American sailor Brad Van Liew waves farewell as his boat leaves Charleston for the 5th leg of the Velux 5 Oceans race.
Local skipper Brad Van Liew sailed out of Charleston Harbor Saturday afternoon, bound for France and the sailing record books.
But as usual, nothing is easy when it comes to single-handed sailing.
The Velux 5 Oceans race restarted offshore at 3 p.m. Saturday, the fleet bound for La Rochelle and the ultimate finish line in the 34,000-mile around-the-world race.
The restart went off without a hitch, with Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield crossing the line just ahead of Van Liew before British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major briefly passed them both.
Beyond the usual starting-line jockeying, the skippers had little time to shift gears back into racing mode before the rough stuff started.
A storm churning up the East Coast promised a first rough night at sea for the fleet. As the race began, a fleet of 80 spectator boats roiled through 6-foot seas that suggested worse weather was approaching.
"Overall, the leg looks pretty good if we can get through tonight without wadding something up," Van Liew said just before setting out. "Out of the frying pan, into the fire."
Van Liew, a Mount Pleasant resident and veteran of two previous editions of the race, won the first four legs of the race and only has to finish to take home the trophy.
He would become the first American to win the race in its 30-year history, and the first American to race solo around the world three times. Despite all his experience, watching him set out was not entirely easy for his family.
"It's always nerve-wracking because Mother Nature is a fickle thing," said Jeffere Van Liew, the skipper's father. "I told him, 'Get into your game. Be one with your boat.' "
Van Liew is trying to balance between taking an easy sail to France and winning the race or opting for the more competitive route of trying to win all five legs in the race, a feat he accomplished in the Class II division once before, and no one has done twice.
"I'm going to let LP (Le Pingouin, his boat) decide," Van Liew told a crowd of several hundred well-wishers at the Charleston Maritime Center. "If we get into a groove we'll go for it, and if we need to we'll throttle back."
The send-off ceremony at the Maritime Center, where Harbor Fest is under way, drew a large crowd which cheered as Van Liew walked off the stage and made for his boat to the strains of Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."
Van Liew wasn't the only one with a cheering section. Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski, the first person from his country to race solo around the world, had a large contingent from the city's Polish community.
While people watched the skippers prepare, Gutkowski inspected the new bowsprit on his yacht, Operon Racing. The boat's bowsprit broke in the last leg, in which Gutkowski was plagued with injuries and boat problems that forced him into an 11-day pit stop in Brazil.
Gutkowski's rival, Hatfield, said he was dealing with a few minor problems on his boat, but said he was "keen to get going." He admitted it was a nervous start.
"We've got some storm systems to watch," Hatfield said. "But we'll have wind, and we'll be out of here pretty quick. I bet we'll be off the Grand Banks by Monday or Tuesday."
Race officials predict the first boat will finish the 4,100-mile leg in about 12 days -- if the weather cooperates.
Officials with Velux, the race sponsor, called it a great leg start. The boats jumped across the line briskly but spread out within 30 minutes on the course.
Van Liew opted for a more northerly route, and was at least a mile ahead of the fleet after a half hour.
By 5 p.m. Van Liew was more than 20 miles offshore due east of Cape Romain, making nearly 16 knots and nearly five miles ahead of the next closest boat.
It seemed Van Liew isn't ready to throttle back just yet.