Winner Brad Van Liew
While most of us in the U.S. were preparing to kick back for the long Memorial Day weekend last Friday afternoon (May 27), on the other side of the Atlantic, an American sailor proudly flying the Stars & Stripes was putting the final touches on an effort that he will no doubt remember for the rest of his life.
In the last three decades, numerous Yanks have made their mark in solo sailing, including Steve Pettengill, Rich Wilson, Bruce Schwab, and the late, great Mike Plant, to name but a few. But when Brad Van Liew crossed the finish line off La Rochelle, France, just before 9 p.m. local time on the 27th to win the concluding leg of the VELUX 5 OCEANS round-the-world race (his same result in each of the event’s previous four legs), he penned his name into the record books with indelible ink.
For with his second post-to-post victory in a single-handed race around the planet (in “straight sets,” he also won Class 2 of the 2002-2003 race, then called Around Alone), and his third solo round-the-world race overall (he competed in the 1998-1999 race aboard the 50-foot Balance Bar), Van Liew established himself as the most accomplished American sailor to ever compete in this high-risk, high-seas arena. As the first to complete three racing solo circumnavigations, and the first to ever win not one but two of the events, the 43-year-old Van Liew, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina, has amassed a singular body of work that stands apart from his American peers, and likely will for quite some time.
“This win won’t mean a whole lot to a whole lot of other people, but it means one hell of a lot to me and a few others,” Van Liew said shortly after the finish. “It is something that I have done and can take to the grave and no-one can deny it. That’s why people climb mountains, sail solo round the world, or even go to the moon. It’s one of those kind of moments.”
Van Liew closed out the race in style, winning the last 3,800-mile leg from Charleston in 12 days, 23 hours, 52 minutes, an average speed of 12.21 knots. Sailing the Eco 60, Le Pingouin—it was the original name registered by the boat’s first owner, French sailor Catherine Chabaud, in 1998 (Van Liew did not have a title corporate sponsor)—over the course of the entire race, he recorded 31,924 nautical miles.
“We have a special bond, this boat and me,” Van Liew had said prior to setting out from Charleston on May 14.
And when all was said and done, he added, “You’ve got to live life large and for me this event is who I am. It feels amazing to have won this race, and even better that it’s my second one. To sweep it twice is kind of unheard of, so I’m pretty happy. I’ve met every objective I set myself and then some.”
A native of Southern California, the former pilot and life-long adrenaline junkie has had more than his fair share of adventures over the years. He was inspired to take up solo racing by Plant, and even worked with the legendary American singlehander on one of his early campaigns. A complete profile of Van Liew, exploring his relationship with his mentor and the unusual—and dominating—Le Pingouin campaign, will be featured in the September issue of Cruising World.
After all he’s done, it seems like the least we could do.