Using Adventure to Excite Young Minds

I have always associated adventure on the high seas with novels like Moby-Dick and Treasure Island, something from the distant past, gone with the golden age of sail. Then Rich Wilson (MBA ’82) opened my eyes to new possibilities. Sixteen years ago, Wilson made the news with a record-setting trimaran voyage from San Francisco to Boston. Before long, I was on the phone with him, arranging an interview that produced a lengthy feature article in the December 1993 Bulletin. Last spring, Wilson made the news again, this time for accomplishing his greatest sailing feat yet. It was time for me to place another call to update his amazing story (see article).

Last March, skippering the 60-foot Great American III, Wilson completed this year’s Vendée Globe, an around-the-world, singlehanded, nonstop sailboat race. The Vendée — which starts and finishes in France and is dominated by French sailors — is like no other event on this earth. In an age of celebrity “heroes” and “reality” TV shows, Wilson and his fellow Vendée participants (this year including two women) engage in a competition as pure and unsullied by hype and commerce as anything left to us in this authenticity-challenged modern age.

Ask Wilson why he undertakes this grueling event and he will tell you that what drives him is an educational mission. Wilson is the founder and president of sitesALIVE!, a nonprofit that has produced 75 live, interactive, full-semester programs linking K–12 classrooms to adventures and expeditions worldwide. The programs are distributed both online and via Newspapers in Education channels.

I met with Wilson recently in the historic seaport of Salem, Massachusetts. Over breakfast, he explained, “Excite a kid with dolphins, flying fish, and gales at sea, or with snakes, bugs, and bats in the rainforest, and they will pay attention, not knowing what will happen next. Then the science, geography, and math flow freely.”

A shipmate from a previous adventure described Wilson to the New York Times: “There’s a way of doing nutty things in a very sane fashion. That’s Rich. He’s very disciplined and just a consummate mariner. He has an almost religious fixation about doing things right and in exactly the same way. You don’t just put the winch handle down in the same place, you have it facing the same way. His style is to minimize and control risk as much as possible, and for him I think the Vendée Globe is a question of doing it right and making it to the finish.”

Doing it right and finishing the job, no matter what the adversity. That’s Rich Wilson. The Vendée-obsessed French public will tell you he’s a great American; more people here at home should know that too.

Garry Emmons

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1982, Section G

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