New Zealander Conrad Colman wrote a new chapter in the storied history of the Vendée Globe when he crossed the finish line of the eighth edition of the non stop solo round the world race under a makeshift jury rig. He took 16th place when he crossed the finish line at 1400hrs UTC. The elapsed time is 110 days 1 hour 58 minutes and 41 seconds. He sailed 27,929 miles averaging 10.57 knots.
After being dismasted late on the evening of Friday 10th February, when he was in tenth place and some 250 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal, Colman constructed and stepped a remarkable jury rig which has allowed him to sail the final 740 miles of the 27,440 nautical miles race which started from Les Sables d'Olonne on November 6th 2016. Since he was dismasted in what should have been his last big storm of his race, only three and half days from the finish line where he seemed assured of an impressive 10th place, Colman has run out of food and lasted out his final days on the survival rations from inside his life raft. On Wednesday he confirmed by radio that he had only two biscuits left.
Colman, a trained sailmaker and rigger, set one of the most efficient jury rigs seen in the history of ocean racing, working diligently and smartly to the end to improve the sheeting angles and hence efficiency of the rig which is constructed from his boom, part of his mainsail and his storm jib. Two other skippers have finished their Vendee Globes under jury rigs. Philippe Poupon in the 1992-1993 race was close to the finish when he dismasted and Yves Parlier famously repaired his rig, but he finished with a mast which was effectively half its original height, while others, like Stéphane Le Diraison and Loïck Peyron had to set up jury rigs to bring their boats back to shore. He achieves his goal of becoming the first ever skipper to race solo non stop around the world completing the Vendée Globe using no fossil fuels, only renewable energies, his electrical power generated by an innovative electric motor, solar and hydro generated electricity and stored in a bank of high tech batteries. Before leaving Les Sables d'Olonne he explained: “The objective is to have it as a reflection of my philosophies. Growing up in New Zealand I was aware of the hole in the Ozone layer there. I converted to become a vegetarian not especially because I care about cute lambs but because I was more concerned about the global impact of the chain, of food production and consumption. And so the project is a reflection of my ideals.”
He also is first New Zealand born skipper to finish the epic solo round the world race, concluding a remarkable storybook adventure which has captivated race watchers from all around the world since long before the start. His finish reflects his incredible tenacity, drive and talent, the culmination of a dream which saw him move from the USA to France over 10 years ago to pursue his goal of competing in the legendary solo round the world race. From pursuing an academic and business career in the USA, where his late father was from, Colman worked different marine related jobs to expand his skillset to a level where he could achieve a competitive finish in the Vendée Globe. Before the start he spoke of how he had staked his financial future in taking part in the race. He found an unloved IMOCA 60 designed by South African Angelo Lavranos which to date had a chequered, limited racing history where he lived in Lorient, where it was being used for day charter hires, and set about refitting and re-optimising the boat in order that he could realise the boat's true, untapped potential. Even a matter of ten days before the race start Colman did not have the funds to compete at what he considered to be the very minimum level of participation. But he was determined to go anyway. An absolute last minute call found support from the London based Foresight Group. His boat was only branded two days before the Sunday 6th November start.
On start day he said: “I feel great. How could I not. It is the start of the Vendée Globe and it is a sunny day. It is a dream I have been chasing for years and years and I have it here in my grasp. It was hard to say goodbye to my wife. I hang my wedding ring in the cockpit so she is always with me.” His spirit and skills have been tested in equal measure and on many occasions he has overturned situations which would have ended the Vendée Globe of lesser sailors. Even just days into his race he found an innovative way to repair a keel ram problem which jeopardised his race. An electrical fire damaged the wiring on his Foresight Natural Energy which sent his autopilots haywire. In one incredible 12 hour period he climbed his mast three times, spending hours aloft to repair sails. The 33 year old has made mast climbing an almost commonplace skill among his extensive personal armoury of abilities required to compete in the Vendée Globe, despite the fact it was a fall from the top of a mast which took the life of his father whose legacy Colman holds dear.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, near to the most remote point on the race course, Colman was caught in the path of one of the biggest storms of this race. His forestay, which holds up the mast, became detached when a pin failed. His IMOCA was knocked flat and stayed over for some hours in huge seas and winds gusting to 40-45kts. He took four days to recover, replacing the forestay, finally losing touch with Nandor Fa, the Hungarian skipper with whom he raced the 2014-2015 on Fa's Spirit of Hungary who went on to take eighth place.
Conrad Colman's remarkable Vendée Globe
9th November Conrad Colman is a Political Sciences graduate of the University of Colorado. He reacted to the news of the election of Donald Trump. “It is a bit of a shocker. I thought my uncle was playing a joke on me when the news came through. It makes me happy to be out here.” Colman, 17th, conceded a place to Louis Burton after sailing close to him approaching Madeira. “It is great being at sea, getting to know the boat after three weeks not sailing together. It took a little while to get into the groove. It's good to be able to learn against Louis who has a slightly newer boat.”
11th November He ended up closer to Madeira than he had hoped. “The local effects of the island really slowed me down. I had been trying to pass over the top of Madeira and really got stuck there. I got sucked in by the shifting winds.”
12th November I hoisted my heavy weather furling spinnaker (which means it's rolled up around a flexible cable). Just before I finished hoisting, the sail started to unfurl. I had to continue hoisting quickly otherwise I risked breaking the rope and losing the sail into the water.
The time that it took to top of the sail however, all hell had broken lose at the bottom. Because the sail had unrolled prematurely, the furling unit blocked and wrapped itself up in a collection of tack line, furling lines and sheets to create a thick bar tight multistrand cable with an angry sail on the end of it. It took me over four hours of non-stop work to rig another line to secure the sail.
15th November It is very much a course of learning by doing. That is one of the advantages of ocean racing is that you have plenty of time to sort things out, to learn and try different scenarios. So I have been trying different sail set ups, different ways of trimming. The boat is good upwind and downwind, reaching is not so good.
16th November Leak in the hydraulic system
18th November Out of the Doldrums. “It was easy in the Doldrums – I never stopped, my strongest squall was about 30kts.”
22nd November Four rookies in this part of the fleet put the pressure on the more experienced rivals around them – Frenchmen, Fabrice Amedeo and Stéphane Le Diraison, the Japanese sailor, Kojiro Shiraishi and the New Zealander, Conrad Colman are only a few miles apart.
25th November Climbs the mast to replace some lashing. “Going up the mast is the worst job to do onboard the mast. It's really scary, it's really dangerous. You're 100ft or 30 metres up in the air, so the slightest movement of the boat or the smallest wave sends the tip of the mast swinging through an enormous arc and the thing that's really tricky is there's no-one here to help us climb to the top. Every time I come down I'm heavily bruised because of the violent movement at the top.”
Duel with Nandor Fa.
28th November At the latitude of Porto Alegre, struggling in light winds sometimes down to below six knots. “I'm fed up with the highs.”
2nd December Conrad celebrates his 33rd birthday. “I'm celebrating my birthday by doing the Vendée Globe. I'm also celebrating by eating salad. It's made up of beansprouts, and I'm really excited to have fresh salad onboard. My wife also made me a special birthday food box containing some crusty dehydrated astronaut ice cream, which actually tasted terrible.
4th December Knocked flat. “An electric bypass destroyed one of the solar charge controllers and it damaged the electric cables next to it. It stopped the electronics and thus the pilot, and I lost control of the boat as I wasn't at the helm. By the time I got there the boat was on its side and the gennaker in the water.”
“I saw black smoke and yellow flames leaping from behind the chart table. One of the solar charge controllers was burning and was in the process of taking down the entire electrical system. When the flames were gone I heard one beep from the autopilot and my world turned upside down. the boat bore away from the wind and did a crash gybe with me still inside, hands full of molten plastic.”
8th December “I feel a little like I'm sitting on death row and my fellow competitors have already been taken to have their last meal. It's emotional and shocking to hear about Kito's rescue and to think that for the third time in a row he won't make it back to Les Sables under his own steam.”
Losing oil from hydraulic ram. Electronics problems. Had to climb the mast again to repair damaged solent.
16th December Pacific storm. Two reefs and small jib and still reaching peak speed of 27 knots.
18th December Crosses the longitude of Cape Leeuwin. “As a Kiwi I cannot going celebrate going past Australia too much. I always think Cape Leeuwin is the runt of the litter when it comes to the three Capes. It does not belong in the same company as the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn.”
27th December After working on his autopilot problems, Conrad had to prepare to face a storm. 36 hours of violent winds and the need to be quick to remain ahead of the worst conditions. His boat was knocked down and he ripped his J2.
2nd January 60 knot gusts. Damage to standing rigging. (forestay pin) Had to wait for quieter weather to carry out repairs. 3 days of work. Exhausted after doing that in 40 knot gusts and then continued towards the Horn. Boat knocked down during the storm and another sail shredded. “Physically I am shattered. Emotionally I am very disappointed I felt like I was doing everything right, I was sailing very conservatively at the time, I was let down by a technical failure.”
12th January Colman rounded Cape Horn in 10th place at 0416 UTC after 66 days, 16 hours and 14 minutes
21st January Slow climb back up the coast of South America due to weather conditions and lack of sails.
30th January At 0845UTC Colman returns to the northern hemisphere
31st January Happy to be out of the Doldrums
5th February Looking forward to the final straight. Hard to find the route back across the North Atlantic. “My route to the finish in Les Sables d'Olonne looks like a dog's breakfast, a smorgasbord of options. I can either get hit on the head really hard, or get hit on the head really, really hard. I can go upwind in 40kts or downwind in 50kts. It is not an easy choice.”
7th February After passing Madeira, back in European waters.
10th February 2200UTC dismasts 300 miles off the coast of Portugal. Waited for calmer conditions before inspecting the damage. Had to repair his boom to use it as a jury rig.
24th February Takes sixteenth place
COLMAN SHARES HIS THOUGHTS:
“I'm thankful that I had so many difficulties. Several times a problem with the pilot. Then, there was the fire. That normally would be a highlight in terms of problems, but as it is, that was almost nothing. So it was a progression of things, which allowed me not to be crushed when the mast came down, so now I'm stronger.”
“I feel like I have moved mountains to achieve what I did. I did the very best with what I had. You don't win the race at sea. You lose it at sea. You win the race during the preparation, but my time to prepare was very short.”
“The wind gods are a fickle bunch. I got smacked several times. When I couldn't escape from the big storm, I had sixty knots.”
“Mentally, it's easier to sail with a jury rig, because when you have all the sails up, you are crazy. You go for it in the race. But with a small sail, you can relax. I spent time adjusting it, but there isn't much you can do.”
“It's harder sailing solo, especially mentally. There's no one there to support you. I kept telling myself, there's always a solution and I will find it. There's a dialogue going on in your head all the time. I ended up talking to myself, so I'm not sure if it's healthy. You have to find confidence. While remaining humble. You need to find the force within, rather than from outside.
“Natural energy? It's an extension of everything I have said. We can do it if we want to. I think it is impossible to sail three times around the world and see the natural environment without being affected. I think we need to change the way we live our lives. It has to come from politics, from industry and I'm a little afraid that there isn't the political will, so I think what may drive this change is motivated individuals. That is why I wanted to grasp this opportunity. We can still do what we want and use the technology we want. I was handicapped by not being able to use all my solar panels. We have to diversify production and it's the same thing on a boat.”
“Writing? It's central for several reasons. I came into this sport as a fan. I was trying to figure what to do with my life. I really appreciated the stories, seeing Vincent Riou win in 2004. That was truly inspirational and led me to believe I could do the same. The lifestyle I lead is very interesting, technologically, the people I meet, the life I lead, and I feel that it's almost an obligation to share that with those that don't have the same chance as I do. I enjoy writing and enjoy the idea that I'm sharing that with others.”
“I'd like to give this race the respect it deserves. It's not something you can throw together over a few months. That means more time preparing.”
(Involvement with charity for families who have suffered stillborn births)
“I know what it is like in families where something is missing. I lost my father when I was just a baby. My brother committed suicide two years ago. I thought a lot about that. And this was another motivation in my race.”