The Great American IV, captained by Skipper Rich Wilson. Photo courtesy of sitesALIVE!
Skipper Rich Wilson, an asthmatic 66-year-old former math teacher and defense analyst, is getting ready to cast off on his second entry into the Vendée Globe. The non-stop, solo sailing race begins this Saturday, November 6, departing from Les Sables d’Olonne, France, just after noon local time. One of 29 sailors, Wilson will attempt to beat his 121-day finish in the 2008–09 around-the-world race, when he finished ninth out of 30 starters.
Wilson will spend the next few months of the punishing 28,000-mile race aboard the Great American IV, which he purchased in 2013. The boat, formerly the named Mirabaud, was built in 2006 in New Zealand by Merf Owen. Great American IV is 60 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 15 feet deep and weighs nine tons. It has a 90-foot-tall mast, flies ten sails, and has two rudders for steering, two daggerboards (which help reduce sideways motion), a canting keel, and ten ballast tanks (both of which help keep the boat from tipping over).
Rich Wilson aboard the Great American IV. Photo courtesy of sitesALIVE!
While Wilson will be alone at sea, he will not be on his own. As he wrote in an email last week, "Although this is a solo race, I will not sail only for myself. I will sail for our teams, and for you students, as you are the most important reason that we are doing this." In 1990, Wilson founded sitesALIVE!, a nonprofit organization that provides shoreside support and K–12 resources for Wilson's live ocean endeavors.
sitesALIVE! has a team of experts ready to serve up daily content and answer students' questions, ranging from doctors and trainers to authors (including AAAS/Subaru Prize winner Sy Montgomery), teachers, and museum curators to sailors and scientists. While you're on their site for this year's Vendée Globe, you can chat with other students worldwide in the forums or submit a question for Wilson or one of the experts. You also can watch the start of the race live there on Saturday as part of Team sitesALIVE!
If you want to prep for the race, check out some of the resources Science NetLinks has to offer regarding sailing and boats: In Sink It!, students develop an understanding of sinking and floating through experimental design. In Buoyant Boats, students will design and construct a boat that takes into account buoyancy, materials, and design constraints. Finally, check out our Ships series of lessons: Give Me a Tall Ship, What Floats Your Boat?, and Grand Designs and Great Failures.
Since this is an sea-based journey, you may want to learn more about the ocean. Get a better perception of earth's oceans and their role in the water cycle (Oceans), introduce young kids to creating simple models (Wonderful Waves), or explore diverse marine ecosystems and the problems they face (Marine Sanctuaries). Learn about waves and their behaviors in the High Seas interactive. Become a citizen scientist with NOAA by adopting a drifter and learn more about the disappearance of coral reefs. Listen to our Science Update Ocean Plastics and follow it up with Litter Life to gain a basic understanding of plastic in our oceans. Then check out Disappearing Fish, Changing Oceans, Sea Sponge Fibers, Marine Reserves, and Sardines.
Science NetLinks covered Wilson's first Vendée Globe race back in 2008–09. You can find those posts on the blog here.