Amateur skipper and race senior Rich Wilson completes his first Vendee race
American Rich Wilson crossed the Vendee Globe finish line at 12:43:19 GMT this afternoon (10 March), completing the 28,000 mile race in ninth place.
While nineteen of the 30 skippers who started from the Vendée start line on 9 November had to retire, Wilson – the race’s senior skipper at 58 years old – has stuck rigidly to his watchwords of safety and conservatism, showing huge determination to complete the course as the pinnacle of a sailing career which already included three ocean passage records.
Sailing Great American III, built in 1999 to a design by Bernard Nivelt for Thierry Dubois, Wilson becomes only the second American ever to finish the Vendée Globe after Bruce Schwab finished ninth from 20 starters in the 2004-5 race on his Ocean Planet.
While his first race into the inhospitable Southern Oceans proved the biggest physical challenge, Wilson’s weeks since rounding Cape Horn have tested his mental durability. In the South Atlantic he struggled with constant headwinds and occasional difficult low pressure systems which generated strong winds and confuses seas and the complex weather pattern in the North Atlantic meant he had to make detours of nearly 1000 miles to get west around successive high pressure systems.
At one point in the middle of the Atlantic he was nearly 500 miles closer to his home in Boston than he was to the finish. His race has been more limited to a test of stamina since the south of Australia and New Zealand when his nearest rivals, first Canadian Derek Hatfield (Algimouss Spirit of Canada) and then Jonny Malbon (Artemis) retired successively with rigging damage and with mainsail damage respectively. That left Wilson feeling more isolated with his next nearest rivals 1000 miles ahead and astern.
His finish is a great triumph for the amateur solo skipper whose career has progressed steadily, regularly proving that he has the steel and the skill to take on big challenges. In 1980 he was the youngest skipper to win overall in the Newport-Bermuda Race on Holger Danske. Between 1993 and 2003 – on his 50 foot trimaran Great American II – he set world records on clipper routes. In 1993 he set a record for San Francisco to Boston of 69 days 20 hours. In 2001 he sailed from New York to Melbourne in 68 days and 10 hours and in 2003 he sailed from Hong Kong to New York in 72 days and 21 hours before competing in the 2004 Transat in which he finished second in class 2.
In a field which is mainly populated by die-hard professional solo skippers, Wilson stands out with a long academic, consultancy and investment career which has run successfully alongside his sailing programmes.
He has three university and college degrees from Harvard, from MIT, and Harvard Business School. He was a policy adviser to the Democrat party, a popular maths teacher in his native Boston, a desalination consultant in Saudi Arabia as well as a successful private business investor. In 1990 he created the sitesAlive foundation.
The American skipper suffered a cracked rib during the first storm when he was thrown across the cabin. The injury hampered him badly for the first two weeks of the race, and then even a week later the relentless pounding of his boat exacerbated the injury again. In the Pacific he had to climb the mast to un-snag his running backstays from the standing rigging. Wilson has fought extreme fatigue since the Southern Ocean.
Wilson has regularly been fulsome in his praise for other Vendée Globe skippers, entranced and inspired by the race of Michel Desjoyeaux, who regularly gave advice to Rich before the start and visited his family at home in Boston, but also admiring the performances of Sam Davies, Dee Caffari, and Steve White. But as he completes his own Vendée Globe, Rich Wilson is fully deserving of enormous credit for the completion of his race.