Some say reaching the start of the VELUX 5 OCEANS race is the greatest challenge in the race, and it’s a challenge that Mt. Pleasant resident Brad Van Liew is no stranger to. Van Liew has competed in the event twice, in 1998/99 and 2002/03, with a convincing 1st place victory in Class II aboard Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America in 2003. The lifelong sailor’s spirit and determination have seen him through the grand challenges of the race on land as well as at sea. His current mission: To bring a competitive US-based campaign to the VELUX 5 OCEANS 2010-11 race, with a boat that qualifies for the innovative and environmentally conscious “ECO 60″ Class. Van Liew acquired his favored race boat in France earlier this year, and helped bring it across the Atlantic arriving in Charleston in February. The team aims to prepare the boat for the October 2010 start of the race, and the work began today in earnest with the boat’s hauling from the water and storage in a secure workshop in North Charleston.
“It is great to have a true racing machine in hand,” said Van Liew. “Now, it’s time to personalize it exactly how I need, so I can best represent the United States in the world’s original solo race around the globe.”
While the race is billed as a solo event, it requires much more than one individual’s drive and talent. Van Liew is supported by a small shore-based team who has extensive experience in every aspect of the intricate and extreme sport of solo ocean racing. Additionally, the greater Charleston community has stepped up to offer their support to make Van Liew’s mission a reality. Charleston Rigging, Pierside Boatworks, Seabreeze Marina, and Urban Electric have all pledged support to the project, while the sailing industry has also showed its enthusiasm for a strong American solo effort, with support from well known brands such as Harken, Spinlock and AlpineAire. Additional sponsors contributing to the refit will be announced soon and more information about supporting Brad’s campaign is available at www.oceanracing.org/support.
An enormous shipbuilding crane hauled Brad’s ECO 60 out of the water at Detyens Shipyard in North Charleston, where hardworking Charleston shipbuilders and technicians supervised the gentle placement of the racing yacht in a custom-built cradle nearby. Van Liew and his shore team will conduct their comprehensive refit over the next three months in a building on the old Charleston Navy Base. One area of their work has attracted a surprising amount of interest among the public – new electrical generation systems that will allow Van Liew to race around the world without the use of fossil fuels at all. This would be a world’s first in the modern era of racing, where optimal performance depends on sophisticated – and power-hungry – electronics for navigation, safety, communication, and lighting. The system includes thin, flexible, high-efficiency solar panels on deck, along with prototypes of a new hydrogenerator system that produces power via small propellers that run just below the surface of the water. Such a system has been avoided by racers for competitive reasons, but the new prototypes generate large amounts of energy with nearly no effect on the speed of the boat.
“One of the things that is so special about sailing is that we get to turn the motors off, and I think it’s time that we prove that we can really do it,” said Van Liew. “With all the effort that’s going into creating renewable energy options around the world, I think that our solutions will finally show how one person can make a difference in a small way.” Van Liew thinks the technology he will use, once proven, will likely transfer to the tens of thousands of racing and cruising boats that currently rely on diesel and gasoline engines and generators for the majority of their power. “When you add it all up, sailors use a surprising amount of fuel, but if our power systems perform as well as they have so far, we can help to change that.”
The complete refit will include extensive work disassembling the rig, rudders, keel and daggerboards, while the entire deck layout and sail handling systems will be modified to suit Van Liew’s personal sailing style and the intricacies of sailing a 60-foot boat competitively alone. The electronics package is one of the most important performance tools on a modern racing yacht, and Van Liew will replace the entire system currently aboard the boat. His new system of radar, chart plotters, autopilots, and communications gear will be from B&G, with the latest high-performance chipsets and software.
The race boat sports a carbon/Nomex hull, twin daggerboards and rudders, a canting keel, more than 5,000 square feet of sail on a huge 95-foot mast, and ultra-light overall weight of just 8.5 tons.
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