The Velux 5 Oceans fleet set off from Charleston Saturday afternoon en route to France and the finish line for the around-the-world sailboat race.

Riding choppy seas under threatening skies, Canadian skipper Derek Hatfield was first across the start line at 3 p.m., followed closely by local skipper Brad Van Liew.

The fleet held tight for about 15 minutes, with British skipper Chris Stanmore-Major briefly overtaking the pair. Van Liew hung back as the others initially charged ahead. But by the time the fleet had spread out at 3:30 p.m., Van Liew had left the others in his wake. At 5 p.m., he held a lead of two miles.

Before setting out, the skippers and race officials held a brief ceremony at the Charleston Maritime Center docks, where Harbor Fest was under way.

Van Liew, who won the first four of the five legs in the race and only has to finish the 4,000-mile voyage to La Rochelle, France, told the crowd “I kinda feel like I’m done. But I’ve got unfinished business.”

Polish skipper Zbigniew Gutkowski — currently tied for second place in standings — had a large contingent of Charleston’s Polish community out to cheer him on.

The boats cast off from the Maritime Center around 12:30 p.m. and made their way offshore. A huge fleet of spectator boats watched the start, which was a few miles beyond the harbor jetties in choppy, roiling seas.