All of the skippers competing in the next Vendée Globe will want to share their global adventure with as many people as possible, but that is even more the case for Rich Wilson. The most senior competitor in the eighth edition, the American skipper is taking advantage of the media coverage of the event to launch a huge teaching program focusing on science, maths, history and geography for young people around the world. We met up with this great ambassador for the Vendée Globe.
Rich, when did you first think about sharing your adventures at sea with others?
I was a math teacher in the Boston Public Schools many years ago. When I would bring real-world problems to my classes, they were more interested compared to textbook problems. Years later, as communications advanced, our idea was that even if we could not take students to sea or to the rainforest, we could bring the rainforest or the sea to them. Thus was born sitesALIVE! Since 1990, we have produced 75 live, interactive, semester-long, curriculum based programs linking adventures, expeditions, field research stations, into classrooms.
Which students are you aiming at?
© OLIVIER BLANCHET / DPPI / Vendée GlobeSo far it has mostly reached US classrooms. The Vendee Globe is unique in that it actually goes around the world, so why not have students from around the world? With the 2016 Vendee Globe, we will reach classrooms in 50 countries by way of education partners with whom we have contracted agreements. We have official education partners in China (2,000 schools), Taiwan (10,000 classrooms), FasTracKids (100,000 students in 45 countries), Press4Kids (US, 5,000 schools), plus several big newspapers in the US (Denver Post, Seattle Times), plus the Ministry of Education in France has approved our program for use in schools there. Tanguy de Lamotte, Eric Bellion and Kito de Pavant have said that if we send them a few questions “de temps en temps” during the race, they will be happy to participate too. This is terrific because perhaps the students will enjoy hearing from these great sailors and not only from “l'ancien Americain!” We are very excited about this reach.
Who can ever tell what will trigger a young student's imagination?
So, how does it work exactly?
First, we have our Teacher's Guide (English, French, Simplified Mandarin, Traditional Mandarin). Written by teachers, this includes 15 weeks of classroom activities, plus semester long team projects, plus family activities for the home. Every day from sea, I send an audio report, ship's log data, skipper's journal, plus biometric data (sleep, asthma). Each week I'll answer about 10 student questions, plus write a formal essay on the topic in the Teacher's Guide for that week. Also, of course, we'll have photos and videos from the boat.
© OLIVIER BLANCHET / DPPI / Vendée GlobeWe have a very interesting team of experts who will participate also. We have doctors (for asthma and emergencies), ship captains (including Capt. Yann Cariou of L'Hermione), a best-selling author, a maritime art curator, a fisheries expert, a climate change expert, a marine pollution expert, an Everest veteran, and one special Chinese guest we cannot announce yet, who is very exciting. These are all highly accomplished professionals, in a wide variety of careers, who will write for the classroom activities, and answer students’ questions. Who can ever tell what will trigger a young student's imagination? So if we show them many options, perhaps one will provide that spark.
In terms of the race, how do you see this second attempt at the Vendée Globe eight years after your ninth place in 2008-2009?
I, personally, am very excited about racing the Vendee Globe again. It is without a doubt the greatest sailing event in the world. I believe it is a human adventure first, and then a competition, because even for whomever wins the race, it will be a difficult human challenge first. No one will have a smooth, uneventful voyage - the Vendee Globe is always eventful! And that's what makes it so exciting. It is a mental, emotional, and physical challenge without equal. And the French public was so warmly welcoming to our team in 2008-9 that I am very excited to be back with them.