"Of course it's a risky thing to do," Van Liew said Wednesday, shortly before he was to take his 60-foot yacht out for a shakedown to test its new sails and electronics as he prepares his boat for the Velux 5 Oceans race.
"But the sport has changed a lot with the technology," said Van Liew, one of eight skippers and the only American in the Velux field. "It's more of a head game now than just raw guts and sheer strength."
Van Liew leaves Charleston Sept. 5 for France, where the race starts Oct. 17 from La Rochelle. The Velux has a stopover in Charleston next spring before ending back in France.
He finished in 1999 in third place in the Around Alone, the predecessor of the Velux which began and ended in Charleston. Four years later, he won the Around Alone staged out of New York.
"The first one was to see if we could. The second time we wanted to win," he said.
After that race, Van Liew became director of the South Carolina Maritime Foundation, helping the nonprofit lunch the tall ship Spirit of South Carolina and developing Charleston's annual Harborfest and race week. But racing still called to Van Liew, who said he found out "I just wasn't built to drive a desk and needed a break."
So began the third around-the-world attempt.
Van Liew's wife and two children, ages 5 and 8, will travel to each stopover location.
"The kids are at a proper age where we could go and do something adventurous before they get to the point where they don't want to hang out with mom and dad," he said.
The Velux skippers sail vessels called Eco 60s -- older vessels refurbished for a race that will take them to the southern Indian Ocean where waves can reach 50 feet and winds hurricane strength.
Race rules require all boats to have been originally launched before 2003, Van Liew said.
Van Liew's vessel, Le Pingouin -- French for The Penguin -- was relaunched earlier this month. It has already been raced around the globe three times.
Van Liew is also hoping to spark more interest in sailing in the United States.
With a planned reality show and skippers able to provide live interviews and shoot video with satellite technology, the race should appeal to Americans who like to see things live, he said.
"I want to see this sport advance in the U.S. market," he said. "I would like that to be my legacy."