As the 2022 Route du Rhum approaches, we take a look at some of the top names set to compete in the race. Helen Fretter looks at Conrad Colman’s chances
Conrad Colman, or the ‘crazy Kiwi’ as he became known, was the first New Zealander to compete in the Vendée Globe in 2016.
Colman studied economics in the US, founded a small business and became a competitive mountain biker before deciding that the world of bluewater sailing was where his true passion lay. He moved to the south coast of England in 2007, taking any job he could to fund his sailing and build skills, from working in a sailmaker’s loft to sanding antifoul.
Two years later he moved to France, joining the Mini 6.50 fleet which he described as “the best offshore sailing school in the world”, and competing on a shoestring budget.
A year later he moved up to a Class 40 entry in the Route du Rhum, and then onto the Class 40 Global Ocean Race double-handed race around the world in 2011, which he won overall – also winning four of the five legs, sailing with a different skipper each time.
In 2014 he moved up to IMOCA 60s, competing in the double-handed Barcelona World Race with Hungarian skipper Nandor Fa.
Writing for Yachting World, he described his offshore career thus: “While on paper this is a rapid progression I was always a day late and a dollar short and progressed by accepting roles that no sane person should.
“I signed for my Rhum race three months before the race started, I signed my sponsorship deal for the Global Ocean Race ten days before the start and I accepted to sail the Barcelona World Race only five weeks before the start. More often than not, this meant that I found myself racing through dangerous waters on overpowered boats with complete strangers!”
Despite having proven himself as a round the world competitor, attempts to raise funds for a Vendée Globe campaign fell short and he decided to buy a cheap 2005 boat to refit whilst still attempting to secure backing. The boat arrived in Les Sables d’Olonne unbranded, and in the end he signed with his sponsor just 48 hours before the start of the 2016 Vendée Globe.
Colman also set out to became the first Vendée Globe competitor to complete the race without using fossil fuels, instead using renewable solar and windpower only.
The Vendée Globe proved a battle of attrition for Colman, who had to contend an electrical fire that knocked out the boat’s electronics, rebuild a leaky hydraulic keel ram and fix a broken forestay after a 60-knot storm.
Then, just 250 miles west of Lisbon, Portugal, Imagine was dismasted while Colman was lying in 10th place. Having built a jury rig using his remaining sails and straightening the damaged boom, he managed to sail 740 unassisted to limp over the line, hungry but jubilant, two weeks later.
Colman did not participate in in the 2020 Vendée Globe, but has again bought himself a previous generation IMOCA and is looking for partners to support his return to the event for 2024.
IMOCA 60 Imagine
Sail number: NZL 64
Architect: VPLP – Verdier
Construction: Indiana Yachting, IT
Displacement: 8 tonnes
Mast height: 29m
Conrad Colman has bought Maxime Sorel’s former IMOCA ex-V&B Mayenne. Originally launched as Groupe Bel (famously branded as the ‘laughing cow’) in 2007 for Kito de Pavant, the VPLP Design/Verdier is reportedly the boat that inspired Colman to move into solo offshore racing. It was widely seen as a development of the radical Safran.
The boat was dismasted just two days into de Pavant’s 2008 Vendée Globe, then had to retire from the 2011 Barcelona World Race with keel damage. Kito de Pavant returned with the boat for the 2012 Vendée, but was again forced out on day two, this time after a collision with a fishing boat.
In 2016 the boat returned to the Vendée Globe, this time as Le Souffle du Nord for talented young skipper Thomas Ruyant, and was near the front of the pack when it suffered severe structural damage – Ruyant reported hitting an unidentified floating object – and had to limp to New Zealand for repairs.
In 2020 the boat made its fifth round the world race start, and this time completed the circumnavigation, with Sorel finishing a respectable 10th.