Eight years ago, when Rich Wilson came in ninth out of 11 people to complete the 2008 Vendée Globe solo, nonstop, around-the-world sailing race, he became only the second American in history to finish it.
Now as he prepares to do the whole thing over again in the 2016 race, Wilson said he isn’t doing it for personal reasons, like wanting to better his time or place higher in the finish. He’s doing it to give more students a chance to learn by following along with his progress in real time through his website, www.sitesALIVE.com.
“My primary motivation is to try to make our school program larger and global, and we’ve been able to do that,” Wilson told The Missourian in a phone interview from Great Britain, where he is now preparing for the race, which begins in November.
Educators in 50 countries have signed on to follow Wilson’s progress. There will be 2,000 schools in China following him, 10,000 classrooms in Taiwan, and 100,000 students in 45 countries with the program FasTracKids. The ministry of education in France, where the race begins, has approved the program for its teachers, and there are several U.S. newspapers that are offering the program through their Newspaper In Education program — The Denver Post, The Seattle Times . . . and The Missourian.
Missourian readers may remember Wilson from his 2008 Vendée Globe race, when weekly features on his progress, called Oceans Challenge Live!, were included in the print edition and a teacher’s guide provided area educators a curriculum for using the live, real-world activity in lessons on math, science, geography and more.
The Oceans Challenge Live! series was a hit with readers, teachers and students in 2008, said Dawn Kitchell, educational services director for The Missourian.
“We had huge participation statewide, and it showed that there is great interest from Missouri teachers, kids and readers on this type of global, interactive program,” said Kitchell.
“Ocean’s Challenge Live! draws in so many aspects of the curriculum, and Rich works very hard to have experts in these fields contributing. There is a teacher guide and a weekly series in the newspaper, plus the online interaction. And he has kids all over the world involved this time, so I think it’s really going to be fun.”
What readers will see in The Missourian each week (beginning with the Nov. 5-6 issue) is a quarter-page feature showing where Wilson is on the route in his Great American IV sailboat. There also will be two commentaries — one written by Wilson at sea and another written by a member of his panel of experts about topics ranging from science, geography, math, history and more.
“Because this is a global event, there can be lessons in weather patterns, the different types of fish found in each location, the boats are very technical so there’s lessons in physics, there can be lessons in nutrition, sleep cycles, even health,” said Wilson, who at age 66 is the oldest person ever to compete in a Vendée Globe race.
He also has severe asthma and takes four medications daily to manage it.
“The variety of topics allows kids who are interested in different things to get a grip on it. Even literature can be a lesson — the great literature of the sea,” said Wilson.
Students and readers who want to go further can go online to sitesALIVE.com to follow along in real time and post questions for the team of experts.
“Every day from sea, I send an audio report, ship’s log data, skipper’s journal, plus biometric data (sleep, asthma). Each week I’ll answer about 10 student questions, plus write a formal essay on the topic in the Teacher’s Guide for that week. Also, of course, we’ll have photos and videos from the boat,” Wilson noted in an interview posted on the Vendée Globe website.
Could Last 15 Weeks, or Longer
The race, which is only held every four years, will start Nov. 6 at the harbor of Les Sables d’Olonne, France, where it was born. The route will take sailors toward the three great capes, marking the southern tips of the African continent, Australia and South America.
The route ends back at the harbor of Les Sables d’Olonne, France. Wilson can’t be sure how long it will take him to complete the race, although he and his team have planned 15 weeks of classroom activities and content for teachers.
The tip of South America can often be a difficult area to cross, but “the whole Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean can be pretty stormy,” said Wilson, noting it will be the best time of year to attempt this kind of race, when it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
“That doesn’t mean that it’s warm,” Wilson was quick to point out. “Last time we went across the Indian Ocean, we had seven gales and each one had sleet in them.”
Despite the tough weather conditions and the exhausting work involved in sailing alone, Wilson said there will be time out on the ocean to appreciate the view and scenery.
“It’s an amazing thing to be at sea and to have this hemispheric dome of sky, which is beautiful and you see the stars in the Southern Hemisphere that you wouldn’t see up here in the north,” said Wilson. “That part of it is fabulous.”
Target: 6,000 Calories Per Day
Wilson, like all of the sailors taking part in the Vendée Globe, will be completely alone on his boat. It is a solo race with no stops along the route. Wilson will be able to communicate with his team through satellite telephone links.
If sailing alone is one challenge, it’s only made more difficult by the size of the boat.
“The boat is very big,” said Wilson. “It’s a very physical boat, very powerful, so the physicality of the effort is large. I remember commenting after the 2008 race that if I went to play in the Superbowl for the Patriots, it would be like taking an afternoon off.”
Wilson’s Great American IV sailboat is 60 feet long, 90 feet tall. The keel is 14 feet deep, and the boat is 18 feet wide.
“It’s a pure race boat,” Wilson remarked.
This kind of “short-handed ocean racing” is far different from sailing with a full crew of eight to 14 people, said Wilson.
To prepare for this physical component of the race, Wilson, for several years, has been working out five days a week to be in the best physical shape he can be. His workouts include swimming, cycling, running and core workouts with weights and elastics led by a trainer.
To give an idea of just how physical the job of solo sailing on a boat this size is, Wilson said his target calorie consumption will be about 6,000 calories a day, compared to the typical 2,000 calories per day for men.
“Last time I got to about 5,400 every day,” said Wilson, noting he ate a lot of freeze dried and foil-packed foods to keep cooking to a minimum.
Yes, He’s Nervous
Wilson admits he is nervous about undertaking this race, in which not everyone finishes and some people have actually died.
“Only 75 people have ever done this race,” he said. “I’m only the second American who has ever finished. Three have entered. The first one was lost at sea trying to cross the Atlantic at the start of the second race, so it’s not to be taken lightly, for sure.”
In the 2008 race, Wilson experienced some injuries — broken ribs and a big eye gash from getting thrown across the cabin. This time around, he’ll pad certain parts of the boat to try to prevent serious injuries.
Although all of the dangers are a concern, Wilson said he takes comfort in the students who will be following his progress, particularly those in Missouri.
“I remember when I went into the South Atlantic the last time and we had, I think, 25 newspaper NIE departments under contract at that point and we heard there were a lot of small newspapers in Missouri who were publishing the series too that we didn’t know about. That was a real boost for me, because it meant that our concept of trying to connect the ocean to students all around the world and inland where there isn’t an ocean, just lakes and rivers, that was just a huge emotional lift for me, I assure you,” said Wilson. “To have Missouri with us, that gave me a big boost.”
This fall, The Missourian will host two teacher workshops — one to help teachers learn how to prepare for using The Missourian in their classrooms this year and a second on visual storytelling.
The first will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Washington Public Library. Veteran educators Angie Hopkins and LuAnn Engelbecht will share their methods for using both the print and digital editions of the The Missourian and the weekly Missourian In Education News Quiz in the classroom.
A second workshop will be held in conjunction with The Missourian’s annual Run to Read event, this year set for Saturday, Oct. 8. Guest author/illustrator Deborah Zemke will present a teacher workshop on visual storytelling from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., in the Washington Middle School library.
Zemke puts words and pictures together in imaginative and unexpected ways. Whether it’s turning the letter A into an alligator or flying to Saturn in a crabapple tree, she celebrates the magic of drawing and writing.
In her hands-on teacher workshop, she will swoop through the alphabet with zeal to touch on the many aspects of making children’s books, said Kitchell. She will focus on making pictures that tell stories and using pictures to write stories.
At the workshop, teachers will visualize, verbalize, brainstorm, make a book dummy, create characters, and write and illustrate their own accordion books, entitled “My Life in Pictures.” Handouts will be provided so that teachers can use workshop activities in their classrooms.
A basket containing a signed copy of Zemke’s “Bea Garcia: My Life in Pictures,” 30 blank accordion books for classroom use and other art and book goodies will be raffled off at the workshop.
There will be limited seating at both workshops (Sept. 22 and Oct. 8), so to reserve a spot, people should email Kitchell at email@example.com.
More NIE Features
Missourian In Education will kick off the school year with an International Literacy Day feature in the Sept. 3-4 issue that will highlight the “Read Aloud 15 Minutes” program that encourages parents to read aloud with their children at least 15 minutes each day.
This is beneficial even for older children, said Kitchell, noting the reading material doesn’t have to be books. It could be a newspaper or magazine article, maybe even something they find on social media outlets like Pinterest or recipe instructions.
“All reading together counts,” said Kitchell.
Other Missourian In Education features readers will find in their weekend newspapers this school year include a Constitution Day feature about Miranda Rights, a Vote Missouri series beginning in the Sept. 17-18 issue that explains the various government offices, such as auditor, treasurer, attorney general . . . , a series on World War I that will begin with the March 18-19 issue and the popular series on America’s First Ladies, returning in the April 15-16 issue.
This year’s Read Across Missouri serial story, which will begin in the Jan. 21-22 issue, will feature “Jim the Wonder Dog,” who lived in Marshall, Mo.
Not only was the English Llewellyn setter a champion hunting dog, but he seemed to understand and carry out instructions given to him — even make accurate predictions, said Kitchell, like locate a car by make, color or a license number, or from a crowd, select the “man who sells hardware,” the one who “takes care of sick people” or the “visitor from Kansas City.”
Carolyn Mueller is writing the serial story about “Jim the Wonder Dog.” Mueller has written three other serial stories published in The Missourian and was the featured author at Family Reading Night for her 2014 book, “Lily, a True Story of Courage and the Joplin Tornado.”
Returning NIE Favorites
As always, the popular KidScoop and Book Buzz features will continue as part of The Missourian’s Newspaper In Education program, as well as the weekly Sudoku puzzle.
The weekly News Quiz will begin right away with the Sept. 10-11 issue. Any student who completes the quiz online each week at www.emissourian.com and has all of the answers correct will be entered into a drawing for that week to win prizes like Imo’s and Sugarfire restaurant gift cards.
The Run to Read 5K event that pairs physical fitness with literacy fitness will be held Saturday, Oct. 8, beginning at Washington Public Library. Guest author/illustrator Deborah Zemke will give a presentation on her doodle books that teach people how to draw.
The annual Family Reading Night event will be held Friday, March 3, at Washington Middle School. This year’s theme will be Bedtime Stories, and the guest author will be Sherri Rinker, who wrote the New York Times Bestseller “Steam Train Dream Train.”
Kitchell encourages everyone to start picking out their outfits for this year’s event, which will be a pajama party.
And The Bee 2017, the seventh annual regional spelling competition organized by The Missourian, will be held Saturday, April 22, at East Central College.
Program Gets Under Way
The Missourian In Education program is available to teachers in all communities served by The Missourian. Classroom newspaper subscriptions are provided at no cost to educators, thanks to support from community partners. The Missourian also provides training and curriculum at no cost.
Classroom newspaper subscriptions get under way this year with the Sept. 10-11 weekend Missourian, which will be delivered to schools Sept. 12.
To register to participate in the Missourian In Education program, educators should visit emissourian.com/mie.
Parents and educators can follow the Missourian In Education Facebook page for updates, book reviews and other literacy-related news. For more information on The Missourian’s educational outreach efforts, contact Kitchell at 636-932-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.