Last week, the moon rose just after sunset, bright and full, flaunting its perfect geometry. Ringed as I am by 360 degrees of horizon, I am one with nature, one with every sunrise and sunset, one with the stars and clouds, and one with the ceaseless murmur of the waves slapping against the hull of Great American III.
My only visible companions during this voyage—whales and flying fish, squid, tuna and porpoises, together with the countless species of birds only a modern day Darwin or Audubon could identify—have kept me constantly entertained.
When an expedition comes to an end, I don’t really miss much except for my comrades. There is a huge sense of relief when I arrive back in a place that is warm, safe, dry, and where I no longer feel a constant element of great danger.
For Michel Desjoyeaux, success in the Vendée Globe is winning the race, which he has just done for the second time with an extraordinary effort. He is a professional sailor, and this is his proving ground.
Prior to the start of the Vendée Globe race, there were hundreds of decisions made: which boat to use, which qualifying race to sail, what to refit on the boat, what equipment to install, which vendors to use, etc.
We all have to make decisions in our lives, many of them important to our friends, families, and ourselves. Rich has had to make decisions during the Vendée Globe to maintain the safety of Great American III; to produce articles, photos, podcasts and videos for sitesALIVE; and to balance sailing fast with preserving his physical and mental strength.
Rich is the oldest competitor with a seven-year-old boat that is not the newest or fastest design.
Each boat in the Vendée Globe is an example of resource management and depletion. We bring food, fuel, spare sails, spare electronics, extra epoxy and fiberglass, spare rope, etc. Gradually, over the course of the race, these resources are consumed.
As Rich sails across the world’s oceans he may see occasional sharks or whales, but he will not see the thousands of fish species living in the waters far beneath his boat — many of them species that you and I eat for dinner.
Take a globe. Center it in your gaze at 15° South latitude, 155° West longitude. Look at all that Pacific Ocean!
The Pacific is huge, and down here in the southern part powerful low pressure weather systems keep marching along, circling Antarctica like beads on a necklace, pushing big waves, winds and currents in front of them.
A different, but similarly huge, oceanic force is in the North Atlantic, where the Gulf Stream moves massive volumes of warm water from the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, up the east coast, and across the Atlantic, heating northern Europe to temperatures far more moderate than we have at the same latitude in North America.
Nature gives the world so many variations of force and climate. Think of the tides, rain, snow, wind, ice, hurricanes and typhoons. Let us now consider the forces involved in those of the ocean currents.
Rich Wilson and Great American III have passed below New Zealand, sighting the Auckland, Bounty and Antipodes Islands. The passage across the great Southern Ocean is currently being undertaken. From the last land sighting South East of New Zealand to the next landfall, which should be the island of Diego Ramirez, West South West of Cape Horn, Rich will sail some 4500 to 5000 miles in the most inhospitable waters of the world, all with out sighting land.
Halfway around the world, through the Atlantic, Indian, and now Pacific Oceans, we have seen a diverse array of wildlife. Porpoises have played in the bow wave, flying fish have leapt onto the boat, and unlucky squid have been washed onto the deck by errant waves.
Rich’s Ship Logs reveal an extraordinary variety of marine life including sea birds, porpoises, flying fish, tiny shrimp, and squid. As Rich mentions, the aerodynamics of the albatross and the agility of porpoises are amazing.
We can learn a lot from these animals about science, engineering, and our world.
Rich and Great American III continue their passage, currently South of Tasmania, Australia. These waters also have seen the wakes of hundreds of sailing vessels as the countries of Australia and New Zealand opened up to settlement and the subsequent trade back to Europe.
The maritime industry can be a challenging and rewarding field for women. Thirty years ago it was difficult for women to break into this industry. In today’s world more and more woman are moving into principal positions.
Rich and Great American III have passed The Cape of Good Hope and are now on passage across the Southern Indian Ocean, not being known for its pleasant sailing. Great American III is sailing in the wake of hundreds of sailing vessels, these wakes created when the East Indies, China, India, Australia and New Zealand were opening up to European immigrants, predominately Dutch, Portuguese and British.
The Cape was transited by the Dutch as they were on their way to the Dutch East Indies (the Spice Islands), now known as Indonesia, and the capital Batavia, currently named Jakarta.
The day before the start of the Vendée Globe I saw Yann Eliès riding on his bike, standing on the pedals, with his young daughter on the seat behind him. Kind and cordial as always, he introduced me to her.
A few days ago, the physicality of this race came home to the fleet in a horrible way when Yann was swept down the foredeck of Generali by a wall of water, fetched up on some piece of equipment, and broke his thighbone.
When Rich started the race, he had a fitness plan in place to maintain his physical strength. When he broke his rib early in the race that plan evaporated. Instead, it was replaced by a plan to limit Rich’s movement to allow the rib to heal quickly.
In the last two days here in the Indian Ocean, we have been hammered by two severe storms with near-hurricane-force winds and mountainous seas. I’m tired, cold, and scared. But it was my choice to enter the VendÈe Globe, and it is my responsibility therefore to deal with Mother Nature as she is.
Rich is alone in an endless landscape of waves, traveling the world’s oceans with occasional sightings of seabirds, flying fish, and whales. For me, as a sea-going oceanographer, the ocean always looks so much bigger than we humans that it is difficult to believe that we could somehow change it.
by Sam Scott, Associate Curator, Peabody Essex Museum
Turn your globe on its head so that the continent of Antarctica is at the top. Notice the ring of ocean that encircles the continent. These waters are known as the Southern Ocean, and they have earned the deep respect of mariners for generations.
In this race around the world, we will pass many places and peoples. Some will be nearby, as were Spain, Morocco, and the Cape Verde Islands. Others will be very distant and far over the horizon, as will be South Africa, Madagascar, Australia and New Zealand.
Although Skipper Rich refers to the land that he is passing as “invisible”, I think it really is the ocean that is invisible. A whopping 360 million square kilometers of the earth’s surface is covered with seawater, yet at most we can see 2.4% of the oceans from all the world’s shorelines.
What better symbol could there be for the interconnectedness of the world than the Vendée Globe, a non-stop around-the-world sailing event? As a skipper in the race, I can see that each salty wave is connected to the next in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.
While the challenges that Rich Wilson and the skippers of Vendée Globe face are enormous—managing a large sailing vessel by yourself, day after day, without break, and without a “time out” for bad weather—Rich Wilson has another obstacle to overcome that may not be shared by other skippers.
For a mariner, crossing the equator – the Line – is a major event. The tradition for a first-timer is an onboard ceremony where the initiate is degraded before King Neptune, who must pass judgment upon the initiate’s worthiness to come into his new hemisphere.
Skipper Rich will soon cross the Equator, 0º latitude, the great dividing line between Earth’s northern and southern hemispheres. Having traveled from 46º30´N at the start, he will go as far as 56º south, below the tip of Cape Horn.
Eighteen years ago Rich and I initially met when, on 22 November 1990, the first Great American capsized 400 miles West of Cape Horn in horrendous weather conditions. Of my eight passages around Cape Horn, all in a more than 60,000 ton container ship, the storm from which we rescued Rich and his mate, Steve Petengill, was by far the worst storm I have encountered in the Southern Ocean.
Proper preparation is everything. On board Great American III Rich has an extensive first aid kit, and he knows how to use it. We added to the kit medications that Rich might need if he gets sick or injured: medications for infections, seasickness and his asthma.
Looking at our chart explains the parade of ships that I saw last night
by their lights, and heard the night before on our radar alarm. The Vendée Globe fleet intersected, and then joined, the sea route from the northwest corner of France (the entrance to the English Channel) to the northwest corner of Spain.
The Vendée Globe race instructions state simply: start at Les Sables d’Olonne (France), leave Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) to port, leave Cape Leeuwin (Australia) to port, leave Cape Horn (Chile) to port, leave Antarctica to starboard, finish at Les Sables d’Olonne; 26,000 miles, 100 days, solo, non-stop, without assistance, in 60’ sailboats.
Thirty sailors—men and women—are entered from seven countries.