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Heading into Home Waters

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Photos by Ainhoa Sanchez/

April 13, 2011

Heading into Home Waters

Around-the-world solo racers—including one of Mount Pleasant’s own—sail into town to kick off Charleston’s Harbor Fest

written by Harriet McLeod

By the time the four boats sailing in the Velux 5 Oceans Race reach the Charleston Harbor jetties this month, they will have logged some 26,000 nautical miles. Each of the solo, around-the-world racers—America’s Brad Van Liew on Le Pingouin; Canada’s Derek Hatfield on Active House; Poland’s Zbigniew “Gutek” Gutkowski on Operon Racing; and England’s Chris Stanmore-Major on Spartan—began the nine-month race in La Rochelle, France October 17, 2010.

They first sped over the Atlantic to Cape Town, South Africa; then crossed the Indian, Pacific, and Southern oceans; skirted around Australia to Wellington, New Zealand; and punched through huge seas around Cape Horn to Punta del Este, Uruguay. On the fourth leg of the race, they blasted out of Uruguay March 27, worked though squalls and fluky weather up the coast of Brazil before rounding its hump to head northwesterly toward Charleston. Depending on their arrival hour here—they are expected sometime April 19th or 20th —either a fleet of spectator boats or darkness will greet them.

Mount Pleasant’s Van Liew, who turned 43 somewhere on the stormy Southern Ocean, will be happy either way. A veteran sailor, he has finished the race twice before and won his class in 2002 when the race was called “Around Alone.” This time, he has won three of the five legs and is leading in points. But despite the distance the boats travel, they stay relatively close. Gutek beat Stanmore-Major into the Uruguay stop by only 40 seconds, and all four finished within 48 hours of each other.

Like the other skippers, Van Liew sleeps in 30-minute clips, eats dehydrated food, fights weather and solitude, and tries to keep his boat in one piece. On April 1, he blogged that he’d been sailing through storms for 18 hours, tacked at least 30 times, knocked down six times, and hit in the back and shoulder by massive flying fish. No April foolery, that. His fellow racers reported ripped mainsails, flooding, keel problems, and injuries, like broken ribs and facial gashes.

But the drama should tone down by May 9, when the 60-foot boats dock at the Charleston Maritime Center so the skippers can rest before starting the last leg of the race May 14—across the Atlantic and back to France. As part of the annual Maritime Festival, which starts May 12, the public can check out their Eco 60 class vessels, which are powered by the sun, wind, and water.

Charleston Harbor Fest 2011

Tickets $15 on site; $10 in advance; $5 ages six-17; free for child under 5. Call (843) 722-1030 or visit for more information.

Thursday, May 12

Velux Oceans Vessels and Race Village: learn about the skippers and the history of the race. 1-6 p.m.

Friday, May 13

Festival grounds open, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Skipper Bon Voyage Party, 5-8 p.m., $50

Saturday, May 14

Festival grounds open, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

Velux 5 Oceans Farewell Ceremony, 11 a.m.

Velux 5 Oceans Parade of Sail, 12:30 p.m.

Velux 5 Oceans Race Restart, 3 p.m.

Sunday, May 15

Festival grounds open, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

Follow Brad Van Liew’s blog!

Track the race!