Kiwi Conrad Colman crossed the finish line of the first edition of Retour à La Base in 14th  position this Tuesday, December 12, at 0130hrs UTC. The skipper of Mail Boxes Etc. completed the theoretical 3,500 miles course in an elapsed time of 11 days 9 hours 30 minutes 42 seconds.

Once again Colman has shown he is able to deliver an impressive result on a shoestring budget, finishing ahead of a few IMOCAs with foils and just a matter of 1hr 56min behind Bejamin Ferré who sailed Monnoyeur Duo For A Job, the former Vendée Globe winning MACIF, to 13th as first daggerboard boat. With three racing circumnavigations of the planet under his belt Colman shows he is well capable of being skipper of the first daggerboard boat on the upcoming 2024-2025 Vendée Globe.  

Colman, who celebrated his 40th birthday on the race course makes a virtue of dealing with his problems efficiently and does not make a drama of them. And on this solo race back from Martinique he found solutions to his issues and sailed his boat, which started life as Groupe Bel, faster and faster and ticked off more and more positions. 

Even after the start, along the coast of Martinique he read the shifts and puffs to be up alongside Jérémie Beyou (Charal) and Thomas Ruyant (For The People). 

 “I’m finally wearing a t-shirt and it’s nice. With my genes, I am not made for the heat of the equator!  he wrote after a few days at sea. “I like solitude and feeling in control of my choices. Sometimes I pinch myself to realize that what I am experiencing is not a dream, I am supported by sponsors on my sails and many people are following me on this project!”

And he has his problems. First up was a sheave box lead for his big headsail. He creates a jury workaround but has issues with his wind instruments and so on. But he pushes on, increasingly confident in his boat and making is go fast. 

"The first big gust of wind, I wasn't really not calm, the second one I gained confidence and this one, I let the horses go! The boat vibrated, whistled, sang in every direction. It’s like I’m in the front row of a death metal concert! Life on board is hard, but I'm happy!” he reported.. 

Celebrating his 40th birthday alone in the middle of the Atlantic, he even becomes a poet in contact with the elements: “Yesterday, the sun set on my youth, which I left behind, in my wake! A truly magnificent sunset, with squalls. While watching this I thought of these famous 40 years often used as a point of reference. The clouds below were illuminated in all colors before being shadowed by the rotation of the earth, then the higher cloud cover reappeared in the light. It was a beautiful metaphor for transitioning into middle age” 

Since the Azores he has gone from 21st to 14thth place, the most impressive gains of the second half of the race, when it matters! 

Finish time: 12/12/2023 01:30:42 UTC
Running time: 11jd09h 30min
Delta to first 2d 09h 26min 54s
Delta to 13th  01h 56min 00s
Theoretical average speed 3 497.42 nm / 12.79 kts
Real distance sailed and average 4 274.19 nm / 15.63 kts 


Conrad Colman on the pontoon:

“I really I haven't had a day without being afraid of hurting myself, of falling or of having the boat break in two, but the speed that we are able to reach and maintain is quite impressive. I had already done solo transatlantic crossings in this direction but I had forgotten how awful it was, even with an old daggerboard boat. I hadn't sailed solo since the Route du Rhum last year and initially I didn't have enough confidence with the boat to push as much as I’d want to. And with all the work we did with the systems, I gained in confidence and I was gradually able to work with the three depressions we had to go through during this race. It was very cool ! Generally when I talk about this type of project, I say that the boat has to feel small. If it feels big, that means I'm fighting against it and everything gets hard. Increasingly I had the impression that my boat was small, that I was sailing on a Laser. I anticipated the maneuvers, I was in tune with the weather. Really I was in synch, at one with my boat. I know that I can push this machine, that I can rely on pushing myself hard and that really now is very satisfying! It’s been a great, progressive comeback and it gives me a lot of hope next year.” 

On overcoming technical problems.
“The sheave box blew up and then in quick succession the mast rotation sensor also got ripped off. I have a manual back up here which allows me to look at the deck and then put in my offset, so I could eventually sail with clean wind and data. But that meant a lot more running around the boat. But for example I don’t have wind information in a gybe so I don’t know when it is going to come. But I got used to that. I was grumpy to start with and then I got used to it. And then I lost one of the hydrogenerators off the back of the boat. And that was the bracket itself which decomposed with the speed, the whole unit just got ripped off the back of the boat. I did not see it go. That was surprising and worrying as as you know I am going zero emissions on the Vendée Globe and the hydrogenator is a corner stone of that. And so I will be having some good chats with them in the next couple of weeks so they can be more robust and I can have full confidence in my ability to produce clean energy all the way around the world,” 

On exceeding his pre-start hopes and expectations.
“Second daggerboard boat is probably better than I was hoping for, one, by pushing very hard and two, by keeping the boat in one piece – I did not blow up a sail – I did not damage anything from pushing too hard or wiping out, so I feel I sailed hard, I sailed with maturity and was rewarded with this result. But given that my sails are not new, most are from 2016, I am actually astonished that I did not blow up a sail.” 

And looking ahead to his second Vendée Globe….
“ Yes, for sure, it gives me confidence for the Vendée Globe for a year’s time, I shook myself up, I shook the boat up and I intentionally said ‘to hell with it, let’s see what this boat can do, consciously from the Azores – that is to say the storm leading into the Azores and out was the turning point for me because it was ‘I have made it this far, the boat is going into the yard, these are older sails, let’s see what we can do, let’s see what happens. And here I am I did not blow anything up.”

So this makes the last year of hard work and stress worth it?
Yes, absolutely. When I was sanding, laminating, painting this boat – and looking for money at the same time – I was dreaming about how this hull would feel ripping through the water. And so I have been rewarded amply, and during the race I re-signed a co title sponsor and so rewards in every direction, which has to be good