“I should have replaced the rig, but without money the best I could do was tighten everything up—retune it—and hope for the best. With this I left Punta del Este for the last leg home. Leaving the Rio Plata, near the Uruguay-Brazil border, I stayed inshore. There is a continental shelf there. This was a mistake—I should have immediately headed for deeper water. As it was, I got into some really rough water—waves that were only 6 to 8 feet high, but they had short wavelengths and really tossed the boat around, raising it and then dropping it with a crash. The strain was too much for my beat-up rig and the mast broke in three places. At that point I was really demoralized and ready to call it quits, but when I called Meaghan on my satellite phone she and the crew urged me not to quit.
“I jury-rigged my spinnaker pole as a mast and got up two sails—my storm jib and another—and limped back into Punta del Este. It took me two days to get back and then seven days for repairs. Thanks to Meaghan’s efforts and the help of many other people, Balance Bar got fitted with a new mast and I restarted the race, 1,000 nautical miles behind the other competitors. With good luck and hard sailing, I managed to catch up with the fleet and finished third, only a couple of weeks behind the leaders.
“So, here’s a lesson for your book; waves don’t have to be big to be mean.”
There is a sequel to this story. Van Liew competed again, in the 2002-2003 race, this time in a boat called Freedom America. He not only won the race in his class but completed an unprecedented sweep of all five legs. I asked Brad how this race compared to his first attempt.
“On the second race, the southern oceans were not the toughest part of the race,” he said. “I went from one low to the next. The lows march from west to east across the Southern Ocean, moving at about 30 knots. I tried to keep on the north side of the low, where I consistently had 15- to 20-foot waves and 25- to 40-knot winds. These waves were 200 to 300 yards apart (about 15 to 20 boat lengths), so I’d ride up on one and then I could see the last one out there ahead of me. I like to stay on a beam reach to a broad reach. I found that I could slalom through those swells. I was able to maintain a fast speed—averaged around 9.5 knots over the entire 7,800 miles sailed between New