Bravo star Colin MacRae. Photo / Instagram
Kiwi Below Deck and YouTube star Colin MacRae sails away from reality TV to circumnavigate the world in a hurricane-devastated and now restored catamaran.
MacRae has just flown back to New Zealand to see friends and family after six years.
“My little brother Las just had a little boy, which makes me an uncle for the first time, which is a big deal to me.”
The 33-year-old vowed to himself that he would sail home in his 13.7-metre Parlay Revival catamaran, but that vow will have to wait until his epic Pacific crossing from Mexico in February next year.
The catamaran has proven to be an ongoing labor of love mixed with excruciating setbacks. Back in 2017, after massive Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean, MacRae discovered the sunken Lagoon 450 Cat on the Caribbean island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands in a floating graveyard of wrecked boats.
The insurance company called the boat a total loss, people called him crazy, but MacRae knew he could bring it back to life. He set about refloating, repairing and reviving the catamaran, then called the Parlay.
“It was worth half a million [US$] before the storm and I obviously got it for a fraction of that,” he says.
He repaired the yacht sufficiently to allow it to be sailed out of port to Guatemala, where MacRae spent five months overseeing repairs in the equatorial heat to restore Parlay Revival to its former glory.
The former Mount Albert Grammar Boy fell in love with sailing at the age of 16 when he got a Hobie Cat. He studied mechanical engineering in Auckland, but quickly realized that he didn’t want to work in an office. He left New Zealand for a life at sea nearly 14 years ago and quickly found positions as chief engineer on superyachts.
Following the Parlay Revival’s restoration, MacRae and his crew sailed to the Pacific Ocean and began his lifelong dream of sailing around the world while living and working on the ship.
“She is now literally the strongest Lagoon 450 catamaran in the world,” he says.
“We have now sailed around 25 countries and around 20,000 nautical miles through the Panama Canal and are making our way up the Pacific coast of Central America. I have two rescue dogs with me and we usually sail with six to eight crew members, so it’s a full-fledged operation.”
Hardly a moment of Parlay Revival’s journey went uncaptured after MacRae started a YouTube channel called Sailing Parlay Revival which has garnered hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
“We just uploaded our 170th episode. It’s taken us three and a half years to get this far and the support is overwhelming,” he says.
“After repairing all the hurricane damage, we actually sailed across the Pacific a few years ago, but found the boat had major structural damage. We did a whole series of videos about the repairs and that really got us a lot of street recognition in the industry because I think the average person would have given up.”
This damage set back his Pacific crossing to New Zealand a few years. The boat being struck by lightning and the effects of Covid 19 were super demoralizing says MacRae, but great raw and authentic footage was captured.
“The audience responded so well and said I had this Kiwi-can-do attitude, which pumped subscribers like crazy. So I think it’s those repair videos that really set us apart from all the other sailing channels and got us where we’ve gotten to where we are today.”
The Sailing Parlay Revival’s most viewed video had 2.2 million views, with the second coming in at 1.7 million. In the process, MacRae got a boil on his bum, which he now admits is a bit embarrassing.
A new episode of Sailing Parlay Revival is released every Sunday and according to MacRae the important message is that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible.
“We’ve done the extraordinary in most people’s eyes for them to be inspired by our videos. When we see us sailing around the world now after years of torture and fiberglass grinding, people believe that really anything is possible,” he says.
“It makes for better footage for the YouTube channel and it’s a constant party with so much happening – the content we’re getting is ridiculous. We surf, dive, fish, fish and sail around the world!”
MacRae says her trips attract a lot of friends, and people are taking to Instagram to meet up at ports.
Also, Below Deck must have liked what they saw. They asked MacRae to fill the role of chief engineer for their show Below Deck Sailing for two seasons, which aired this year and last.
“I was so hesitant to be this exposed but chose to do it to promote my YouTube channel as that’s where my heart and soul lies.”
MacRae says being on the show was incredibly stressful – 24/7 on camera, the mic on the whole time so even a quiet whisper was recorded for six weeks. It is, says the hardened sailor, “challenging”.
“The second season was so much easier knowing the drill. She’s opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve gotten a pretty good cut,” he laughs.
What with cast connections and the below-deck yacht Parsifal III crashing into a dock, it’s clear MacRae prefers his YouTube star to that of a reality TV star.
Now he’s preparing for next year’s Pacific crossing from Mexico, which he describes as “one of the greatest adventures of my life so far”.
Sailing the world’s largest ocean shouldn’t be underestimated, he says. Sailing from Mexico to French Polynesia, he and his crew find themselves in one of the most isolated parts of the world.
The aim is to arrive in New Zealand by November next year to avoid the dreaded cyclone season.
“It’s not a joke and we have to do a lot of preparation of the boat, improve all the safety systems, refresh a lot of medical knowledge and procedures,” he says.
“I’m pretty nervous about it!”