US record breakers aim at school's program

Rich Wilson and Ed du Moulin to set off on Hong Kong-New York record attempt

Friday March 7th 2003, Author: Keith Taylor, Location: Transoceanic
When sailing adventurers Rich Wilson and Rich du Moulin depart from Hong Kong to take aim at the Hong Kong-New York sailing record, they will be armed with the skill of seasoned offshore sailors--possessing a knowledge of wind, weather, and currents and the ability to push their boat and their bodies through sleepless nights and thousands of miles at sea. But they will also bring a mindset that is more crucial to this 15,000-mile non-stop voyage: a passion for education and learning.

Wilson and du Moulin, who depart March 16 onboard 53-foot trimaran Great American II, will not only try to break the 154-year-old speed record from Hong Kong to New York: they will also try to break new ground in education. The voyage of Great American II will be followed online by school children from throughout the United States, and students will be able to see how math, sciences such as meteorology and oceanography, and even the lessons of history apply in real-time adventure.

"When school children close their text books and go home each night, they know the lessons in their books won't change overnight: the same pages will be there tomorrow," said Rich Wilson, a K-12 educator who holds two offshore sailing records that were the basis of learning programs. "But in a live online learning adventure, outcomes are unknown. Everything could be different by the time students log on the next day. We could be in a squall, sailing with a school of dolphin, or figuring out how to fix broken gear.... At sea, lessons arrive unannounced and you solve a new set of problems every day. School children will be on the same ride with us--and that makes learning more fun, and more exciting."

Life onboard Great American II will be tracked by hundreds of thousands of school children in the education programs Wilson creates on his website for daily newspapers in the wide-ranging Newspaper In Education network, and on the
AOL@SCHOOL network.

Wilson (52) and du Moulin (56), a long-time sailor and shipping industry executive, are now in Hong Kong preparing Great American II for the passage to New York. Their quest for the Hong Kong-New York record was announced in early January 2003.

According to Wilson, the first leg of the passage to New York from Hong Kong through the South China Sea will be an intensive trial. He and du Moulin will have to take shifts weaving a course through a labyrinth of islands, reefs, and shoals, and a region heavy with shipping traffic and piracy. They will travel some 2,000 miles before passing through the Sunda Strait and entering the Indian Ocean. From there, Great American II will sail for the southern tip of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and then turn north into the Atlantic Ocean for the passage across the equator to New York.

The current sailing record is 74 days and 14 hours, set in 1849 by the legendary clipper ship Sea Witch. If Great American II can beat the clipper ship's pace, Wilson and du Moulin will finish at the Statue of Liberty sometime during the week of May 26.

The boat

Built in France in 1990 and designed by Nigel Irens, Great American II (GAII) is a 53-foot trimaran that Rich Wilson has sailed in two other record runs: New York-Melbourne (2001) and San Francisco-Boston (1993). Time and technology have made a great impact on the type of vessel that can transit oceans in record time. Sea Witch was 192 feet in overall length, displaced 908 tons, and carried an army of crew. GAII is 139 feet shorter than Sea Witch, displaces 7 tons, and will carry a crew of two.

Before her departure, GAII will be berthed at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club. After her arrival in New York, she will be docked at the Chelsea Piers Marina. The last time GAII sailed to New York City was on September 10, 2001. The crew postponed their departure for Australia by several days to help in the September 11 rescue effort; they began their record run to Melbourne eight days later.

The crew

Lifelong sailor and K-12 educator Rich Wilson, 52, lives north of Boston in the seaport town of Rockport, Massachusetts. He has twice broken sailing records of historic sailing vessels (San Francisco-Boston, 1993; New York-Melbourne, 2001).

A 1990 record attempt nearly ended in tragedy when Great American, GAII's predecessor, capsized in hurricane-force winds off Cape Horn and Wilson and his crew were rescued by a containership in a daring feat of seamanship. A life-long asthmatic who takes four medications daily, Wilson holds degrees from Harvard College, MIT, and the Harvard Business School.

Richard du Moulin, 56, of Larchmont, New York, has competed at all levels of sailing competition, including four America's Cup campaigns, two Transatlantic races, and 17 Newport-to-Bermuda races. In the shipping industry, he spent 15 years with Ogden Marine, Inc., after a three-year stint as a US Navy officer, then bought and operated Marine Transport Lines. He sold the company after 12 years and with a partner founded Intrepid Shipping in Stamford, Connecticut. He holds degrees from Dartmouth College and the Harvard Business School.

The current record:

74 days 14 hours / 14,255 miles

Captain Robert "Bully" Waterman skippered a majestic clipper ship named Sea Witch in the days of the China Tea Trade, when fast passages from the Orient meant fresher tea and higher prices to a ship owner. His ship spread more canvas, for her size, than many of the clipper ships that followed her - and Waterman and Sea Witch together became legendary. In 1849, Sea Witch sailed from Hong Kong to New York in 74 days and 14 hours. Her record has never been broken.

The sitesALIVE! Foundation: a larger mission

In 1993, Rich Wilson founded Ocean Challenge, Inc. and pioneered a new learning concept called sitesALIVE!. The premise was simple: kids love adventure and they love computers; once they are hooked by the real-time adventure of online learning, teachers can use this format to make a multitude of subjects come alive.

Some 65 full-semester sitesALIVE! programs have connected classrooms to live adventures and field schools on land and sea, and the programs have garnered awards and award nominations. Despite testimonials on the value of internet-based learning, many students and teachers - especially those in lower income or small school systems - cannot access the technology.

The sitesALIVE! Foundation was established in 2002 to address teacher training in computer technology and funding for budget-constrained schools. The mission of the sitesALIVE Foundation is to enhance K-12 education by promoting the use of technology with real-world, real-time content from around the world.

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