20.02.05 HELLOMOTO crossed the finish line in 7th place
Arrival time: 02:34:24GMT 20.02.05
Elapsed Time: 104 days, 14 hours, 34 minutes, 24 seconds
Average theoretical speed: 9.43 knots
No. miles covered: 23,680m
HELLOMOTO position: 7th
Plymouth-based Conrad Humphreys started the Vendée Globe solo, non-stop RTW yacht race last year at 1202GMT on Sunday November 7th from Les Sables d’Olonne, France. He was one of 4 UK based skippers who made it to the start line of the legendary Vendée Globe race as part of a 20 strong international fleet, with his Open 60ft boat HELLOMOTO, sponsored by Motorola.
The pace of the fleet was hot right from the start and as they raced downwind in strong following winds towards the Equator and Conrad fought his way inside the Top Ten. In what was probably his only tactical error of the race, Conrad slowed up sailing between the Canary Islands whereas the rest of the fleet ahead pass to the West as they run down to the Cape Verde’s. Then, below Madeira where Conrad was set to jump up the fleet in strong winds, instead he loses precious hours getting rid of 2 spinnakers, one of which had wrapped itself around the forestay, the other around the keel after one too many sail changes and not enough sleep.
On the 9th day of racing an 8mm bolt falls from the spinnaker block at the top of the mast and lands by chance at Conrad’s feet! The first 90ft rig climb ensues at night time followed by another in daylight to replace the block but Conrad is thrown off the rig twice in big swell and strong winds. HELLOMOTO then hits the notorious ‘Doldrums’ and endures 2 days of alternate squalls and light shifty winds but escapes. Conrad wakes up to find fellow competitor Nick Moloney on Skandia just 2 miles to leeward of HELLOMOTO and they race in sight of each other for two days.
Conrad’s first milestone was when he surpassed the number of days he had previously spent alone at sea; his record was 13 days, 20hrs in the 2,800m Transat race. Conrad had covered approx. 3,760m in the same elapsed time.
His first major setback, however, came one month into the race on 4th November in waters off Cape Town, when his boat collided with an unidentified floating object, which smashed his starboard rudder. Conrad had to dive under HELLOMOTO to replace the broken rudder in shark infested waters off South Africa in order to keep his dream alive and stay in the race. This had never been accomplished before, however Conrad managed to do this all by himself and restarted 3 days later but now last out of the 17 remaining boats in the race after spending a total of 6 days ‘off course’ since the collision. Conrad set his targets to get back into the race and pick off his competitors one by one…
HELLOMOTO then caught the train of low pressure systems that sweep around the bottom of the world, and Conrad’s best time was had here, surfing at top speeds through the harshest and most remote waters above Antarctica, where waves reach 60ft high and the winds are over 50 knots. Unfortunately, Conrad’s generator broke down on Christmas Eve, forcing him to economise on his power supply and switch off non-essentials such as the heating, cabin lights and music, as charging the batteries takes more fuel & time with his engine. Happily, the next day he opens his Christmas presents from his wife to find some Goretex socks and a mini hot water bottle!
New Year marked another milestone, as Conrad passed the halfway stage of the race of 11,677 miles, and moved into the Top Ten again. Conrad gave himself double rations of Mumm Champagne, and he was also in good company as Ellen MacArthur raced past 20 miles below HELLOMOTO on her record-breaking trimaran ‘B&Q’ and they had a brief chat to wish each other well. Conrad then played a bit of Russian Roulette after crossing the International Date Line as he steered a course through the iceberg minefield to make gains on the fleet ahead and spotted several ‘bergs – one as big as Wembley Stadium!
Despite a horrific rig climb to fix chafe on the cap shrouds at mast top height in the Pacific Ocean, plus living like a mole due to the lack of heating and lighting, Conrad ‘Pacman’ Humphreys made a remarkable comeback and overtook 4 boats sailing underneath Australia and New Zealand. The Southern Ocean did not loosen its grip that easily as 300 miles West of Cape Horn HELLOMOTO suffered flooding in the aft compartment which nearly took out all of the boat’s electronic equipment and communications. The impact of one huge wave imploded the life raft inspection hatch and Conrad fought for 48 hours to bail tons of icy southern ocean out of the hatch. Ironically the next day he was totally becalmed before the Horn and eventually rounded very close to the infamous rock at sunset in 9th place on 19th January after 72 days & 12 hours 58 minutes, with the last third of the race up the Atlantic now left. It was nothing short of a hugely emotional moment for Conrad: “I felt like a small boy in a toy shop, I am so excited!” he reported in at the time, adding “this is a moment I want to share with the whole Motorola Ocean Racing team, everyone has worked so hard to get here.”
Conrad quickly adjusted to a different rhythm sailing upwind for the final third of the race back up the Atlantic and was intent to overtake Ocean Planet and put him into 8th. However, his trials were far from over, as 1,000m after Cape Horn, he then suffered damage to the mechanism that swings his keel, just hours after hearing about Skandia’s keel breaking away. Despite laborious hours trying to cant the keel partially and lash it in place, effectively, Conrad was to spend the next 25 days and 5,000 miles never knowing if his keel would stay intact and the mental stress of that never left him day in day out, nor did the noise it made, shaking the hull especially when going upwind in boat-breaking seas. Nevertheless, Conrad was enjoying the tactical battle with Joe Seeten on Arcelor Dunkerque up ahead, and from there on in their duel proved one of the most enthralling stories of the race. Both boats enjoyed a fast passage across the Equator, and as Conrad was only 35m behind Joé Seeten then, it was calculated that HELLOMOTO had wiped out a 500 mile deficit since rounding Cape Horn 550m behind Arcelor Dunkerque! Conrad also made the fastest passage between Cape Horn and the Equator of 15 days, 2 hours 12 minutes – 3 hours faster than winner Vincent Riou on PRB.
The Azores High proved to be the common enemy for both boats as this system tracked North with the boats and impeded their progress to the finish. Conrad’s tactical – or technical – dilemma was either to go the same way as Joe round the west of the system in favourable winds but possibly sail slower with the keel fixed in the centreline, or beat round the other side but remain much closer to the direct route to sail less miles and be able to partially cant the keel for a less stressful ride. He opted for the latter, split from Joe and as they both rounded the Azores on either side it was so close no bets were made on who would be ahead when they converged. A pause to celebrate at last as Conrad spent his 32nd birthday rounding the Azores Islands but he could not even relish the thought of having a beer on one of the beaches, so instead read hundreds of birthday messages sent to him by his supporters.
With just 1,000 miles to go, Joe slipped back into 7th but Conrad never stopped giving it 100% to the end and sailed up to Joe’s position to try and control him, no easy feat given both skippers’ boats were handicapped and at times going round in circles in the shifty light airs at the centre of the Azores High. Conrad edged back into 7th and the two boats then tacked onto a direct route to the finish line, Joe piling on the pressure for Conrad to push that little bit harder although the keel by now had lost all pressure and was shaking uncontrollably fixed on the centreline.
Finally on his approach to the Bay of Biscay, Conrad’s engine failed to start and he lost all power, which meant that Conrad had to hand steer for up to 16 hours a day all the way to the finish with Joe just 40 miles behind him and still chasing. He was therefore deprived of his communications and found it very tough to not be able to talk to his family or team so close to the finish when he wanted to let everyone know how excited he was.
After fellow British competitor Mike Golding on ECOVER finished in 3rd place, Conrad took 7th place on HELLOMOTO when he crossed the line at 02:34:24GMT on 20th February 2005, after 104 days 14 hours 32 minutes 24 seconds racing alone at sea… Conrad’s first reaction to finishing: “All I can say is that it is a complete relief, I’ve been waiting for this moment for 104 days! It’s been an epic race, and the biggest motivation was the team support, we all share in this result, I haven’t done this alone. I’ve learnt so much and will continue to do so, all these challenges I faced and the lessons learnt will I hope put me in good stead for the Vendée Globe in 2008!”
Conrad’s first reactions after crossing the line…
Q: What is your initial emotion crossing the line?
A: “One of complete relief! I’ve been thinking about this moment for such a long time but not letting myself get too carried away as so much can happen. It’s been an epic race and I’ve enjoyed it, there’ve been lots of challenges, so this is an amazing moment!”
Q: You’ve completed your dream, you wanted to finish – do you feel fulfilled?
A: “Yes I do! The Vendée Globe has been a dream of mine for a long time. I spent a lot of this race wondering whether I would actually finish it. To finish the Vendée Globe is the big challenge, this ranks as the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”
Q: Over the last week, you have had no power and so have had to shut down your communications. How tough has that been not being able to talk to friends and family?
A: “The power issue was a total nightmare! I couldn’t communicate with my family, or my project manager, Joff, when I wanted to, which broke my routine. During this race the phone has been a vital ingredient to keep me going, and it was taken away at a time when I wanted to express how I was feeling. I was so excited being so close to the finish, not having any communication was very hard.”
Q: The Vendée Globe was a war of attrition, how did you get through it?
A: “Deep down there’s something inside me that doesn’t want to give up. The biggest reason not to give up was the support from my own team, especially my project manager Joff and my wife Vikki – they would not let me give up! Joff’s calm sense helped me to keep it together and we should all be sharing this result, I haven’t done this alone.”
Q: Our final image of you before the start of this race was leaving your wife Vikki. How does it feel to see her again?
A: “Ah, well, I can only say that I’ve spent 104 days waiting to get to this moment! I’m speechless…I’ve been longing for this moment, and now I can enjoy it. I’m happy to be back in her arms again. She’s been a complete rock, it was a long time to be apart… ”
ARRIVAL – ACTUAL!
The finish line was 1 mile off the end of the breakwater outside the channel into Port Olona. HELLOMOTO crossed the line just after 02:30GMT, a small flotilla of support boats followed the boat in and there was a healthy sound of cheering and fog horn blowing as Conrad lit his flares above his head at the finish! His shore team and wife Vikki were immediately transferred onto the boat. Needless to say, they took some hot fresh food and a beer or two to shove into Conrad’s hands!
Because of the low tide prohibiting entry to the channel at that time, HELLOMOTO stayed outside the channel on a mooring overnight and then proceeded through the channel just ahead of Arcelor Dunkerque to the pontoon at midday French time Sunday 20th February. It being Sunday afternoon, thousands of people lined both sides of the channel and flocked to the race village to welcome both the skippers. Conrad was truly overwhelmed, he had absolutely no conception of this kind of welcome!
After docking alongside the race pontoon, the Race Organisation officially welcomed Conrad ashore and gave him a bottle of Mumm Champagne to celebrate his finish in front of his family, friends, team and the media. As he has been deprived of music since Christmas Eve, the loud speakers throughout the village blaring out one of Conrad’s favourite tracks: ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 – as a surprise!
Then, Conrad stepped up onto the public stage at the top of the pontoon for a huge public welcome and was asked questions about his voyage which was broadcast through the loud speakers.
Conrad was then escorted to his arrival press conference in the big tent next door, and the team from the Vendée Globe website hosted the Q&A session with French and English media.
Finally Conrad had some privacy with his family, friends and sponsors after such an immense welcome, a much deserved moment to stand still and relax with his loved ones in private after 105 days alone on a boat!
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