18 December 2014 - 11:58 • 2872 views



That is how Denis Horeau, the Vendée Globe Race Director described the American maths teacher at the press conference presenting the 2016 Vendée Globe at the Paris Boat Show. It was just a quick stopover in Paris for the skipper of Great American IV, who is busy developing a worldwide teaching programme using the Vendée Globe as a tool. At the age of 64, he is to compete in the 2016 Vendée Globe, even though his boat was recently struck by lightning.

Tell us a little about your recent travels and how you explain your project, Rich
”I was in China, Beijing and Hong Kong just making connections and they are really interested in the concept. The great thing is the Vendée Globe is so easily understood, one person one boat, non stop around the world without assistance. We are working on the partnerships concept. Schools are excited about wrapping the race into their programmes.  In China we were meeting with the right people I think, with decision makers and I think it will work for education, science and technology especially. In the US it spans Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in high schools and we are just trying to reach out to as many people as possible. We reached 1/4m people in the last race and now we want to expand overseas. We can do that, the internet lets us reach people from Bogota to Boston to Beijing and Bali it doesn’t matter.”

Rich Wilson / Great American III© François Van Malleghem / DPPI / Vendée GlobeAnd what about the preparation of your boat, Dominique Wavre’s former Mirabaud?
”We have had a bit of a setback when the boat was struck by lightning at her base in Marblehead. I have never seen black clouds like it, it was scary. The boat was hammered, the windvane was blown clean off with the anemometer. The connectors were all blown apart and the pilot is damaged. We’re currently looking at everything and working out how much damage was done, in order to decide on what work has to be carried out, but it should be fine...”

Before that incident, you did quite a bit of sailing on board this Owen-Clarke designed boat?
”Yes, we did some good summer training, just in the US really. But I need to get out there and learn the boat. There is a big step up in power. I remember Michel Desjoyeaux saying his boat had 30 per cent more power moment and righting than Great American 3 in 2008 and so for me I need to know how to use that best. I have been working with Joff Brown and Brian Harris and with some help from Merf Owen at times just to learn how to trade off the power with the loads, to see if there are ways to reduce the loads for less of a loss of power. I am looking to increase the average speeds really, for us the goal is most of all to go faster than last time.”

The Vendée Globe is a fantastic tool

In 2008, you said you were the fittest you had ever been. Are you back in shape now?
”Yes I have been doing a day a week with Marti Shea but you know you have to be prepared to work with her. It is really tough but two and a half weeks away in China and Indonesia does not help that, so it has sagged off a little in the fall but in Asia with 94 degree heat and 80 per cent humidity I can’t really train.”

So what is it that motivates you to be back in the Vendée Globe?
"It is about reaching out with the programmes and making them work, and sailing faster than last time. The mission is to make it a bit more global. We want to see kids everywhere excited and engaged and more aware of the oceans, for the oceans to become a more recognised topic. The Vendée Globe is so unique, the competition, the camaraderie, the fatigue, these things are easily understood, it is one of the most amazing teaching tools in the real world, and there is human contact and that is important. Kids need contact with this type of project for the emotional side of growing up, to have an inspiration. “

And what do you think your sailing programme will be, and is being older significant?
”I guess the Transat Jacques Vabre and the BtoB race back for example but I need to be in shape to tackle them well.  Physically I just have to do the training the endurance training to make sure I have what it takes for the arduous bit, but it is about building mental confidence for this great undertaking. I know that I have to remain methodical and focused, that is my thing, trying not to make mistakes. And so I want to spend more time on the boat. I did the Transatlantic delivery back from getting the boat, first with Gringo (Graham Tourrell, ex Ecover and Gamesa boat captain) and he sailed to the Azores with me and then I sailed solo back from there to the US. It was exciting to get offshore, the rig is taller with bigger genoas and the ballast tank system. But overall in terms of performance one has to be realistic.”

Andi Robertson / Mer & Media Agency

(*) In 2008/2009, Rich Wilson completed the Vendée Globe on a Nivelt-designed boat dating back to 1999 (Thierry Dubois’s ex-Solidaires and ex-VM Matériaux). On 10th March 2009, the American finished in ninth place in Les Sables d’Olonne, after 121 days, 41 minutes and 19 seconds of sailing.