This will be Conrad Colman’s first Vendée Globe but with two circumnavigations under his belt already and three Transatlantics, the young 32 years old skipper who holds both Kiwi and American nationalities but lives in Lorient, France, has a very firm handle on the mental and physical challenges that the solo, unassisted non-stop race around the world race holds for him.
Colman will be the only skipper in the 2016 Vendee Globe planning to push off the dock on Sunday 6th November seeking to become the first soloist to race around the world non stop in the Vendée Globe using only 100% natural energy, that is to say no fossil fuels.
It has been the relentless pressure and workload which has pushed Conrad Colman harder than he remembers being pressed in his life before. The battle to find enough funding to get to the start has latterly run in tandem long, hard hours spent getting his IMOCA 60 100% Natural Energy – formerly Maisoneuve – refitted and ready to take on the world.
“It has been full on. I have not had a day off really since I started. It has been so much hard work eighteen hours a day, day after day,” smiles Colman, “The boat is pretty much ready. We tried out the last of the new sails the other day. That said it is fair to say that pretty much every minute of every day until the start is allocated.”
To date Colman has been unable to find a major sponsor. He will start nonetheless and make it all work, he says, but he says he is very much staking his foreseeable financial future. “I have had some close calls with sponsors and we are still trying. But I have pretty much ‘bet the farm’ to get here. I am still hanging out for a saviour.
On the one hand it all adds to the pressure and stress, but on the other it is frustrating because I have such a strong story to tell, myself and the boat and the natural energy programme. It is a big risk for me but there is so much for a title sponsor to gain being associated with this great adventure. There is at least €100,000 of value there and it’s a shame there is no one able to take that benefit. My programme is unique even compared with the other skippers.”
Colman is used to long hours and hard work and race programmes which run to the wire pre-start. In 2008-9 he helped Steve White make the start line of the Vendée Globe.
He sailed as co-skipper to Nandor Fa on Spirit of Hungary in the last Barcelona World Race. A refit which ran late on Fa’s IMOCA meant the duo had to burn the midnight oil to be ready to start. Their sailing time together was minimal before they left Barcelona. “I am in far better shape than then. Technically I feel totally confident in the boat and in my capacity to do this race well. I know what’s what and feel great to know I’ll be in the race, on the start line. But I am a 32 years old endurance athlete who has competed at a very high level in mountain biking, in triathlons and running and more recently long distance swimming. Let’s just say that these last months have really tapped into my mental and physical reserves built up by these sports.”
On an older boat, launched in 2005, Colman is resigned to the fact his IMOCA 60 does not have a race winning pedigree, but his primary goals come from the heart.
“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. Even when I was little I would always clean the beaches with my mum. I still do. And I was always taught to tread lightly.” Colman adds, “I converted to become a vegetarian and still am 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. Electrification is coming in our infrastructure.”
At the heart of Colman’s energy system is an electric motor. When the boat is moving the prop opens about one third and turns, generating electric power which is stored in nine batteries. Colman has solar panels on his mainsail on the coach roof of 100% Natural Energy. And he is fitting a Watt & Sea hydro generator as back up. Fully charged he has a range of five to seven days depending on how hard the autopilot has to work. As his electric motor is also motive power for the IMOCA a data logger monitors his electronic input and output as the equivalent of an engine ‘seal’.
And he asserts that alone reduces his stress levels and allows him to focus on sailing efficiently. The biggest downside? With no heating it is going to be chilly in the south for the 34 year old.
In Colman’s mind getting around and proving it can be done comes ahead of targeting any particular finishing place. In the 2008-9 race Yannick Bestaven, the founder of the Watt & Sea hydrogenerator was an early pioneer for hydro and renewable power but had to retire in the Bay of Biscay.
In the 2012-13 race Javier ‘Bubi’ Sanso came very near to completing the race but lost his keel and had to abandon Acciona 100% Eco Powered capsized 360 miles south of the Azores. Colman takes up the baton with a fierce passion.
Colman explains: “I have 350 watts of flexible solar panels on the mainsail either side, just above the second reef. I am installing 400 watts of solar panels on the cabin top and three I am able to use the propulsion battery pack for my service needs. So that was something which Bubi Sanso did not have, he had a hydrogen fuel cell and a huge series of batteries and all that was attached to his (electric) motor which was sealed (he did not use the engine to generate electric power) and so he was carrying a huge capacity which he was not able to use.”
“Because I have an electronic seal, which is essentially a data logger which captures the status of the system for one minute over each of 90 days, I am allowed to make withdrawals into the propulsion battery pack. Thus for the first time ever in the IMOCA circuit then I can use the propulsion propeller as a generator. In four years we have made such a big step forwards and I am using all of the tools we have on board, not just carrying around static weight.
Colman will effectively be the first skipper to be allowed to use his electric engine and its prop as a hydrogenerator. “The drag is negligible. It does not even register a change on the speedo when it is goes on.”
“Nobody else is doing this. Damien Seguin was using the same electric motor in Class 40 racing but was not allowed to use it as a hydro generator because the class rules do not allow this electric ‘seal’. And it requires someone who has different priorities other than winning the race to develop this technology and adapt it to an ocean racing boat. I knew I was not going to win and so I was looking for something unique, reflection of myself and with this very late entry and with an older boat, my priority is on doing it differently, asking questions of the status quo and trying to build something for the future.”
“I have validated all of the technology now after the two Transatlantics, the back and forth. Depending on the conditions and how hard the pilot is pushing I have between five and days on autonomy and also I am using a prototype brushless motor on my autopilot and so it is a way of increasing reactivity and reducing consumption. It is a prototype which has been put together by Teem in Lorient along with NKE. We pulled off the old motor off the hydraulic ram and now have a programming box and a brushless motor. It is programmed slightly different so that it is super reactive but only makes the gesture when it needs to. That reduces the latency. If the stroke lasts a second then there is still a warm up and a cool down phase at each end of that. For the useful stroke you are therefore energy at the beginning and the end of the stroke which is not useful energy. Hydraulic rams have been going out of favour because they are going out of favour but this is bringing them back. Mechanically they are super reliable, very strong and so if we can economise the movement then overall as a package they are more efficient. “
Colman is still trying to find a last minute sponsor or white knight backer to help with his communication budget throughout the race.
“The Vendée Globe is what I have always dreamed of doing. They say that the battle to be on the start line can be harder than the race itself, but even at that I am fully aware that thereafter there just because you make it on to the start line there is no right to get to the other line, the finish. That is a privilege to be earned.”
By necessity and by choice Colman has been hands on in all of his boat preparations. “The boat is well sorted now. I have just replaced the solar panels and validated the electric motor set up. I have every confidence in the boat. Because I have done so much I know every nut and bolt, every item, and have had endless conversations about what and why and the way we have done things. And that confidence is invaluable.”
Conrad Colman’s Vendee Globe website
To see who is backing Conrad Colman click here
by Andi Robertson and Sail-World.com