Fooling all the pre-race pundits, Brad van Liew maintains his class 2 lead

Everyone expected Class II of Around Alone to be a two-man boat race, but few expected that it would be Brad Van Liew, not Mike Garside, challenging J.P. Mouligne for the top spot. At this morning’s 0944 GMT update, Van Liew was enjoying his fifth consecutive morning at the head of the small-boat fleet. With 3,206 miles to go in the Distance to Finish column he was seven miles ahead of Mouligne and, finally, safely south of the Brazilian bulge.

On the morning Van Liew took over the lead, Garside was in second place by a slim eight miles. But then the hydraulic pump for his swing keel took a powder and life has gone from intense to intolerable. This morning he was in third place, some 154 miles behind Van Liew. With the keel still a liability, there is no reason to believe he will regain those lost miles anytime soon. The latest report from Magellan Alpha was grim: “Oil everywhere, the boat looking like a rubbish dump. I didn’t get any sleep last night as I was closing on Brazil and had to keep my wits about me… I tacked away this morning and the whole hydraulic system on the keel vomited oil again. It very nearly reduced me to a stunned mullet for a moment. Trying to degrease the inside of a boat is nigh on impossible in harbor. Doing it while crashing into head seas is torture… Slightly less slippery now, but not a lot.”

In Class I, Marc Thiercelin held a 34-mile edge over Isabelle Autissier early today. The leaders, including third- and fourth-place skippers Mike Golding and Josh Hall, face a complicated weather scenario in the days ahead. A large cold front was moving off the coast of South America this morning, and fleet weather forecaster Commanders’ Weather predicted it would bring a mixed bag with southerly winds south of the front, and northerlies just east of it. Furthermore, not one but two significant high-pressure zones lie directly in their collective path to Cape Town. With the highs dipping all the way to 40S-where one would generally expect to rendezvous with the prevailing westerlies-the frontrunners may face a long, winding detour on their way to the Leg 1 finish line.

Van Liew was forced to take an overnight detour, but it had nothing to do with the weather. In a COMSAT-C message this morning, he wrote, “Last night I had an interesting interlude with the Brazilian Navy.” Van Liew explained that he had hailed countless Portuguese-speaking fishermen on his VHF radio as he worked his way along the coast, but they’d all ignored him. So when an accented voice queried Van Liew in English and announced he was speaking from a Brazilian navy warship, the American sailor took notice. After answering a series of questions on his vessel, his destination, and his “mission,” Van Liew said, “He advised me that I was in a military area, they were conducting exercises, and I should turn to a heading of 230 degrees for one hour to clear the area.”

A “frustrated” Van Liew did so, but a few minutes later another officer hailed him and asked if he were a competitor in Around Alone. “I proudly responded ‘affirmative’ and he asked me to stand by,” said Van Liew. “A minute later he said that I may resume whatever course was best for the race and they would conduct their submarine exercises around my track.” Van Liew switched to another channel and learned that he was speaking to a savvy racing sailor from the Rio de Janeiro yacht club. “I told him I was first in my class and I was trying to hold off a Frenchman. He said the French dominate this event, but now the Brazilian Navy was rooting for me and they would help in any way possible. I felt like asking him to move his exercise into J.P.’s way…but I didn’t have it in me. But let it be known that when passing through these waters, it would be unwise to upset me!”