Vendée Globe 2008: Making Choices

On Sunday afternoon, French Skipper Michel Desjoyeaux, sailing the Foncia completed the 2008–2009 Vendée Globe Race in the impressive time of 84 days, 3 hours, and 9 minutes (beating the previous record by more than three days).

Skipper Desjoyeaux, who also won the race eight years ago, had this to say about his historic finish:

I won this Vendée Globe before the start with the choices I made, with the team and the experience I have built up. Eighty percent of the end result is before the start of the race. But it is a whole lot of things, and the other twenty percent are during the race itself, in believing, having faith, in doing it, maneuvering…

Sailing in stormy weather means having to make lots of decisions.Skipper Wilson, who currently is off the coast of Uruguay, also has been thinking about decisions. In his essay last week, he wrote about how he, too, made many choices about the race long before the starting pistol fired. But these days it’s the decisions at sea, when Skipper Wilson is weary, that are the tough ones.

Skipper Wilson’s friend and fellow sailor, Rich du Moulin, had this to say about making those choices:

Decision-making at sea is very hard because you are tired, alone, and sometimes scared. Very often you do not have much time to act. Making a good decision relies on experience and judgment for sure, but planning and preparation are also very important. If you can anticipate a problem, then you can plan ahead and not have to make a last-second decision which might be too late.

So Skipper Wilson relies on his years of experience sailing and depends on his team back on land to help him make the decisions that his experiences don’t help him with.

That’s not so different from the rest of us. We all have previous experiences that help us make smart choices and people around us to ask for advice when we aren’t sure what to do. We make choices every day: what to wear, whom to sit with on the bus, whether to look before crossing the street, how to study for a test. Each decision has tradeoffs and can have a long-lasting impact on our lives or people around us.

Have you ever had to make a hard choice? What did you do? Now that you’ve seen how things turned out, would you make the same decision? What do you think would have happened if you’d made a different choice? And do you think you could have guessed about what might happen before you made your choice?

Skipper Wilson and his competitors have to make lots of choices, too: when to eat, whether to come to the rescue of another sailor, what route to take, when to switch sails, whether to fix equipment that isn’t working. Each of these small decisions can keep them in the race or cause them to drop out. Thirty racers started the race and only eleven remain in it today. Skipper Desjoyeaux decided to return to port shortly after the race start to make repairs before setting out again — and his decision paid off. Skipper Wilson made the decision to make the voyage in an older, but sturdy, boat that had already sailed around the world successfully. The Great American III is slower because of its age, but so far is steady under Skipper Wilson’s hand.

So far his decision seems to have been a good one.

Social Trade-Offs (3-5)
In this Science NetLinks lesson students make and evaluate decisions by weighing the benefits and drawbacks of each alternative.


You Decide! (3-5)
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The Game of SKUNK (6-8)
In this Illuminations lesson, students practice decision-making skills leading to a better understanding of choice versus chance and building the foundation of mathematical probability.

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Skin: The Behavior and Health Connection (6-8)
Students explore how personal behavior can affect health, especially the health of your skin in this Science NetLinks lesson.


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