Patrick L. Sullivan
SALISBURY — Rich Wilson was 58 when he embarked on the 29,000-mile Vendee Globe solo nonstop, around-the-world sailing race in 2008-09.
Wilson spoke at the the Salisbury School Friday, May 18, as part of the Salisbury Forum lecture series.
He said he inherited the adventure gene from his mother, who journeyed to Alaska in the 1940s to host a program on the territory’s first radio station.
An experienced racer with plenty of solo sailing experience, Wilson said he had stayed away from the Vendee Globe race. “It was too long, the boats and the sails were too big, and you’re too far from land if there’s an emergency.”
But he decided to do it, in part because he felt he was representing three constituencies: people with asthma, retired persons and students.
Wilson said he has had asthma since the age of 4; he takes four separate medications daily, and on a good day has about 70 percent of normal lung function.
He was also getting communications from the American Association of Retired Persons because of his age. Bemused, he thought he could strike a blow against perceptions of the retired as infirm.
And he assembled a team of support people, educators and journalists to make the voyage an educational tool, sending out emails, videos, photos and the occasional request for medical advice during the 121-day race.
Wilson finished ninth of 11 skippers to complete the race. He said it didn’t matter; a young boy in France told him what was important was to participate.
In a rapid, staccato delivery Wilson told of the rigors of solo circumnavigation — the attempt to stick to a schedule of meals and rest (rather quickly pre-empted); the sense of isolation alleviated somewhat by the modern communications technology on board; and the noise.
In several brief video clips shot from the cockpit of the Great American III, the howling wind and the sound of the ocean are about all that’s audible. “It never stops,” said Wilson.