at sea. Setting out on October 29, Brauer sailed south along the west coast of Africa and rounded the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the continent. She then headed east to Australia and on to South America’s Cape Horn, where frequent storms make the waters notoriously rough and boats must steer clear of icebergs. Finally, Brauer sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.

On a world map, a route is traced from Spain, around Africa, Australia, and South America, and back north to Spain.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Sailing from Spain to Spain, Brauer made her way across oceans and around continents.

Although Brauer was able to use satellite communication to speak to her support team and make posts on social media, she was alone on the ocean. Along the way, she encountered many challenges. She had to navigate 30-foot (9-meter) waves. And at one point, she was so dehydrated that her team instructed her on how to insert an IV into her own arm. By the time Brauer finished the race, more than half the original competitors had dropped out due to their own difficulties.

A woman stands at the controls of a sailboat.

© James Tomlinson/Cole Brauer Ocean Racing Media

Brauer approaches the Spanish coast as her journey around the world comes to an end.

Sailing around the world is so challenging that it’s rare for anyone to do it alone. Parts of the journey have been compared to climbing Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. But experts say sailing solo is actually the harder of the two. That’s because solo sailors need to steer, deal with unpredictable weather conditions, and make all necessary repairs to their equipment. Brauer, who at 5 feet, 2 inches (157 centimeters) and 100 pounds (45 kilograms) is physically small, succeeded in all of this.

“[As a solo sailor,] the biggest [advantage] is your mental strength, not the physical one,” race organizer Marco Nannini told NBC News. “Cole is showing everyone that.”

Brauer, who is 29, was the youngest sailor and the only woman in the race. Currently, most sailors are male. She’s hoping to help change that by inspiring young girls.

“It would be amazing if there was just one girl that saw me and said, ‘Oh, I can do that too,’” Brauer told the Today show.

Did You Know?

What’s more difficult—climbing Mount Everest or sailing solo around the world? It’s hard to say…but one of these accomplishments is definitely rarer than the other. The graph below shows how many people have completed each of these challenges, as of March 19, 2024. 

Pictured in the graph are Laura Dekker of the Netherlands, who in 2012 at age 16 became the youngest person ever to sail solo around the world, and Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay, who in 1953 became the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

A graph showing that 192 people have sailed solo around the world while 6,664 people have summited Mount Everest.

© Jean-Michel Andre—AFP, Kuzma—iStock/Getty Images, SuperStock/Alamy; Infographic Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

An Early Female Globetrotter

A woman in men’s sailor clothes holds vegetation.

Collections of the State Library of New South Wales (FL3740678)

Jeanne Baret dressed in men’s clothing so she would be allowed to board a Navy ship.

More than 250 years before Cole Brauer became the first American woman to sail around the world, a woman named Jeanne Baret circled the globe in a sailboat. Baret didn’t sail solo—she was part of an expedition. But her story is remarkable because it dates back to a time when opportunities for women were severely limited.

Born in France in 1740, Baret was a servant for Philibert Commerson, a naturalist, or a person who studies the natural world. Over time, though, Baret began assisting Commerson with his observations of plants. In 1766, Commerson was asked to be the botanist (plant expert) on a round-the-world sailing expedition aboard a French Navy ship. Women weren’t allowed on naval ships, so in order to continue as Commerson’s assistant, Baret disguised herself as a man.

During the journey, Baret and Commerson gathered more than 6,000 plant samples. But Commerson suffered from several health problems, and Baret ended up doing most of the scientific work by herself. Experts believe it was Baret who discovered a flowering vine that she and Commerson called Bougainvillea. Although Commerson also gave the vine the scientific name Baretia, after its discoverer, it was later renamed Turraea, after Italian scientist Giogio della Turre.

Dangerous Waters

Choppy waters with peaks in the background.

© Joe Sohm/

Imagine trying to navigate a sailboat through icebergs, storms, and choppy seas. That’s what it’s like to sail around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. 

At Britannica you can check out a video of a sailing trip through this incredible part of the world.






: courage and confidence

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