US sailor tries to stay focused, race nears end
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - American skipper Brad Van Liew is already thinking about the sight of his family on the arrival dock in Charleston - and that's not always a good thing for the leader of the Velux 5 Oceans race.
Van Liew will set sail Sunday from Punta del Este, Uruguay, as the points-leader for the round-the-world, 30,000-mile solo adventure race. The 5,700-mile fourth leg finishes in Charleston, Van Liew's place of residence, and gives him a chance to reconnect with wife, Meaghan; 9-year-old daughter, Tate; and 6-year-old son, Wyatt.
"This is a bit of a special situation,'' Van Liew said Friday n a phone interview from Uruguay.
Van Liew has sailed in the race twice before, finishing third in 1998, then winning in 2002 when it was called Around Alone. Van Liew's crossed the finish line in front of the first three legs and, while he holds a 10-point edge on Poland's Zbigniew Gutkowski in second, understands how one slip up on the high seas can scuttle your chance at victory.
"When your mast is down, that's it,'' he said.
That's why this leg presents a special challenge for the 43-year-old sailor. Van Liew and other racers have been on the seas alone since October, ignoring exhaustion and solitude to remain on course. Van Liew, though, is anxious to see his family and friends, and spend time in familiar surroundings helping with homework or home repairs.
"I can see myself getting too excited and that not being a smart move,'' he said.
Still, Van Liew will the best he can to remain locked on the leg at hand up the coast of South America and across the Equator to the United States.
The Velux 5 Oceans began with five skippers and is down to four. Canadian Derek Hatfield is third with 30 points and Chris Stanmore-Major of Great Britain is fourth with 25 points.
It has been a fairly smooth journey for Van Liew so far that has taken his vessel from the starting point in La Rochelle, France, through Cape Town, South Africa, and Wellington, New Zealand before heading to South America. Van Liew had his struggles around Cape Horn near the tip of the continent, but managed through unscathed.
Van Liew wrote on his blog entry of Feb. 22 that while moving through Cape Horn, he could "feel the boat shudder as the bow went under the swell.''
Van Liew also became the first American to round Cape Horn three times as a solo sailor. "That was an accomplishment,'' he said.
He gets about 3 1/2 to 4 hours sleep in a calm, 24-hour period, he said, mostly in 30-minute chunks as the demands to keep the yacht going eat up most of the time. There are also documenting the journey in journals and blogs for his children and others to see.
His family visited Cape Town and Wellington during stopovers. He and his wife see it as an educational, worldwide adventure that most other grade-school kids never get. "So that was important,'' he said. "But near the end, they were ready to go home.''
So is Van Liew, who is not sure if he'll attempt a fourth Velux Five Oceans event in his lifetime.
Meghan Van Liew said the family is anxious about his safety all the time. They are "also encouraged by his success. His arrival in Charleston will be a sweet reward for all the work he and the team have put in,'' she said.
First, though, come two more treacherous legs for Brad Van Liew.
"This whole thing can end at any second,'' he said. "I'd love to say it's a done deal, but I still have points to accumulate.''