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Race from France to France, Leave Antarctica to Starboard

03/12/2010 6:15 PM Museum
Rich Wilson, '76, Founder and President, SitesAlive

Description: Rich Wilson had followed the Vend_e Globe Race (around"the"world single"handed) since its inception in 1988 but had never considered sailing it himself-"too hard, too long, too dangerous, too risky, too, too, too, the boats were too big, the sails were too big."

Then he reconsidered the possibility when he realized he could incorporate the race into a school program using all the aspects of this global sailing event. As a former Boston Public School teacher, he still felt a strong connection to young students and was certain his 'sitesALIVE!' program could get kids excited about the adventure. "They'll pay attention if they don't know how it's going to turn out. The hardest thing about being a teacher is to get kids to pay attention."

And with that Wilson put together his plan to sail the Vend_e Globe in 2008"2009. He lined up newspapers from around the world to carry his story live as he was sailing The Great American III so his students could follow his journey. He put together a team of seventeen experts-maritime affairs, emergency medicine, tanker broker, sleep specialist among them-to complement his daily updates with their topics of particular interest. Having had asthma from the age of one, he wanted to show his "asthma constituency" how he managed his condition. And finally, he wanted to include seniors. "They weren't part of the constituency in previous programs, but they are now!" (Wilson was the oldest skipper at the age of 58 when he sailed the Vend_e Globe.)

Finally, with all the additional details required by the race itself-insurance, entry fees, previous sailing qualifications, medical approval, offshore emergency medicine training and more-behind him, he was set to start.

While modern technology makes this single"handed race possible, the story that holds your attention is the human one. In the annals of extreme sports-and the physical and emotional demands they make on an individual-sailing 28,000 miles for 17 weeks must surely be at the top. Only fifty skippers have circumnavigated the globe alone.

"Some people call the Vend_e Globe the Everest of the Seas, I'm trying to turn that around and say that Mt. Everest is really the Vend_e Globe of mountain climbing. Just to get a little respect for the sport."

In a narrative filled with details of his own moments of vulnerability and drama and those of his running mates, Wilson tells the spellbinding story of medical emergencies and boat dismastings, of those who returned to France and of those who had to drop out. While the Vend_e Globe may seem to be a sport about winning-coming in first-it is truly a sport about finishing and the tradition of camaraderie among mariners.

About the Speaker(s): Rich Wilson is currently the skipper of Great American III and founder of the interactive web based learning resource sitesALIVE!. Wilson has worked as a math teacher in Boston, a defense analyst in Washington, DC, and as technical consultant on power/desalination plants in Saudi Arabia. He was a successful investor in six entertainment companies in Massachusetts.

In 1980, Wilson became the youngest Overall Winner of the prestigious 605"mile Newport to Bermuda Race skippering Holger Danske. In 1988, he won his class sailing the 35"foot trimaran Curtana in the Carlsberg Singlehanded Transatlantic Race.

Believing that an ocean voyage would make an ideal event from which to create a "learning adventure," Wilson created the project Ocean Challenge in 1990. sitesALIVE! evolved from that original interactive teaching idea.

He and one shipmate tackled the clipper ship record set by Northern Light in 1853. Although his trimaran capsized just short of Cape Horn in 65"foot waves, both sailors were rescued by a giant New Zealand containership. The effect of bringing the real world into classroom learning was so effective that he decided to try for the record again.

Great American II left New York City for Melbourne, Australia, in September of 2001 in pursuit of the record passage time recorded by another great clipper ship Mandarin in 1853. Sailing down the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the vast Southern Ocean, Great American II broke the record by over a day in another adventure followed by tens of thousands of students.

In March 2003 Great American II departed Hong Kong for New York City, in an attempt to beat the speed record of the clipper ship Sea Witch along the China trade route. In 1848, Sea Witch set out from Hong Kong arriving in New York Harbor after 74 days 14 hours. Setting another record in May 2003, Wilson and his only crew member, Rich du Moulin, brought Great American II into New York Harbor after 72 days, 21 hours, 11 minutes, and 38 seconds.

Sailing the Great American III in 2008"2009, Wilson raced the Vend_e Globe-a round the"world single"handed yacht race, sailed non"stop and without assistance-coming in 9th after 121 days.

Wilson received an A.B. Degree in Mathematics from Harvard College, an S.M. in Interdisciplinary Science from MIT and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Host(s): Office of the Provost, MIT Museum

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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