Brad Van Liew watches his shore crew wrap giant lifting straps around his bright yellow racing yacht while a Detyens Shipyard crane hovers overhead.
The crew is careful not to scratch the new paint or snag an errant piece of equipment.
The crane must pick up the 60-foot, 8.5-ton carbon fiber yacht, haul it a couple hundred yards over a crowded dock, then gently set it in the Cooper River.
Most guys would be nervous watching their boat hanging 30 feet off the ground, but Van Liew is his jovial self.
"This is the easy part," he said.
The launch of Van Liew's Le Pingouin on Tuesday morning at the former Charleston Naval Base was, in fact, the easiest part of the champion skipper's bid for a third solo sailboat race around the world.
For months, he and his small crew have worked seven days a week preparing this boat for a
30,000-mile trip into the most dangerous waters on the planet. That was the first hard part.
The crew refitted the boat, upgraded electronics, replaced the lines and re-configured the deck layout to Van Liew's sailing style. Then they tested the equipment that will make it possible for Van Liew to sail all the way around the world without using any fossil fuels -- a first.
"The idea was to freshen the boat up, reset the odometer," Van Liew said.
At the same time, Van Liew and his wife, Meaghan, have worked tirelessly to pitch their Lazarus Project -- which simply refers to the Around Alone winner's sailing career being back from the dead -- to potential sponsors.
A yearlong campaign like this is expensive, a $2 million endeavor. Those costs could be defrayed by a corporate "naming" sponsor that would put its name on some of the 10,000-square-feet of advertising space available on the boat and its monstrous sails.
So far that hasn't happened, although Van Liew has picked up help from a number of local businesses, including Charleston Rigging and Marine Hardware and Seabreeze Marina, as well as several other sponsors -- Samson, Awlgrip and Alpine Aire and the marine electronic companies B&G and Simrad Yachting.
Van Liew doesn't appear to be worried. His last two campaigns were sponsored by Tommy Hilfiger and Balance Bar, and neither came on until the last minute.
"I've done this race twice before, and I've always had faith that if you build it, they will come. It's financially risky and requires some serious intestinal fortitude, but a project like this doesn't fit into the standard mold for sports sponsorship in the USA, and it always seems we need to put the canvas in front of sponsors for them to understand and appreciate the potential."
Now Van Liew certainly has something to show potential sponsors: a sleek, fast racing yacht with the image of a determined penguin (like those seen in the treacherous Southern Ocean) painted on its hull.
If it is possible for a boat to just look fast, this one does.
Original owner Catherine Chabaud christened the boat Le Pingouin, and while that has remained on its title for 12 years, it has never sailed under that name. Van Liew decided the name was perfect, and snazzed it up with yellow paint.
The campaign could get serious attention now that one of the producers of "The Amazing Race" has secured rights to a reality series about the Velux 5 Oceans Race. If such a show finds a home on U.S. television, sponsorship shouldn't be a problem for any of the nine boats in the race.
That should be especially true of Le Pingouin. Van Liew is not only the sole American in the race, his boat will enter the Velux 5 Oceans Race (the former Around Alone) in October as a serious entry.
The race, which originally was slated to include new boats and an eco-class of older boats, will now just include the eco-class. It is winner-take-all, and no one in the race has a boat markedly better than this one (the former FILA, which Giovanni Soldini used to win the 1998-99 Around Alone, is another entry). It will all come down to the sailors, Van Liew notes.
Members of the shore crew think they have the boat ready for the harsh course. Getting the boat out of the warehouse and into the water was only the first milestone. Stepping the mast later Tuesday was another. Finally, the boat is actually in the water.
"It's a big step," said Jeffrey Wargo, a member of Van Liew's shore crew. "Now we just have to tune the rigging."
The race course will take Van Liew and his competitors from La Rochelle, France, down the African coast to Cape Town, and from there into the dangerous Southern Ocean. There, where water swirls around the bottom of the planet, unimpeded by land, waves sometimes reach the size of two-story buildings.
There, as Van Liew knows all too well, is where the hard part of this campaign kicks in.
Moving the boat a few hundred yards is nothing.
It's the next 30,000 miles that count.
Reach Brian Hicks at 937-5561 or firstname.lastname@example.org.