Rich Wilson: Not Ready for the Pipe and Slippers

Published on February 21st, 2017

Les Sables d’Olonne, France (February 21, 2017) – The crowds were out again this afternoon to welcome home 66 year old American Rich Wilson who had just completed his second Vendée Globe.

As the oldest skipper among the 29 boats which started the 27,440 miles singlehanded race from Les Sables d’Olonne on November 6, Wilson and Great American IV secure 13th place with an elapsed time of 107 days 00 hrs 48 mins 18 secs – an average speed of 10.70 knots.

Wilson shares his comments after the finish:


When I got the boat from Dominique Wavre, we were at dinner and he asked me if I wanted to know how fast the boat had gone. I said no because I did not want it as an objective and I did not want to be scared. But he wrote it on a piece of paper and it was 35.7kts. I said to myself if I ever see a three in the tens column I will be crying under the chart table.

One day when I had the fractional gennaker and one reef in the mainsail, the boat took off in 48kts of wind. The boat went under the water, it was a submarine. The next day I looked at the data and it was 31.2kts. I remember something Brian Thompson saying the highest speeds are always under autopilot because the autopilot is never scared.

I did think along the way and in the Atlantic coming north. I thought about the other sailors and you can see the little boat icons on the screen of the other skippers and the number I could get, the speed, was never as good as other boats. I could not understand why the others were going so fast all the time.

I do not understand how the sailors at the front of the fleet put up with the stress at the front of the fleet, because I am just scared all the time. All the time. I don’t know how they do it. The French skippers are so good it is incredible.

But I had to live with it, though it was frustrating because even the times that I tried to get past my conservatism – I just put the storm jib away last night – I would just be the same as those in my group. Perhaps it is not necessarily about my age but my generation because we grew up sailing heavy wooden boats. We won the Bermuda Race in 1980 and our average speed was 7.3kts. So to have boats going more than 20kts is in some ways incomprehensible.

What distinguished the race for me was that it was grey all the way. Across the south and then all the way up the Atlantic. Grey. It was so depressing. Four or five days ago, the sun came out for twenty minutes and I leapt out and stuck my face and hands under the sun. Otherwise it was grey for so long. That was hard.

wilson arrival

Eight years ago, I said never again. But now it’s too difficult. This is the perfect race course. The most stimulating event that exists. My goal was to finish this race and to work for SitesAlive, which has 700,000 young people following.

Sometimes at sea whether it is fatigue, or frustration, when I when I was going around in circles and I was ready to tear my hair out or worse. The frustration leads to anger. You think the gods are against you. King Neptune is against you. Sometimes I tried to cry just to release the tension but it would not come. I could not.

Until a few days ago Lauren Zike, who is the web programme manager, sent out a photo from a school in India of a class holding up their certificates for completing the programme and then I cried, I cried my eyes out at the chart table. That was exactly why I was doing this.

I am not sure I was so happy with my routing and my decisions, not in the South Atlantic going south or in the Atlantic coming back north. I seem to find all the calms that exist in the Atlantic. It was never-ending in the Atlantic. In fact I made a video for the schools programme of the Adrena software output of the boat going around in circles. I am surprised that I have sailed so few miles.

What is fantastic about this race is the support of the public with all the people here. I remember the first time, someone said, if you finish the race, you’re a winner. I think that is correct. I could give you a quotation from Thomas Jefferson. When he was ambassador to France, he said everyone has two countries, their own and France and I think that is true.

The Vendée Globe is two Vendée Globes. It is very long. The oceans, the capes. It’s all very hard. But the other Vendée Globe is the one ashore. The welcome that our team and I have had here. It’s incredible.

Enjoyment in the context of the Vendée Globe must be in some other definition. You enjoy the satisfaction of making a good sail change. I think there is satisfaction. I enjoyed seeing the stars but that was very, very rare. It seemed like, well I talked on the VHF with a Brazilian warship when I was going south, I saw Eric Bellion when he went whooooosh past me. Then I saw a fishing boat off Cape Horn and then I did not see another ship until off Brazil. It was like the world was empty. That was strange.

The boat was more powerful because of the ballast tanks, but you could use the ballast rather than put in a reef all the time, which is what I had to do on the other boat. But it is all hard work. That part is difficult to describe. The sails are heavy. It is very physical and I’m older. I have a trainer who is an All American Runner and a world champion cyclist and she worked me very, very hard but it was not enough for sailing these boats.

The worst thing was it was so grey. I had a map of the stars with me but I couldn’t use it. The best thing was communicating with the others. We’re a real community.

Final Results (Top 10 of 29)
1. Banque Populaire VIII, Armel Le Cléac’h (FRA), Finished, 74d 03h 35m 46s (1/19/17)
2. Hugo Boss, Alex Thomson (GBR), Finished, 74d 19h 35m 15s (1/20/17)
3. Maître CoQ, Jérémie Beyou (FRA), Finished, 78d 06h 38m 40s (1/23/17)
4. StMichel-Virbac, Jean-Pierre Dick (FRA), Finished, 80d 01h 45m 45s (1/25/17)
5. Queguiner – Leucemie Espoir, Yann Elies, (FRA), Finished, 80d 03h 11m 09s (1/25/17)
6. Finistère Mer Vent, Jean Le Cam (FRA), Finished, 80d 06h 41m 54s (1/25/17)
7. Bureau Vallée, Louis Burton (FRA), Finished, 87d 21h 45m 49s (2/2/17)
8. Spirit of Hungary, Nándor Fa (HUN), Finished, 93d 22h 52m 09s (2/8/17)
9. CommeUnSeulHomme, Eric Bellion (FRA), Finished, 99d 04h 56m (2/13/17)
10. La Mie Câline, Arnaud Boissière (FRA), Finished, 102d 20h 24m 09s (2/17/17)

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Background:
The eighth Vendée Globe, which began November 6 from Les Sables d’Olonn, France, is the only non-stop solo round the world race without assistance. Twenty-nine skippers representing four continents and ten nations set sail on IMOCA 60s in pursuit of the record time set by François Gabart in the 2012-13 race of 78 days, 2 hours and 16 minutes.

For the first time in the history of the event, seven skippers will set sail on IMOCA 60s fitted with foils: six new boats (Banque Populaire VIII, Edmond de Rothschild, Hugo Boss, No Way Back, Safran, and StMichel-Virbac) and one older generation boat (Maitre Coq). The foils allow the boat to reduce displacement for speed gains in certain conditions. It will be a test to see if the gains can topple the traditional daggerboard configuration during the long and demanding race.

Retirements (11):
November 12, Day 7 – Tanguy de Lamotte, Initiatives Coeur, masthead crane failure
November 19, Day 14 – Bertrand de Broc, MACSF, UFO collision
November 22, Day 17 – Vincent Riou, PRB, UFO collision
November 24, Day 19 – Morgan Lagravière, Safran, UFO collision
December 4, Day 29 – Kojiro Shiraishi, Spirit of Yukoh, dismasted
December 6, Day 31 – Kito de Pavant, Bastide Otio, UFO collision
December 7, Day 32 – Sébastien Josse, Edmond de Rothschild, foil damage
December 18, Day 43 – Thomas Ruyant, Le Souffle du Nord, UFO collision
December 24, Day 49 – Stéphane Le Diraison, Compagnie du Lit – Boulogne Billancourt, dismasted
December 24, Day 49 – Paul Meilhat, SMA, keel ram failure
January 1, Day 57 – Enda O’Coineen, Kilcullen Voyager-Team Ireland, dismasted

2016-10-03_6-55-47

Source: Vendee Globe

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