Brad Van Liew: Steps to the startline
Published on May 12th, 2010
(May 12, 2010) When Brad Van Liew hits the start line in La Rochelle, France on October 17, it will be his third time competing in the race now known as the VELUX 5 OCEANS 2010-11, the oldest single-handed round the world yacht race. Run every four years since 1982, the race is a series of five high-pressure ocean sprints within a marathon circumnavigation. In the course of the 30,000 mile race, the skippers cross five oceans alone.
Brad announced in January the purchase of his boat, whose pedigree includes first place in the 1999 Fastnet Race and second in the important Transat Jacques Vabre that same year. Since acquiring the boat, he has sailed her across the Atlantic and is now in the midst of her refit in Charleston, SC. Here is an update report:
Is the program currently where it needs to be for it to be successful?
We launched the campaign in October 2009, but there was ample work prior to that announcement. We’ve maintained a two-pronged attack at being ready for the race, with one wing focused on the boat and one wing focused on funding. We are a small team and pushing hard – both in the boatyard and on the sponsorship front. We have the best shore team in the world for preparing for this race, and I have every confidence in their ability to get the boat ready.
Of course I wish there was more time and more money, but my philosophy tends to include a great deal of calculated risk. Meg and I have done this twice before. It is scary financially, but American companies tend to need to see a campaign well underway before deciding to take on a major sponsorship position. Balance Bar signed on in 1998 within weeks of the start. Tommy Hilfiger gave us a bit more breathing room signing on about five months before the start.
The name of the boat will be Team Lazarus until someone decides they want to name the boat and enjoy the primary branding on the sails and hull. We delivered more than $20 million in media value alone to Tommy Hilfiger during my last race, so the value is there for the company that sees a fit.
What has been the focus of the refit?
Our focus of the refit has been to inspect every area of the boat, making sure she is safe and competitive for a full throttle 30,000 mile solo race around the globe. My goal is to be competitive, so every step I can take to gain a competitive advantage over others is key. Ultimately all systems need to be as reliable as possible, so everything has come off the boat and we are going through every system with a fine tooth comb and reassembling it. We are replacing some entire areas, like sails and lines. We have also totally redesigned the deck layout and sail handling, thankfully with the support of Harken and Spinlock. Autopilots and electronics are vital to me offshore alone, so we are replacing the electronics and autopilot package. The dynamics of the new ECO 60 class introduce other challenges, like using one set of sails for the entire race.
When will the refit be done?
We have just turned the corner from “deconstruction” to “reconstruction.” We will start the paint job within two weeks and then implement the new deck layout, new electronics, wiring, and the reassembly of all systems. I anticipate having her in the water by the end of July if not sooner.
What is the sailing schedule before the race?
I will of course do as much offshore training as possible before we sail her across the pond to France for the start. We had the advantage of a 40+ day exercise sailing the boat from France to Charleston in January/February, which provided a good look at her performance and areas that needed our attention. I was onboard for a good portion of that from France down to Tenerife, and she is a rocket. I look forward to getting offshore solo and adding to the 80,000+ miles I have done alone. We’ll be in France by the race admin deadline of September 26th. The schedule will also be determined in some ways by our primary sponsors, who will have some say in sailing locations before the start.
What is the expected number of entrants?
It looks like right now there will be one class which will be the ECO 60s (Open 60s launched before January 2003). It was a hot idea to tap into the market of Open 60 boats that are a bit older but still very competitive. It certainly has allowed those with a smaller budget the chance to compete in the race. We are expecting 8-10 boats on the start line. I am the only U.S. entry at this time, but I am aware of another hopeful U.S. entry.