An outstanding class win in Around Alone for the American sailor, whose superb achievement has given a real boost to US solo sailing
As the first pale colours of dawn blanched the Newport sky this morning, solo sailor Brad Van Liew sailed across the finish line of Around Alone, marking his arrival back to his home country with an outstanding class win. The 34-year old Californian has had a clean sweep in the class for Open 50s and 40s, winning all five of the legs and finishing each one with his boat seemingly as pristine as when she started.
Van Liew’s Finot-designed 50, Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America, is accepted as the fastest boat in his class. Indeed, he has laughingly called it “like bringing a bazooka to a knife fight”. But the margin of his win vividly illustrates the scale of his and his team’s achievement: Van Liew accumulated a lead of more than 22 days, slashed the time round the world for this class and in the process set a new 24-hour record for a 50-footer of 345 miles.
To put the final seal on it all, Van Liew finished ahead of one of the larger Open 60s, Emma Richards in Pindar.
It was in all senses a consummately professional campaign, what one observer called ‘a Class 1 performance in Class 2’. This, says Van Liew, is precisely what he set out to achieve. “I’m satisfied and fulfilled. I wanted to try to take a professional solo round the world programme to new levels, at least for an American campaign. We were able to put together a team that, if everything went according to plan, was unbeatable.” So it proved.
So overwhelmingly has Van Liew dominated, and with such panache, that everyone is wondering what he could have done with an Open 60. In the right boat, would he have troubled Bernard Stamm, who similarly dismissed the Class 1 competition? It’s an intriguing thought.
“I had been looking at Class 1 prior to this race,” Van Liew admitted, “but the decision was made to go for a top shelf programme rather than one based on size. I’d rather race a good 50 than a second-rate 60.”
In so far as it has exposed a number of new sponsors, such as fashion giant Tommy Hilfiger, to the possibilities of a solo sailing project, Van Liew’s decision to concentrate on quality has probably done US sailing a big favour. The Tommy ads have been seen all over America and, as Van Liew explains, was focused on aspects which he feels are massively more marketable than pure sailing endeavour. “This sponsorship was about extreme sport, adventure and survival,” he says.
Asked whether he thought this could be the beginning of a new dawn for solo sailing here, which has never garnered much more than a cult following, Van Liew was less certain, though. “It’s on the edge. It could become what it is in France, a household sport, or continue as a hodge-podge of a few special people with money.” He added that for fashion companies like Tommy Hilfiger, sponsorship is not necessarily regarded as a long-haul commitment, although he says they are still ‘talking’.
In any case, Brad Van Liew is in no hurry to say what he will do next. He has repeatedly been muttering about the risks of the Southern Ocean, sharper now he has a young daughter, and is wondering whether it could ever be worth putting himself “in harm’s way” again. Yet, this engaging, highly articulate, ultra professional man and his team are potentially among the hottest properties in solo sailing.