Rich Wilson. Photo courtesy of sitesALIVE!
Skipper Rich Wilson completed the 2016 Vendée Globe sailing race in 13th place yesterday, February 21, arriving aboard the Great American IV at Les Sables d’Olonne, France, at 12:50 UTC (7:50 a.m. EST). Wilson beat his previous record in the race by two weeks, becoming the fastest American to race solo nonstop around the world! At 66, he also became the oldest person ever to finish the Vendée Globe (taking the title from Nándor Fa, who completed the race two weeks ago at the age of 65).
Wilson charted a lean line around the globe, completing a highly efficient course of 27,480 miles—the fifth lowest total distance among the finishers to date. (While sailors could finish in as few as 24,840 miles if they were able to take the shortest route around the globe, extra miles become necessary to sail around storms or to get through ice gates.) He covered the distance in 107 days, 48 minutes, and 18 seconds, averaging 10.7 knots for the trip. (It's worth noting that this time is faster than every sailor but one in the first three editions of the race.)
This is Wilson's second time competing in the Vendée Globe, which is held every four years. He also took part in the 2008 race, which he completed in 121 days, 41 minutes, and 19 seconds.
While pleased with his placement and improvement, Wilson is equally proud of his educational outreach through sitesALIVE!, his nonprofit organization that combines examples from the real world with his live ocean voyages to showcase and explain different subject areas to K–12 students. During this race, the site reached more than 700,000 students across 55 countries in four languages.
On January 19, Armel Le Cléac’h was the first skipper, of the 30 who started the 8th Vendée Globe on November 6, to cross the finish line, setting a new race record of 74 days, 3 hours, 35 minutes, and 46 seconds. Alan Roura, who finished two days before Wilson, became the youngest skipper to complete the race at age 23. While eleven have abandoned the race so far, five more sailors remain at sea.
In his remarks after finishing the race, Wilson expressed his appreciation to the fans and staff of the Vendée Globe, "The welcome that our team and I have had here: it’s incredible."
Wilson added that, "Enjoyment in the context of the Vendée Globe must be in some other definition, [but] I think there is satisfaction" in completing work that is indescribably hard. Yet, as he explained in an essay earlier this month, there are things he'll miss about being at sea: daily communication with his fellow sailors, breathing in the clean ocean air, the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, albatross whose nonstop journeys over the seas mirror his own, and "flying fish [that] whiz here and there trying to escape from our boat that they perceive to be a predator." He concluded by saying, "I’ll also miss the interactions with our sitesALIVE students around the world. I’ve had the marvelous chance to bring a bit of the ocean to you, 70% of the planet, but unseen and not experienced by so many. These interactions I will miss the most."
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