Saturday, 2:15 PM
North Shore man braves storm, dodges flying fish in around-the-world race
By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
A North Shore man is sailing off the Cape Verde islands today, 11 days into an around-the-world solo, nonstop sailing race in which he has already survived a disastrously stormy start -- and attacks from wayward flying fish.
Rich Wilson of Marblehead is sailing the Great American III in the Vendee Globe, which ran into rough weather after competitors sailed out of the French port, Les Sables D’Olonne, where the race began Nov. 9 and is expected to end in about three months.
In the first two days, four of the 30 boats in the race dropped out, Wilson said. As for the rest of the fleet, “everybody got beat up,” Wilson said.
“It was really pure survival,” Wilson, 58, said in an interview by satellite phone this afternoon from his boat, which is now sailing smoothly 75 miles south of the Cape Verde islands with a 15-knot wind from the northeast.
Wilson said he got thrown across the cabin during the rough weather and believes, after consulting with a Boston expert on the satellite phone, that he sustained a cracked rib.
“It’s just tough going. It’s going to take a while to heal. It’s still very, very painful. I have to do a series of sail maneuvers. The sails on these boats are very big and, of course, there’s nobody else to help so it’s a lot of work,” he said.
Then there were the flying fish. “They can glide 100 yards, 150 yards. Pretty amazing to see. That’s how they escape from predators. They leap out of the water and take off. So they think the boat is a predator and they take off and sometimes they get confused and they come back at the boat,” Wilson said.
Wilson said one came into the cockpit while he was sitting there having dinner and another whizzed by him as he was at the chart table below.
“One came cruising in through the companionway door, right through the galley, through the next door ... crashed into the bulkhead up there and he flaps away, trying to get out, of course,” he said.
In an audio podcast he posted online, Wilson said he was worried that the fish might smack him in the face and injure his eyes, which could be a serious problem for a solo sailor But he said in the interview that “I guess it was amusing, in retrospect.”
Other visitors have included a bird and porpoises, which came alongside this morning in the dark. Wilson said he could he hear them breathing as they jumped out of the water.
Wilson is the president of sitesALIVE!, a company that works to connect students to learning adventures on land and sea. He plans to share his experiences with schoolchildren through the Newspaper in Education program.
He has also been posting log entries, photos, and podcasts at the sitesalive website, as well as answering students’ questions. The site also contains essays from a team of experts on topics related to his voyage
Wilson said he doesn’t expect to win the race, but it’s “incredible to be here” and he does hope to inspire children.
“The point is for kids to get excited about learning, whatever it is that they are interested in,” he said. “There’s an awful lot of opportunity, a lot of diversity, in this for a kid ... to latch onto something that they think is cool and they might get excited and study more about it.”
Is he going to make it the whole way? “Hard to tell... We had a couple of things go wrong. We’ve been able to make repairs and make adjustments and we’re continuing along. We’ll see. It’s a long way,” he said.