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The Cruising Club of America names Kirsten Neuschäfer winner of Blue Water Medal

by Cruising Club of America 3 Jan 13:03 UTC
Self portrait at sea at the back of her 36-foot sloop, Minnehaha © GGR2022 / Kirsten Neuschäfer

Kirsten Neuschäfer, of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, is awarded the Blue Water Medal for 2023 in recognition of the tremendous effort, determination, and skill she exhibited during her 235-day solo circumnavigation in Minnehaha, a Cape George 36 sailboat.

Out of 17 starters, she was first among only three finishers of the Golden Globe Race; this singlehanded race around the world limits competitors to using sailboats and technology that was available when the first race was held, in 1968.

The Blue Water Medal was originated by the founding members of the Cruising Club of America (CCA) and first awarded 100 years ago to "reward examples of meritorious seamanship and adventure upon the sea, displayed by amateur sailors of all nationalities..." In her comprehensive preparation for the race and her determined persistence throughout the eight-month marathon, Neuschäfer demonstrated she belongs on the very distinguished list of previous medalists including previous Golden Globe winners Sir Robin Knox-Johnston and Jean-Luc Van Den Heede. She also takes her place alongside other solo circumnavigators such as Sir Francis Chichester and Bernard Moitessier.

As an example of her determination, during one week in January while crossing the Southern Ocean, Neuschäfer spent several hours scraping speed-robbing barnacles off the bottom of her boat. She reported to race headquarters, "I discovered that the port side was like a reef: old barnacles and millions of new ones. Thankfully the starboard side was not that bad. I spent several hours cleaning ¾ of the hull so far with the scraper. It was cold, exhausting, but very gratifying to watch clusters of millions of tiny barnacles sink into the deep!

In winning what was only the third Golden Globe Race held, Neuschäfer became the first woman to win the race, and the first woman to win any singlehanded race around the world. Along the way, she also stopped competing temporarily to rescue fellow competitor Tapio Lehtinen after his boat sank; she helped him safely aboard a passing ship and then continued the race. (Neuschäfer received the CCA's Stephens Seamanship Trophy last year for making that rescue.)

When she learned of her selection as Blue Water Medal winner, Neuschäfer said, "I was already so incredibly honored to receive the Rod Stephens Award. Now I am again so honored as to be receiving the Blue Water Medal from the CCA! This is an honor I never dreamed of—a medal, which in my mind is due only to the caliber of the most legendary of sailors, such as Sir Robin Knox Johnston and Moitessier themselves. I am truly humbled!"

When she finished the Golden Globe last April, Neuschäfer was still ready to go. She said, at the time, "You know, I've still got plenty of food and water. I'm still enjoying myself. I'd have no issue to just keep sailing." We believe she will continue to do that and continue to set an example for all sailors, women and men.

"She is the real deal—a sailor who stands out in a crowd of historic sailors," said CCA Commodore Chris Otorowski. "We are proud to be able to award the Blue Water Medal to her."

The CCA will present the 2023 Blue Water Medal to Kirsten Neuschäfer in person at its annual awards event on March 1, 2024 in New York City.

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