Charleston skipper Brad Van Liew is leading the Velux 5 Oceans race fleet through some of the most desolate and most dangerous water on the planet.
In other words, he’s exactly where he wants to be.
Charleston skipper Brad Van Liew, aboard Le Pingouin, on the second leg of the Velux 5 Oceans race, from Cape Town, South Africa, to Wellington, New Zealand.
On Monday, he was sailing at 45 degrees south latitude, a no-man’s sea that sailors call the Southern Ocean. There the water swirls around the planet unimpeded by land, creating monstrous waves — and leaving no room for error. Van Liew said icebergs have been spotted at 46 degrees south, and he’s sailing without a heater (“Bad call,” he joked on his blog), leaving him wearing four layers of clothes most of the time.
“It is very cold and damp, which makes life aboard a chore and working on deck downright dangerous if you must be there for any extended period of time,” Van Liew told The Post and Courier on Monday night. “So I am trying to sail safe in a way that won’t cause breakages and mishaps which would mandate the need for extra time cleaning up mistakes on deck.”
Overall, it has been a difficult voyage for the single-handed fleet since leaving Cape Town, South Africa, on Dec. 16. Van Liew said between headwinds, frustratingly calm conditions and the seas generally running against them, it was hard get south into good wind.
In 12 days at sea, three different boats have held the lead.
“I have finally been able to break into a lead but it is rather tenuous and we are having a heck of a good boat race for being well in to week 2 of the leg,” Van Liew said.
The north-westerly winds arrived on Christmas, and Van Liew used them to ride into the lead. And since then, he hasn’t looked back. He now holds a 130-mile lead over the next closest skipper and is north-northwest of the remote Kerguelen Islands.
“It is daunting as there is no place to stop and no one to help should I run into trouble,” Van Liew said on his blog. “Countless sailors have faced adversity in this area over the years, most recently Bernard Stamm, who ended up running aground on a beach in the Kerguelen Islands during the Vendee Globe race, and the young teen sailor Abby Sunderland, who was rescued earlier this year. The weather can be so violent, it is definitely a place to tread lightly. … My mission is to get through it safely without being too conservative.”
On top of all that Van Liew had to miss Christmas with his wife, Meaghan, and their two children. He called it “the hardest thing” about the leg.
Van Liew is about 5,300 miles from Wellington, which is the Leg 2 finish line. He won the first leg, from La Rochelle, France, to Cape Town, by sailing about 8,000 miles in 28 days. Currently, he’s sailing 1 mph faster than anyone else in the fleet.
Once the racers reach New Zealand, they sail for Punta del Este, Uruguay. From South America, they sail to Charleston, before racing across the Atlantic to finish the race in La Rochelle.
The fleet is expected in Charleston late in the spring.