Kiwi sailor Conrad Colman hungry for more after climbing 'Everest of the Seas' video

Chris Skelton/FAIRFAX NZ

New Zealand sailor Conrad Colman is the first Kiwi to complete the Vendee Globe, a non-stop solo round-the-world yacht race regarded as the ultimate test in ocean racing.

Team New Zealand have had their fair share of issues this week as the clock ticks down to the start of the America's Cup. But if things turn really bad, they could do a lot worse than call ocean racer Conrad Colman.

He certainly seems like the man for a crisis.

Three months ago, Colman created New Zealand sailing history when he became the first Kiwi to finish the Vendee Globe, a non-stop solo round-the-world yacht race regarded as one of most demanding events on the planet, in any sport.

Conrad Colman took 110 days to finish the Vendee Globe, arguably the most demanding ocean race on the planet.

Conrad Colman took 110 days to finish the Vendee Globe, arguably the most demanding ocean race on the planet.

Listening to his experience, it is easy to see why.

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Having become the first Kiwi to complete the Vendee Globe, Conrad Colman has set his sights on winning the event in 2020.

Having become the first Kiwi to complete the Vendee Globe, Conrad Colman has set his sights on winning the event in 2020.

From on board fires and capsizing multiple times to broken masts and even falling overboard, apart from his boat splitting in two, there wasn't much Colman did not go through as he navigated the epic 28,000-mile voyage.

But having survived the worst it could throw at him, the 33-year-old has already set his sights on doing much, much more next time around.

"This is my life, I'm a professional off-shore sailor," Colman told Stuff as he laid out his plan to win the 2020 edition. "It was not a one-off personal challenge to prove that I could do it.

"With the backing, support and boat to have a serious crack, if I can use my energy in a productive fashion instead of trying to survive, actually invest it in performing, then I think that I can win this race."

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Indeed, he has every reason to aim high.

After 110 lonely days at sea and on a shoestring budget, Colman completed a dream 10 years in the making when he sailed into Les Sables d'Olonne in France to finish the Vendee Globe in 16th place.

Don't let the final placing fool you. It was a truly remarkable feat in scaling this 'Everest of the Seas' and a perfect example of just how far the mind and body can be pushed to reach a certain goal.

Of the 29 starters, only 18 finished the race and how Colman was not among those who retired is beyond belief given the multitude of problems that struck his Foresight Natural Energy yacht.

"It's a race that's won, lost or survived on details," he explained. "It's a hugely complicated 60-foot boat that's comprised by about 10,000 components and if anyone of them goes 'ping', you're in trouble. So that happened quite regularly."

For starters, a fire on board wreaked havoc with the auto-pilot system, causing the boat to tip on its side. The forestay, which holds up the mast, broke in 50-knot winds in the middle of the Southern Ocean, while for the final third of the race he was down to his last set of sails.

That would have been enough to force many to wave the white flag, but that wasn't even the worst of it.

One night in the Southern Ocean, Colman fell overboard when the boom he was sitting on to rearrange the sail dropped into the water - an incident he did not reveal until after the race so as not to alarm his wife and mother.

"That one was particularly stressful because I come from a sailing family so my mum certainly knows what it's like when it goes wrong at sea," said Colman, who was just 11 months old when his father died in a boating accident.

"I was dragged alongside the boat for a while until the waves pushed me up onto the side. So I was able to cling on and then finally make it back to safety."

Then, just three days from the finish, Colman suffered what he thought at the time was one setback too many when his yacht was dismasted during a heavy storm.

Down to his last rations, he somehow summoned enough energy up to construct what Vendee organisers described as "one of the most efficient jury rigs seen in the history of ocean racing" to carry him across the line.


Make no mistake, Colman admits it was an almost daily struggle to keep his head above water, so to speak.

"But on the flip side, it was an opportunity to show what I was made of and that when we're 100 per cent invested in the project of our lives we can always find the courage and the motivation to get through the darkest days."

Get through he did, all while napping for no longer than 20 minutes at a time, accumulating on average of about five hours of sleep per day.

Throw in the isolation factor and it takes a special person to cope with the demands of being at sea for such an extended period of time.

This was Colman's third circumnavigation and his ability to accentuate the positive regardless of the situation clearly plays a big part.

"It's really strange to go for weeks without seeing any trace of humanity beyond your little bubble. But more than feeling concerned or depressed about being in a sort of solitary confinement, I saw it as a privilege to be out in those forgotten corners of the world and knowing that it's something that very few people get to experience."


Based in France, Colman is currently in New Zealand reflecting on his adventure but he has to start planning now if he is serious about winning in 2020.

As is the case in most elite sports, let alone sailing, much of that will depend on how much money he can raise.

His budget of about €600,000 ($900,000) for the last campaign was dwarfed by the the top five competitors, who each spent up to €12 million over three years.

Making his achievement all the more special, Colman became the first Vendee Globe skipper to complete the event without the use of fossil fuels, instead using solar and hydro-generated electricity.

He has vowed to stay true to his values and is hoping his ultimate underdog story resonates with potential sponsors.

"Fighting against all odds is something that really fits with New Zealanders. The America's Cup has sort of flown away from New Zealand companies and the scale of their budgets, so this is a race that is huge on the world scale and yet something that's affordable for Kiwi companies."

In eight editions of Vendee Globe a French sailor has won each time. Colman is determined to be the man to break that monopoly.

Given what he has shown so far, don't put it past him.

 - Stuff


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