Two Around Alone champions sailed into Charleston Harbor together on Wednesday -- ready to set new sailing records.
Italian skipper Giovanni Soldini, winner of the 1998-99 Around Alone, brought his 70-foot Maserati into port for a break between attempting a long list of new speed records for monohull sailboats. Onboard was local skipper Brad Van Liew, winner of the 2010-11 Velux 5 Oceans (formerly the Around Alone).
The two men, with six other veteran solo and crew sailors, just set the monohull speed record for the Discovery Route, Columbus' 1492 course to the New World. They made the run from Cadiz, Spain, to San Salvador in 10 days, 23 hours and 9 minutes.
Following a few weeks of rest and repairs, the all-star crew will head for the Gulf Stream to attempt to set new 24-hour monohull speed records before tackling the Miami to New York run.
Van Liew, who is glad to be home for a bit, said his new job was a good fit.
"It's what I do," he said. "And this was just the logical place for our American home, especially given my ties and Giovanni's ties to the city."
His role on Maserati has also been a nice distraction for the champion sailor. After winning the Velux 5 Oceans, Van Liew -- who made the run without a title sponsor -- was forced to sell his 60-foot yacht Le Pingouin following repossession proceedings.
And then Van Liew, former executive director of the S.C. Maritime Commission, was dragged into a lawsuit over back-rent for the organization. This series of setbacks forced him into bankruptcy.
But Soldini, who he called a mentor to him during the 1998-99 Around Alone, offered him a fortuitous job as watch leader on the crew. Soldini was hired by the Italian automobile company Maserati to try to set speed records for monohull sailboats. The company is generating publicity for its company and snagged Soldini, who is a popular sports figure in his home country.
"The boat is really fast, and it's the wettest boat I've been on," Van Liew said. "It takes all eight of us going all the time."
Since the 1998-99 Around, which was most memorable for his rescue of French sailor Isabelle Autissier 2,000 miles from land, Soldini has raced Open 40s and multihull boats all over Europe. Tackling speed records was a new challenge, and he had the idea to build Maserati's crew of solo sailors and crew sailors -- people who don't often mingle in the sport.
"We have a crew of very different people, very special people," Soldini said. "We probably have 10 trips around the world between us. Each of us can learn something from the other."
Soldini is little changed from his championship season in Charleston -- the beard is there, the laugh, the energy. He said he was glad to be back in the city for the first time since winning the race in May 1999.
"I'm very happy to be here," he said. "I remember fondly the first time I sailed in here (in 1994). Charleston is a really important part of my life."
This new venture will have him in town often over the next few months. After sailing the Gulf Stream, Maserati will be back here before going to Miami to sail the Miami to New York route. From there, the crew will try to beat the big record -- New York to England. The current record is 6 days, 17 hours, set by a boat nearly twice the size of Maserati.
As usual, Soldini is up for the challenge.
"Yes, I hope we will be able to do it," he said.
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.