Around Alone—Again

Interview with Brad Van Liew
Billy Black

Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America skipper Brad Van Liew was in New York City giving press rides and Raymarine product demos on his Open 50. The 34-year-old is the only American in the 50-foot class of this year’s Around Alone race and the only American with any experience in the race (Bruce Schwab is participating in the 60-foot class for the first time). We cornered Van Liew for a short talk. He has a refurbished boat, solid sponsorship, and a new family.

SW: When did you decide to do this and why?

The last Around Alone was about seeing if I could do it. Before the last race was even over, I decided I wanted to come back. This time I want to see if I have the intestinal fortitude to win it. Last time was about relationships and adventure, this time it’s like, let’s get the heck outta here!


SW: Your wife Meaghan is your project manager and press agent, and you have a 3-month-old baby, Tate Magellan, you’ll have to leave behind. What are you thinking?

I would’t want to do it without my wife being involved. Meaghan and I are in love and it’s difficult not getting time alone together as we raise the money. If she wasn’t involved it could cost our relationship. Right now she’s part of the shore team which I’d like to increase to four people, but that depends on financing.

SW: You mentioned money, how much does it cost?


Well, I have an old boat (Mike Garside’s former Magellan Alpha) that’s been refurbished which was cheaper than buying a new million dollar boat. All told it’s probably 2 to 2.5 million, and at this point I have enough with Tommy Hilfiger as my title sponsor to get me to the starting line in style, but I’m still fund raising to cover the costs beyond that.

SW: What ever possesed you to do this and why do you stay with it?

Single handed sailing is the hardest thing you can do. I did Grand Prix for years and I found that I enjoyed being offshore shorthanded, doing deliveries and such. I’m tired of all the big team ocean racers saying how hard they have it. I’m not crazy, I don’t enjoy being alone, but I do love these boats.


SW: What do you worry about?

A couple of things, like lighting a cigarette on a candle, superstitious stuff that probably comes from my friendships with Europeans in this race. I guess I’ve also gotten a little more religious. I believe in a higher power and that’s why we had Tate Magellan christened.

SW:Do you have an advantage having done this race before?


I think so, yes. I know my sleep biorythyms pretty well and that’s something every competitor will have to know. Last time I averaged four hours and 15 minutes of sleep every 24 hours. Optimally my rem sleep would be 45 minutes, but I found with all the alarms on the boat that I’d average 26 minute naps. I’m a morning person and sleeping between 2300 and 3 am was my best nap time. The most important thing is to prevent a one day crash where you’ve pushed too much and just lose it. So if you screw up a nap, it matters.

SW: What do you do to relax?

I read, I could stay in my bunk all day and read, but instead I only bring enough books to read a chapter a day as a reward after everything is done on the boat, I can relax with my book.

SW: How have you prepared for this race?

Well, in the last race I practiced over 10,000 miles doing all the qualifiers and getting to know the boat. This time I’ve spent more time working with my sponsors (Tommy Hilfiger, Raymarine, Dry Creek Vineyard, Profurl, Nextel et al.) and probably put in 3,500 miles so far.

SW: What will you do after this?

I don’t look too far forward . I’m trying to stay focused and keep my eye on my competitors. I guess I’d like to find a way to continue solo sailing, but not pay as high a personal price. I used to fly commercially and might fall back on that, but I’ve actually thought about owning a race–being an organizer. One that promotes open boats like the Golden Gate Race. But it still means raising money and that’s the hardest of all things to do. There are at least 25 60-footers and a competitive used 50 can be had for $800,000 so it would be possible to organize. I’d just like to leave a legacy of Americans participating in solo sailing.

For more on Brad Van Liew’s Around Alone race, check out his website