Charleston skipper Brad Van Liew is less than 900 from home in the Velux 5 Oceans race, and still is the overall leader. Van Liew and two other boats are expected to arrive in Charleston next week.
Charleston skipper Brad Van Liew is less than 900 miles from home and the Velux 5 Oceans leg 4 finish line, but he can't relax just yet.
Not if he wants to continue his perfect streak of wins in the around-the-world solo sailboat race.
Van Liew, the overall race leader, has a nearly 200-mile lead over Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield, but a tricky weather system and constantly shifting winds could reshuffle the deck before the fleet reaches South Carolina.
"There are opportunities for passing lanes, and my weather so far has been lighter than anticipated, which has allowed Derek and Chris (British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major) to remain within striking distance -- and eat up much of my lead," Van Liew said Friday.
"It is very stressful and tiring at the moment as I can't leave anything on the table and have to spur Le Pingouin along as best I can."
It has been a frustrating week for Van Liew. He sacrificed this leg's speed gate -- a timed run within the leg that awards bonus points to the sailor who passes through a designated area quickest -- to set himself up for the best approach to Charleston.
But while he sailed north-northeast through the speed gate, Hatfield and Stanmore-Major took a shorter, due-north route to take first and second in the timed run. Van Liew thought his course would offer better wind, but in fact the other two skippers have had the better weather much of the week.
"The benefit of being the westernmost boat still should reap some reward, but nothing like I would have anticipated," Van Liew said.
So far, Van Liew has won all three legs of the race, which started in France in October and, until this leg, had collected the maximum number of speed-gate points.
As the race has progressed, Van Liew's victories have become increasingly narrower -- a fact he noted before leaving Punta del Este, Uruguay, in March. The other skippers have said they would like to beat him into his home port as badly as he wants to win the leg.
Zbignew Gutkowski, the Polish skipper who has finished second in each of the previous legs, is currently in port in Brazil after breaking his bowsprit, his forestay and a couple of his ribs.
He expects to be back on the water soon and reach Charleston before the final leg of the race begins in May.
"Gutek's situation is a big bummer," Van Liew said. "He is a fierce competitor and good friend and I hope he gets out of Brazil soon. He pushes very hard and I think it is catching up with him in the form of breakages on the boat.
"He did not have the time to do as comprehensive a re-fit as we did, and that is the type of thing that can rear its head as the miles accumulate."
Van Liew said the rip in one of his sails has not gotten any worse, and he suspects he won't need that particular piece of canvas the rest of the leg. Otherwise Le Pingouin is in good shape and Van Liew is recovering from the hits he took from flying fish off the South American coast.
Race officials said it's clear that he is pushing hard to make Charleston, forgoing sleep to get every ounce of speed out of his boat. He is farther west than the other skippers, but they are farther north, and it will be up to the wind to decide which boat has the advantage.
"Chris and Derek are obviously pushing very hard and that's boat racing, nothing is guaranteed," Van Liew said.
The three skippers are expected to reach Charleston and the Ocean Sprint 4 finish line next week.