Vendée Globe  
93 days 22 hours 52 minutes

Conrad the Kiwi Chameleon – BWR interview

Conrad Colman is lining up to race the Barcelona World Race for the first time. He hopes the race will prove a useful stepping stone as he pursues his final goal. His career target is to complete the Vendee Globe as the first Kiwi to do so. That has been his target since he got into solo and short handed ocean racing seven years ago. Since 2008 he has called Brittany his home, has a French fiance and has worked as preparateur, rigger, sailmaker for French projects. He admits he thinks and dreams in French some of the time. Although his first ocean passage was as a three month old baby with his cruising mum and dad, he only came back to offshore sailing after eight years in the USA where he graduated in Economics and set up an innovative bike building business. Now here he is making ready for his second ocean race around the world, as a late replacement co-skipper on Spirit of Hungary

Interview by Andy Robertson – BWR NEWS

He was a semi-pro bike racer before he got back into sailing. Since he launched his Vendee Globe dream on the lower levels, as preparateur to Steve White before the 2008-2009 race, he has gone on to complete the Mini-Transat, the Route du Rhum in Class 40 before winnng the Global Ocean Race, winning all but one of the legs.

He finds himself in the Barcelona World Race as the youngest skipper, sailing shoulder to shoulder with the two handed round the world race’s oldest skipper, Hungary’s Nandor Fa. Colman stepped in when Fa’s planned co-skipper decided he did not want to do the race.
That was only three weeks ago. Colman has dived in at the deep end, embracing with both hands the opportunity presented to him.
So far they have only sailed upwind together, on the delivery from Trieste to Barcelona.

Conrad you are desperately short of sailing time together, so far you have only sailed upwind, how does that influence the way you will approach this race?
” It’s true. But I have spent so much of my racing life sailing downwind, the Route du Rhum, racing round the world and so on, and so we can do that. But I am a big believer in getting the potential problems with manouvres out of the way. I truly believe that to be a competitive sailor you need to have all of your manouvres as second nature, so you can fully exploit your routing. You need to be able to react when you have to. So we plan to go out and doing 20 tacks or 20 gybes, back to back to back. Next week we hope to have the time to do that. So I will be walking around like a Zombie after that!”
It is an interesting pairing yourself and Nandor, in some ways so very different, but the same outlook and goals?
” We are both outsiders in the sense that he has a fantastic legacy in being the first non French skipper to finish the Vendee Globe and I want to be the first Kiwi to do the Vendee Globe. We have both shaped our life around this. Neither of us have ever worked in a big team, either as a skipper or a preparateur. We are both very flexible, very hands on and so I think that is a great foundation which might not immediately be apparent. We are the youngest guy in the race and the oldest, we have someone from New Zealand-America and someone from Hungary. Our native languages are about as far apart as you can get, and yet the way we approach things is very similar, we are both very practical and work very well together. Quite by happenstance we have the roots of a really great union.”

Your father died when you were 11 months old when he fell from the mast of your cruising yacht, is there a sense that you are pursuing a legacy on his behalf?
” I would like to say no. My choice to be a professional sailor was not at all about continuing his legacy. But at 15 years-old I asked to go to boarding school to expand my horizons. So I spent eight years in the USA and barely sailed at all. I had sufficient separation from the sea and my upbringing and so on to make it a very conscious choice to go back to the sea. And since then the vision has been about doing the Vendee Globe. That was in 2007. It was not an organic evolution. I was a university student and entrepreneur. I was in Colorado. And within ocean racing I find all of the elements of the life that I wanted to satisfy.

What is you national allegiance then, you hold Kiwi and American passports but speak perfect French, live and work in France and embrace the French culture?
” I don’t know. I am very proud to be all, and none of these things at the same time. I grew up a New Zealander but I am proud of being American too without being all chest-thumpy about it. And now I am not French but I am more French than most of the Anglophiles, with the exception of Damian Foxall, in fact I think and dream in French a lot of the time. And so in terms of my identity then maybe that is a problem because I can’t put my finger on what my nationality is. Does that make me shallow because I don’t want to wrap myself in any one flag? Or whether that is an opportunity to be the everyman. I see myself as someone who can take the best of each. Kiwis have the history of doing a lot with a very little. Team New Zealand embody that for such a long time, delivering world beating performances with a fraction of the budget. The American side is big, exciting and innovative. And culturally a lot of both of these sides are found in Brittany.”

You are so short of time on the water together
” My view is that this type of racing is won in the preparation and lost on the water. This is the longest sporting event in the world in terms of the miles raced. That obviously rewards preparation and boatspeed. So for me that remains to be seen. I have question marks on both things. That is because the boat is new. We don’t know yet what will break. We are not optimised in terms of reliability. We have not spent time chasing our polars, understanding setting and crossovers. We are not going to blow anyone’s socks off. But both Nandor and I are playing the long game. We both have our eyes fixed on 2016. He is a step ahead of me because he has a boat and a project. So anything we do beyond just making it back, finishing is a bonus. Our objective is not to be last. We are wanting to win the ‘most improved’ category!”

In basic terms you are the young Turk, the up and coming hard driving sailor who maybe wants to prove yourself while Nandor designed and built his boat with a view to completing the Vendee Globe. His boat is his baby so how will you reconcile these different feelings?
“There is the potential for strife. I have a very competitive personality and am used to doing well when I am racing but I knew what I am signing up for. This boat is his baby. It is his third daughter. And it would be really disrespectful to go out and just put the foot down, endanger the boat and potentially his next race.  For him his boat is family.  Nandor’s view is that others’ boats are their sponsors, and their objective is to win, and it comes to win or potentially break the boat, then that is their perogative. They can do that. It is a completely different ball game for us.”

When the race goes off it will be hard to just suppress the ultra competitive urges and look to the long game?
” For sure our first week at sea mentally and physically will be very tough just because we do not know how things will shake out. It would be nice to hang on to the coat tails of Cheminees Poujoulat and Hugo Boss because it is 25,000 miles is a long way to go if you are at the back and that is the objective not to have that happen. We would like to be playing in the pack, but at he forefront of our minds is not breaking the boat.  There are a lot of unanswered questions. We have not lined up with anyone. The majority of the fleet are from 2007 and they know a pecking order but we just don’t know.”

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