Kiwi sailor Conrad Colman is closing in on the finish line in the Bay of Biscay, France, after a hair-raising solo around-the-world campaign.
Conrad, who has a strong Waiheke connection, is in good spirits but still facing gale force weather patterns with fingers crossed as he nurses his “tired” boat Foresight Natural Energy over the last 2000 nautical miles to Les Sables d’Olonne.
This is Conrad’s third circumnavigation but his first solo attempt at the world’s toughest ocean race, the Vendee Globe. Racing non-stop in 60-foot yachts, 11 of the 29 sailors who left Les Sables on 6 November have been forced to abandon the race.
Conrad, sailing an older boat without hydrofoils, is in a creditable tenth place, having survived a near-capsize in the depths of the Southern Ocean, multiple sail losses, trips up the mast, auto-pilot malfunctions, gear failures and electric shocks.
On Waitangi Day, he was positioned in the mid-North Atlantic, having covered 92 per cent of the distance. Hitting more than 20 knots at times, he was averaging 240 nautical miles a day and expecting to reach port early next week.
Finishing the Vendee would cap a remarkable turnaround from his early-January nightmare at the most isolated point in the oceans – deep in the Southern Ocean halfway between New Zealand and Chile. After his main forestay broke in 130 km/h winds, the headsail pulled the boat over and pinned it on its side for several hours. In freezing conditions he was at risk of a full capsize or losing the rig. When conditions eased, he endured a bruising battle up the mast to free the headsail and then repair the forestay.
Conrad’s progress has since been limited in other than very light or strong winds because of the number of sails he has lost.
Since rounding Cape Horn, much of the journey north has been a relentless upwind slog in heavy seas marked by episodic equipment failures and makeshift repairs. Short videos posted to the race website show Conrad battling the elements but mostly forced to stay below and rely on autopilot.
Wife Clara Colman, his shore-based logistics manager, says it’s amazing that he’s still in tenth place.
“Basically, he’s not well-equipped to go upwind, or for medium weather. But he’s got the right sails for very light or strong weather.”
At last report, he was braced for strong winds from a deep depression which would take him towards the coast of Europe.
Conrad grew up hard-wired for extreme adventure. His late father, Steve Colman, was an American adventurer who was killed in a boating mishap. Mother Robin Treadwell is another ocean-going sailor who has lived on Waiheke since the mid-1990s and remains a Sea Scouts volunteer.
With dual New Zealand-American citizenship, Conrad completed his education in the United States before setting his sights on the Vendee Globe and moving to France in 2009.
He and his support team rebuilt an older boat and equipped it with sustainable technology for the 2016-17 version of the event, aiming to be the first zero emissions campaign.
The 32-year-old remains a regular visitor to Waiheke and the Waiheke Boating Club has made him an honorary member, with members also signing a club burgee (pennant) to wish him well.
To follow Conrad’s progress, check his website: or go to the race website:
Geoff Cumming

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