When Rich Wilson of Marblehead, MA sets sail in the Vendée Globe non-stop solo ‘round the world race on Sunday, November 6, 2016, he might be alone on the boat, but more than 500,000 school kids will be tracking his progress. The 28,000-mile Vendée starts and finishes in Les Sables d’Olonne in Brittany, France after rounding the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, Cape Leeuwin in Southern Australia and the infamous Cape Horn at the tip of South America.
Wilson has won the Newport to Bermuda Race and holds three world sailing records, but when he first learned about the Vendée, which is sailed in IMOCA 60s, his initial reaction was “too hard, too long and too dangerous.” But eight years ago Wilson was one of 30 skippers to compete in the race. Sailing 28,790 miles in 121 days in his monohull Great American III, he persevered despite broken ribs, a facial gash and compressed vertebrae, coming in 9th of the only 11 skippers who finished the race.
The only American in the race, Wilson’s motivation is to engage and educate students around the world, with some 500,000 students and schools in 45 countries participating in his educational program, Sites Alive. With degrees from Harvard, MIT and Harvard Business School, Wilson was a math teacher in the Boston school system when he realized that kids really paid attention when presented with real world experiences. “Excite a kid with bats, bugs, and snakes in the rain forest, or with gales, flying fish, and dolphins at sea, and they will pay attention not knowing what will happen next,” he said. “Then the science, geography and math flow freely.”
Wilson’s daily progress can be followed online at vg2016.sitesalive.com, where he will post a daily ship’s log and audio podcast, photos and videos from the boat and an interactive global forum, as well as specific content for teachers.