Brad Van Liew
Sailor of the Week: June 9-15
American ocean racer Brad Van Liew (Charleston, S.C.) sailed into the record books last month by winning every leg of the Velux 5 Oceans race for the second time in his solo sailing career. The Velux 5 Oceans race is a 30,000-nautical mile challenge broken up by five ports, including La Rochelle, France, Cape Town, South Africa, Wellington, New Zealand, Punta del Este, Uruguay and Charleston, S.C.
The 43-year-old is the only sailor in the 29-year history of the Velux 5 Oceans to have taken clean sweeps in two races (he won each leg of the 2002-3 edition in class two). Brad is also the first American to race solo around the world three times.
Learn more about Brad’s journey in this interview with US SAILING.
US SAILING: What were your keys to success in winning the Velux 5 Oceans Race? How were you able to be so consistent and win every leg of the race?
Brad Van Liew: Experience and preparation... Having done the Velux 5 Oceans Race (previously the Around Alone) twice before along with loads of additional sailing miles for training and transits, I feel my experience was an asset. One aspect of that experience is extensive work with weather routing and that knowledge was instrumental in my choices on the race course. Preparation is another key ingredient and I just don’t compromise on it. From redundant systems onboard to the world’s best shore side crew, we covered every possibility with extensive planning and prep. This does not just relate to the boat hardware, but to communication systems, electronics, clothing, food, water, and more. I have to give kudos to Quantum for making the best sails I have ever used, Gill for my superb clothing, B&G and Simrad for the unstoppable electronics and Samson for their trusted running rigging. They all helped me win with strong, reliable and cutting edge gear!
US SAILING: What motivates you to be an ocean racer?
Brad Van Liew: The satisfaction of completing each voyage is very rewarding. I do enjoy the adventure of each race as well, but crossing that finish line, whether it is one ocean sprint or the finale of an entire circumnavigation is sweet.
US SAILING: What advice would you have for someone who is interested in pursuing ocean racing?
Brad Van Liew: My best advice is don’t cut corners. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. I would start with learning to race dinghies, and then racing around the buoys in a variety of boats to learn the finer points of sailing and competition. I’d then say, assuming the desire to sail offshore continues, to sail offshore in the crewed environment, and ultimately solo. To sail and race solo offshore, one needs to be a jack of all trades and manage multiple systems at one time. The experience of specific “jobs” in the crewed racing environment definitely helps prep you for doing it alone.
US SAILING: What safety tips would you have for offshore sailors?
Brad Van Liew: In my mind the most important thing is making sure your boat is well prepped and you understand how to use the boat systems and repair systems as needed. My number one recommendation for safety in the offshore sailing environment is learning weather and making sure you can intelligently avoid what Mother Nature can (and will) throw at you. You have to be able to make educated decisions about routing whether you are on the dock before leaving port or at sea and faced with complex weather systems.
US SAILING: Did/Do other members of your family sail?
Brad Van Liew: Yes. I learned to sail dinghies as a youngster in camp but in my early teens I joined my uncle’s race program in Newport for the summers. It was invaluable experience and eventually led to my desire to sail solo in the competitive ocean racing scene. My daughter Tate (9) is starting her first sailing program this summer in Charleston. Some of my extended family includes familiar names in the marine industry, including the owners of J Boats, MJM Yachts and Gunboat. So it is fair to say quite a few people in my family sail.
US SAILING: What are some the events/opportunities that you are most looking forward to in the future?
Brad Van Liew: This is a very good question. I am in the middle of thinking about the future and many opportunities on land and at sea. I tend to focus on one event at a time, which is just the way my mind works. I can tell you that I will be doing some sailing this summer aboard Le Pingouin, but it will not be racing. We will do a post-race tour taking the boat to Bermuda, Newport, New York, Boston and maybe 1-2 other places in the U.S. It will be weird to sail her without all the pressure of racing. We will be taking some sponsors with us in the sailing transits port-to-port, so let US SAILING members to give us a call if interested!
US SAILING: Why do you think it is important to give back to the sport?
Brad Van Liew: I’d really like to see more opportunities for sailors to get involved in solo sailing in the U.S. market. There is such a vast difference in the accessibility and general awareness of the sport from the USA to Europe. The way I’d like to give back is helping it to grow, especially in the U.S. To see it even resemble the sport in Europe would be rewarding.
US SAILING: Do you have any "funny story" to relate about sailing or something else unique that you think our readers would be interested to know about you?
Brad Van Liew: I’ve heard some people say that they thought the flying fish story from the Velux race was pretty funny. It certainly was not funny for me at the time, but now that I look back, it does seem comical and surreal. So I am sailing off the coast of Brazil on the 4th ocean sprint of the race, headed for my home town of Charleston (S.C.). I encounter the worst weather of the entire race, with confused seas, thunderstorms, lightning cracking down everywhere, and it just felt like a living hell. Then as I am standing at the transom of the boat a HUGE flying fish jumps up and smacks me right in the center of my back, the exact point of two previous back surgeries. A second flying fish follows his buddy cracking me in the shoulder. I’m sent to my knees and forced to wonder… is my entire race going to end at the hands of these violent creatures bombarding me on deck? I can see the headlines now, “Van Liew forced to quit after attack by flying fish.” Funny now, but the entire scene does make on feel fragile.
Learn more about the Velux 5 Oceans race at http://www.velux5oceans.com/.
Visit Brad’s ocean racing site at http://www.oceanracing.org/.