Van Liew seeks sweep: With about 1,400 miles to go, Charleston skipper leads final leg

Brad Van Liew gets under way May 14 on the final leg of the Velux 5 Oceans race, leaving Charleston in a drive toward La Rochelle, France.

Charleston skipper Brad Van Liew wants to make it a clean sweep in the Velux 5 Oceans race — and he may do it by the weekend.

Van Liew is about 1,400 miles due west of La Rochelle, France, and the finish line in the single-handed, around-the-world sailboat race.

More importantly, he is 70 miles ahead of the next boat in the fleet and making good time.

The local skipper took the lead within minutes of the race restart outside Charleston Harbor on May 14, and has held it ever since. For the first four days, he was chewing up more than 300 miles a day as he drag raced British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major up the Eastern Seaboard. Although Stanmore-Major set the race record for miles covered, sailing 442 miles in a single day, he never got past Van Liew.

'The drag race at the start with Chris was good fun and yes it was part of me getting into race mode,' Van Liew said Monday. 'But also I wasn't going crazy and felt confident that I wasn't over-pushing Le Pingouin — although it was very tempting. There is a little restraint going on but also my burning desire to win the last leg if reasonable.'

After a quick sprint north, the fleet has been blasting through fog while dodging high pressure systems, low pressure systems and even tree stumps. The confused weather systems have reshuffled the race order several times but always with Van Liew in front.

After winning the first four legs of the race, Van Liew needs only to finish to take the overall race trophy. Before leaving Charleston, he said that he would take it easy so as not to risk damaging his boat, which would cost him the race.

But the idea of winning more single leg victories in race history than anyone else is tempting — he has nine so far over three editions of the race. Van Liew said he will keep up the pace so long as he doesn't have to take unnecessary risks.

'I will be picking a speed that feels acceptable to LP rather than over-push,' Van Liew said.

He is currently sailing at about 17 mph.

Over the weekend, the fleet had a brief moment of panic as Stanmore-Major's emergency alert went off, and he told race officials his boat was taking on water. Race director David Adams diverted Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield and Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski to his aid, but Stanmore-Major soon called them off. He had a breach in a bulkhead wall, allowing water from the ballast tank into the cabin. Between pumps and bailing, he got through it.

This followed not long after Hatfield's rudder was hit by a floating tree stump. A safety feature of his yacht, Active House, allowed the rudder to give way and kick up out of the way rather than be knocked off.

Race officials are currently predicting that Van Liew will cross the finish line outside of La Rochelle sometime Sunday.

'Once we get clear of this low pressure area, which is happening currently, the last run to the barn looks to be fairly fast and direct,' Van Liew said. 'If so it will be a welcome change from the very tricky and tactical conditions thus far for the leg.'