Have you ever imagined what it would be like to sail around the world? Just you, a boat, and the open sea? On Sunday, sailors competing in the Vendee Globe set sail to do exactly that.
The Vendee Globe – or the “Everest of the Sea”, as it is known to those in the sailing community – is the only non-stop sailing race in the world, and for the next 100 or so days, 29 competitors will sail alone on sixty-foot boats as they look to accomplish a near-impossible feat.
To put the intensity of the Vendee Globe in perspective, there are far more people who have cruised into outer space on a rocket ship than have successfully nonstop solo-sailed around the world.
Luckily American skipper Rich Wilson is already on the list – after coming in ninth place after his 2008-2009 effort, he is ready to take on the ~24,000 nautical mile journey again.
“I have experience of sailing ocean voyages for over 30 years and this is my second Vendee Globe,” Wilson stated when speaking to our team prior to the race.
At the age of 66, Wilson is 44 years older than the youngest Swiss skipper, Alan Roura, but he believes his age presents a clear advantage. Wilson finished an impressive 9th in the race in 2008/2009, after 121 days at sea. That year, 30 boats started. Only 11 boats finished.
Having set sail on Sunday, November 6th, Wilson will embark again on the ultimate Odyssey as he sails alone for the next 100 or so days on a sixty-foot boat, racing non-stop around the world to reach the finish line.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Rich’s daily to-do list while aboard his vessel is overwhelming to even think about.
Throughout his odyssey, Wilson will sleep no more than 20 minutes at a time, always in motion and always on watch. Though they are out in open sea, sailors in the race must be alert at all times to avoid tankers, icebergs and unforeseen obstacles.
Wilson must also constantly predict the weather, carefully plot his course, cook meals, maintain ship electronics, charge batteries, change sails, and endure gale-force winds, enormous waves, and changing currents.
As if that weren’t tough enough already, Wilson will also be taking time out of his jam-packed schedule at sea to broadcast his experience and educate close to a million students around the world.
SAILOR AND EDUCATOR
When Wilson is not sailing around the world, he works as a math teacher in Boston, MA and operates the website sitesALIVE! – a site whose mission is “to excite and engage students in learning by connecting them to live, real-world adventures.”
As part of his effort to sail around the globe, he has dedicated two hours out of every day to educate others through his experience at sea. Through his website, Wilson will answer questions from students and journal about his progress.
“For me, my motivation is to illustrate real-world learning to kids,” Wilson explains. “I discovered when I was a teacher that if you could expand learning beyond the walls of the classroom, students became 100% more engaged.”
Wilson’s educational program is an online 15-week interactive experience for students, with a curriculum that ranges from perseverance to climate change. Students from classrooms all around the world will follow Wilson’s journey, learning about the science and math that he uses to circumnavigate the globe.
Will Sargent, a student at Boston Latin School, was in grade school when his teacher exposed him to the program.
“I learned to sail when I was young but I was always scared to go out on windy days,” Will explained. “By following Rich, I learned to overcome adversity. He inspired me, and that shaped my character. Today, I know I can do whatever I set my mind too.”
OFF TO THE RACES
Back in the seaside town of Les Sables d’Olonne, the electricity of the race is palpable.
“We got in here very early,” Wilson explained. “We were the first team on their boat at about 6:15am. It was amazing to see people gathering in the streets. The feeling is just amazing. I am so glad we are here.”
As for the next 100 days – only time will tell. “We have a great team on land, and we have a huge education program. Now it’s up to me to sail the boat around the world,” Wilson added.
To follow along with Wilson’s journey with day-by-day updates, we urge fans to follow along on the sitesALIVE! website here.
Sperry is a contributor to the sitesALIVE! Program, and you can be too. For more information about how you can help Wilson reach and educate students as he sails around the world, click here.