For solo-sailing enthusiasts in the US, the event will be particularly exciting. Right there leading the way to the starting line among the 50-foot entries, flying the Stars and Stripes and sporting the logo of an all-American sponsor will be America's best hope for a win—Brad Van Liew. If perseverance and sheer determination have anything to do with success in this realm, Van Liew should be the hands-down favorite in Class II as the fleet crosses the line between Ground Zero and the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. And if all goes according to plan for this Around Alone veteran, he will lead the class across the finish line off Newport, Rhode Island nine months later. By then Van Liew and the 18 other competitors will have sailed around the world by way of the five great capes with stops in Torbay, England; Cape Town, South Africa; Tauranga, New Zealand; and Salvador, Brazil.
It has been over three years since Van Liew finished the last race at the helm of Balance Bar coming third overall in Class II. Since that time he has faced tough challenges with his quest for sponsorship and a new boat coming up dry time and again. Then, late last year he bought the 50-foot Group Finot design Magellan Alpha from Mike Garside. Subsequently, famed clothing entrepreneur Tommy Hilfiger got wind of the race and Van Liew's efforts to participate, and he decided to ante up in a big way. With the same personal attention that has made his clothing company a standard of American pop-culture, Hilfiger has begun to throw his considerable resources behind Van Liew's latest effort, and appears to be doing so with some patriotic fervor.
Van Liew's refit boat, sporting Hilfiger colors combined with a stars and stripes motif, will be christened Tommy Hilfiger Freedom America. The 50-footer, which finished second in the last edition of Around Alone, will fly its flag proudly as all the competitors pay tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, with a symbolic start in New York Harbor. Along with skippers representing 10 other countries, Van Liew will then compete in a new first leg of the race across the Atlantic to the UK. After a stopover in Torbay, they'll head south toward Cape Town and beyond into the Southern Ocean. This new course reflects the imprimatur of the event's new owner, Clipper Ventures, which purchased the race 18 months ago. Headed by sailing legend Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the company's single aim is to take the event to new levels of safety and competitiveness.
While Van Liew remains the favorite for Class II (Open 50s), it's a little more difficult to name an early frontrunner in Open 60 fleet. Frenchman Thierry Dubois, Belgian Patrick de Radigues, Italian Simone Bianchetti, and Franco-Swiss sailor Bernard Stamm are all seasoned veterans, each with Vendee Globe experience and a burning desire to win their first solo circumnavigating race. These sailors will have their work cut out for them competing against at least one latest generation Open 60—Graham Dalton's HSBC. Designed by the same coalition that produced Ellen MacArthur's Kingfisher, HSBC is potentially the fastest boat in the fleet. And though Dalton, the brother of renown ocean racer Grant Dalton, has a fairly limited resume compared to his rivals, his sponsor (Hong Kong Shanghai Bank) has more than adequately financed the effort. If money alone were enough to secure victory in this event, Dalton would be buying a new trophy cabinet.
Though Van Liew has recently completed an extensive refit of his steed, his is not the newest boat in Class II, and he will face some stiff competition from a few sailors, particularly Viktor Yazykov. The diminutive Russian, a former rival from four years ago, is currently building a 50-foot version of Kingfisher. Though Yazykov will be hobbled by a lack of time—he hopes to launch the boat in July in Europe—and a scarcity of funds, he has proven in the past to be a tenacious competitor with the persistence to compete well in this arena. And not far astern you can expect to find mid-westerner Tim Kent who will be making his first foray into the world of solo sailing aboard the Jim Antrim designed Everest Horizontal.
While the Open 50 and 60s will dazzle the fleet with their huge masts and breakneck speeds, the real radical entries and probably the most hotly contested sector of the fleet will be the Open 40 entries. For the coming race there will be three brand new boats competing, with three tenacious skippers driving them. The most colorful among them might be the Japanese sailor Kojiro Shiraishi campaigning a state-of-the-art Groupe Finot design. Shiraishi was inspired by former Class II winner Yukoh Tada and has named his boat Spirit of Yukoh. This sailor has already completed one solo circumnavigation and was part of Bruno Peyron's crew aboard the maxi catamaran Explorer when it set a west-to-east transpacific record several years ago.
For the sailors who know it well, the Around Alone race is more than just another globe-girdling sailing event. With a momentum all its own, it attracts an eclectic mix of professional sailors, adventurers, thrill seekers, and a few downright fools, and as the race unfolds, it never fails to capture the hearts and minds of sailors who tune in all over the world. This is the 20th anniversary of the Around Alone and it's certainly shaping up to be one the best editions ever. SailNet users can look forward to staying apprised of the pre-start developments through the website's News section and occasional feature stories, or by logging on to the organizer's official website: www.aroundalone.com.
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