Velux 5 Oceans - And they say penguins can't fly

American Brad Van Liew gets underway, onboard his yacht Le Pengouin. Photo: Ainhoa Sanchez
Velux 5 Oceans ©
They say penguins can't fly, but American ocean racer Brad Van Liew has urged his ECO-60 racing yacht Le Pingouin to a new level of speed and precision, rounding Cape Horn at 2230 UTC yesterday more than 400 miles ahead of his competitors.

This was Van Liew's third time around the infamous Cape Horn under sail, though experience often takes a back seat to luck when facing the treacherous, unpredictable conditions in the small corridor between the southern tip of South America and the icy landmass of Antarctica. This is where waves and wind build up over thousands of miles, the waters thrust upwards by the continental shelf to heights seen nowhere else on the ocean. Often referred to as the Mt. Everest of sailing, Cape Horn is a milestone that few experience, and none forget.

'Last night was really dangerous. I had 50 knots of wind as I came up onto the shelf, the waves were out of control,' said Van Liew from 56 degrees South latitude. 'The bow stuck into the back of a few waves and the boat went underwater up to the mast. It was a clear reminder of how unforgiving this place is.'

Following the extreme conditions that pushed him past Cape Horn, Van Liew found calmer weather on the other side. America's most successful solo racer aimed his bow close to land and was rewarded with the stark glacial beauty of this remote locale.

'It is a remarkable feeling and I'm going on deck to enjoy the moment,' said Van Liew. 'Last night was intense and I feel blessed to have sailed through it and kept my boat in one piece. It really feels special to be here for a third time in my life, and to achieve something no other American ever has.'

Van Liew has been at sea for more than 15 days since leaving Wellington, New Zealand on the third 'Ocean Sprint' of the 2010-11 Velux 5 Oceans race. The Southern Ocean has been true to its reputation, offering up freezing temperatures, strong winds, and monstrous waves. Van Liew's 43rd birthday and Valentine's Day were both solo occasions at sea this month, but the demands of solo ocean racing hardly allow him to spend much time noticing these landlubber's holidays. He is sleep deprived and subsisting on dehydrated food, with the mission of keeping the boat as light and fast as possible. Van Liew has won the first two Ocean Sprints of this historic race and has also won both 'speed gates' thus far, and he'll now set his sights on the finish line of the third leg of the race in Punta Del Este, Uruguay. Once ashore, Van Liew and his support team will prepare his boat for the penultimate leg of the race to his home town; Charleston, South Carolina.

Companies supporting Van Liew's efforts to win the Velux 5 Oceans race include Ondeck, Cape Wind, Samson, B&G, Simrad, Gill, AlpineAire Foods, West Marine, Awlgrip, Harken, Grawnola, Dubary, and Coast New Zealand. The team is actively pursuing additional companies to benefit from the vast media exposure and hospitality opportunities that exist for the remaining three months of racing, and a planned post-race tour.

The Velux 5 Oceans started from La Rochelle in France on October 17, 2010 and features five ocean sprints. After heading from La Rochelle, France to Cape Town, South Africa, the race headed across the vast Southern Indian Ocean to Wellington, New Zealand. From there, the racing sailboats head to Punta del Este, Uruguay, then up the Atlantic to Charleston, USA before returning across the ocean to France to the finish.