Full Noise or No Noise
American solo sailor Brad van Liew's dominant performance in the Velux 5 Oceans Race should've raised a racket, but when it comes to marathon singlehanded racing in the United States, is anyone listening? A special report from our September 2011 issue.
Indeed, Van Liew, who started training as a pilot while still in college, had already successfully launched a career in aviation. “I did it with as much of a vengeance as I did everything,” he said. “That was my full noise or no noise.” Meanwhile, Meaghan earned her M.B.A., took a job in public relations, and began climbing the corporate ladder.
For several years, the couple, who eventually tied the knot, continued on their upwardly mobile trajectory. And after purchasing a 26-foot coastal racing boat, Van Liew slowly began to reconsider his solo offshore ambitions. “It got to the point where I went to Meaghan and said, ‘I need to tell you a little bit about my past and about what I want to do,”’ he said. Years before, he’d stashed away some binders and clippings about Plant and his own abbreviated BOC foray. “I told her to look through them, that there was some stuff about a guy who was a mentor of mine, a missing piece of my soul, and a race I’d wanted to do. And I wanted to do it again.
“She came back and said, ‘If you’re ever going to try this and see if you can pull it off, we have to do this now, not later. I don’t want to do it when we have kids or when financial stability is high on my list, so let’s squander some of what we’ve learned and done and give it a whack.’ And that’s when the floodgates opened.”
As a team, the Van Liews’ “offsetting skills”—Meaghan’s business acumen and Brad’s sailing prowess—dovetailed perfectly. After landing a deal with a food company, Balance Bar, Van Liew established himself as a formidable solo competitor by earning a third place in Class II in the 1998-99 Around Alone race, enduring a 70-knot gale and several knockdowns on his approach to Cape Horn, and erecting a jury rig and safely making it to port after his 50-footer was dismasted on the event’s final leg.
His notable performance aboard Balance Bar raised expectations for the 2002-03 race, for which the Van Liews secured a high-profile sponsorship package from Tommy Hilfiger clothing. And Van Liew delivered on his side of the deal, winning all five legs in Class II aboard his 50-foot Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America while setting a 24-hour speed record for Open 50s of 345 nautical miles in the process. In winning the division, he’d matched the accomplishment of none other than his former mentor, Plant, in the mid-1980s.
“Bearing down on the finish line,” he wrote at the time, “I had the distinct feeling that he was proud of me for doing something that only two Americans—he and I—had ever accomplished.”
And with that, citing the addition of his 1-year-old daughter, Tate, to the family, he announced his “retirement” from solo racing. “I’ve played enough games of Russian roulette,” he said.
But it was only a temporary respite.