by Brian Hicks
American ocean racer Brad Van Liew's racing yacht, Le Pingouin, is on its way to France for a new race with a new owner and his 15-year-old sailing company is out of business.
Brad Van Liew
On Thursday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court closed the book on Van Liew Ventures, ending one chapter in the life of the only American to race solo around the world three times.
Van Liew said it basically came down to bad timing and bad luck.
He signed on to race in the 2010-11 Velux 5 Oceans race (formerly known as the Around Alone) just as the economy went south. His campaign aboard Le Pingouin never landed a title sponsor to pay the bills. In his previous races, he secured sponsorship from Balance Bar and Tommy Hilfiger, respectively. A title sponsor generally pays the bills in a campaign in exchange for the publicity that comes with winning.
And even though Van Liew was winning, without corporate backing in the Velux, he was barely able to keep the $1 million campaign afloat.
'The saddest thing is that this was the first race where there was ever prize money, and we had to use that money just to keep us going,' he said Thursday afternoon.
The Velux 5 Oceans paid prize money for winning each of its five legs, and Van Liew won all five. But it was not nearly enough. He secured just enough sponsorship from local and state businesses, including the State Ports Authority, to keep his racing crew following him as he circumnavigated the globe.
'Some of those local sponsors got us to the finish line,' he said.
Van Liew's Le Pingouin was repossessed in December and sold at auction to one of the boat's creditors in January. It has since been resold to a French team, which plans to run the boat in the Vendee Globe, a non-stop race around the world.
On Thursday afternoon, Van Liew told Bankruptcy Trustee Michell Vieira that Van Liew Ventures had nothing left now, except maybe a few tools.
The repossession of his boat was only the first of two financial hardships to hit the solo sailor late last year. Shortly after he lost Le Pingouin, Van Liew was named in a lawsuit against the South Carolina Maritime Foundation. As former executive director, he had signed leases guaranteeing payment for office space, but the Foundation didn't pay. That has forced him into personal bankruptcy as well.
These setbacks have not shut down Van Liew's sailing career. Right now, he is part of a crew hired by the Italian automobile company Maserati to set new monohull sailing records. In that endeavor, he is sailing with skipper Giovanni Soldini, who won the 1998-99 Around Alone.
The crew, which landed here two weeks ago after setting the monohull speed record from Cadiz, Spain to San Salvador, will set out later this month.
'It's what I do,' Van Liew said.