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Rich Wilson, 58, who set sail this month on a lone voyage around the world, explains why he’s more comfortable at sea than at home in Marblehead. Rich Wilson, 58, who set sail this month on a lone voyage around the world, explains why he’s more comfortable at sea than at home in Marblehead. (Photograph by Erik Jacobs)
First Person

Come Sail Away

Rich Wilson, 58, who set sail this month on a lone voyage around the world, explains why he's more comfortable at sea than at home in Marblehead.

By Tom Haines
November 23, 2008
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You've already sailed solo across the Atlantic once and twice you sailed with someone between San Francisco and Boston by rounding Cape Horn. Now you're competing in the Vendee Globe, a round-the-world race. Why go back for more? We thought we could create this great school program. That's hard for people to believe. But if we didn't have that program, there's no way I'd do this race.

The program is Ocean Challenge Live!, which will allow more than a quarter-million kids around the world to follow your journey online (sitesalive.com) and in newspapers. You hope to hook kids into learning about geography, science, sailing and more. They don't know anything about spinnakers, autopilots, or carbon fiber. What they are interested in is a live ocean adventure.

You'll be sailing alone for more than three months. What's the coolest part? You see stars and whales. The aurora australis, flying fish, and albatross. You see every sunrise and sunset, and dolphins alongside.

Any lessons from your 1990 voyage, when you and another sailor capsized rounding Cape Horn? It was an appalling storm. We ran under bare poles (no sails set) for three and a half days. When we went back a second time, I got nervous. But, I don't know, you just keep going.

The Vendee Globe race route starts and ends in France while circling the Southern Hemisphere. What are the rough spots? The Bay of Biscay is a tough place for beginning and end, either side of wintertime. Getting across the equator is tough, too. It can be pretty easy to get caught with too much sail up. The Indian Ocean. For boats trying to get closer to Antarctica, there are icebergs. And more wind. And storms.

Then you'll come back around to your old friend -- Cape Horn. You can't fudge that one. And then coming back up through the Atlantic, there can be weather systems that burst over the Andes and create some havoc.

The sea has generally been a hospitable place for you though, right? Growing up, we were in Marblehead in summer. I had asthma; I'm allergic to trees, dust, smoke, dogs and cats, and everything else. If I can get offshore, it helps.

Do you still struggle with asthma? I'm taking four drugs a day, and one on a monthly rotation. My lungs work at about 75 percent of normal with all the medication. But stress is also a trigger. And you can get into some situations at sea that are pretty stressful. So it's a balance.

What's the key, then, to smooth sailing? You have to try to keep something in the tank all the time. You never know when something is going to go wrong. You don't take books to read. If you can read a book, you should be sleeping.

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