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Oct 28, 2021

Kirsten Receives HelpKirsten has received extensive help from Eddie Arsenault (l) and other Islanders

The Golden Globe Race was the first non-stop, solo, unassisted circumnavigation race that took place in 1968, completed (and therefore won) only by Sir Robin Knox Johnston. (side note: Bernard Moitessier, might have been capable of winning, but upon rounding the Cape Horn, he decided that he did not wish to return to the rat race of Europe, and instead sailed on across the Southern Atlantic and Indian a second time, into the Pacific, where he finally stopped in Tahiti, and therefore, in fact, sailed much further than just one, non-stop, around the globe.)
In 2018, Don MacIntyre reignited the excitement and spirit of adventure of the Golden Globe Race. Wishing to remain true to the era of the late 60’s, Don laid out the rules that the boats and technology were to conform to the designs of that era, and to what Sir Robin Knox Johnston was able to have aboard his boat, Suhaili, back then. This means no GPS, no auto-pilot, no laptops – not even a CD player! A sextant for celestial navigation, a mechanical wind-vane for self-steering and books and cassettes for entertainment over a voyage of approximately 30 000 nautical miles and which could take anything from seven to nine months or more at sea, are as good as it gets.

The 2018 edition was an eventful race, with capsizings, dismastings, dramatic rescues at sea, and of 18 boats that entered, only 5 that made the finish line.

The 2022 edition

At present 26 entrants are eagerly preparing for the Golden Globe Race 2022. With just under a year to go to the start in September 2022 the race to the start-line is already on! Among them are two skippers who will be flying the Canadian flag: Edward Walentynowicz, originally from Poland, and Gaurav Shinde, with roots in India.

Guarav Shinde Canadian Golden Globe CompetitorGuarav Shinde, one of two Canadian 2022 Golden Globe competitors

There is, a third, who, while flying the South African flag, will be taking a large bit of Canada with her on the race. Through a series of circumstances, Kirsten Neuschafer, to date the only female skipper for the race in 2022, landed up on Prince Edward Island, and is currently refitting her boat for the adventure.

Kirsten, 39, is a born and raised South African and home to the Indian Ocean port of East London, South Africa. For the past 16 years, Kirsten has been working at sea teaching people to sail and delivering new, South African built catamarans to destinations world-wide. She has led expeditions down to high-latitude destinations such as the Antarctic peninsula, South Georgia, the Falklands and Patagonia.

In 2019, she and her crew relocated the expedition sailboat, Pelagic, from the Falkland Islands up to Maine, from where they were going to sail up to Greenland. However, after an extensive refit to the boat in Maine, the summer was fast coming to an end, so with limited time, instead they sailed once right around Newfoundland, and discovered that “the Rock” was indeed a gem for cruising. On that trip, Kirsten, who was already dreaming of entering the Golden Globe Race 2022, was not only encouraged by the people who joined the Pelagic to Newfoundland, to enter, but two of them even offered to assist financially with the purchase of a boat for the race.

So, only a couple of weeks after returning from the Newfoundland circumnavigation to Maine, Kirsten was on a flight back to Newfoundland – where, by sheer coincidence, her boat of choice for the race, a Cape George 36, Minnehaha, was for sale in Long Pond. Back in Maine a few months later and at the start of 2020 to re-commission Pelagic after the winter, Kirsten got stuck in Maine with the start of the pandemic. Only by November 2020 was she finally able to get to Minnehaha in Newfoundland, where her adventure with this boat begins: in the heart of the cold and the storms of the Newfoundland winter, but with the warmest of hospitality from the Newfoundlanders. It was Kirsten’s intention to get to her boat in Newfoundland, and sail away – but after the boat had been on the hard for four years, she was having various troubles with it, and was hopping along from port to port on the South coast of Newfoundland, as she tried to iron out the issues.

And then there was the issue of weather: between strong depressions sweeping up the coast and across the Cabot Straight, and conditions that were leading to dangerous amounts of icing on the rig, the going was slow, and the winter was deepening. Of course, the Newfoundlanders made her feel very welcome, in each place that she called, with some perplexity at the unusual sight of a sailboat still making way along the South coast at that time of year - and there was no shortage of folk bringing her fresh cod and moose steak to the dock, and inviting her for a meal and a hot shower to their homes. If she had had to spend the winter in Newfoundland, she would have been well looked after, no doubt, and it was looking like over-wintering there was becoming more and more probable.

Minehaha A Cape George 36Minehaha, a Cape George 36 is now moored in Summerside readying for a trip around the world.

However, she got a weather window to cross the Cabot Straight in the first days of January 2021, and instead of heading down the coast, she sailed straight into Summerside, PEI. Prince Edward Islanders looked on with curiosity at the Minnehaha at anchor in a gale in the bay – a bay that would normally be frozen over solid at that time of year. After sitting out the gale for a few days, Kirsten could come alongside with Minnehaha, where a group of very resourceful islanders was standing by to have a crane haul the boat, and get it transported with a lobster-boat trailer to someone’s privately owned shed, with the 54-foot, original, wooden mast in tow on a trailer, propped up on hay bales.

One of those people, was the incredibly talented welder-machinist Eddie Arsenault. Eddie, 36, is a local Prince Edward Islander, and comes from a long lineage of Acadian fishermen and seafarers. Son of a Confederation Bridge pilot, he is 100% at home working on any type of boat, doing any kind of work, from mechanical, wood, fibre glass, electrics, plumbing, rigging – you name it – and not to mention welding and machining! He soon found himself knee-deep in the refit of Minnehaha, and he and Kirsten have been working non-stop since January on transforming the Minnehaha into a boat that is ready to tackle some of the most challenging conditions a sailboat could ever expect to encounter.

Kirsten, who had never been to PEI before her arrival in January, based her decision to stop there solely on the accounts of a friend who has connections on the island and a lot of faith in the islanders. She admits that she was a bit apprehensive about how the refit would go on PEI however, she had no idea of just what incredible skill she would find in Eddie Arsenault, nor did she know the extent of friendliness and generosity she would receive from the islanders. In fact, she says she could not imagine that there could have been a better place for her to land up in, than PEI, that it must be an undiscovered gem for refitting boats and that the friendships that she has forged there, will, no-doubt, be life-long. It almost feels to her like it was destiny.

This is how her journey on this race ties in deeply with Canada: a boat bought in Canada, and then the Canadian skill, talent, thought and effort that has gone into restoring and reinforcing the boat for the race, not least the kindness, generosity and friendship that Canadians have shown her. Departure from Prince Edward Island on the Minnehaha, will be with mixed emotions for her: the excitement of the culmination of nine long, hard months of work to finally get back to sea, but also the heavy-heartedness of saying good-bye to the people, now friends, who have made her feel very welcome and at home, and who have been her surrogate family members in the face of one and a half years that she has not been back to South Africa.

So, Kirsten will be leaving with a large part of PEI aboard the Minnehaha, but she is also leaving a part of Minnehaha behind on the island: the original, wooden mast from when the boat was launched in 1988, is staying behind as a flag-pole at the Twin Shores Camping Area on the North shore of the island. It proudly flies the Canadian, Prince Edward Island and Twin Shores flags, but also the South African flag, which was hoisted by a very thoughtful islander.

- with files from Kirsten Neuschafer