Rich WilsonRich Wilson – Skipper

Rich Wilson, 52, the skipper of Great American II, and founder of the interactive web-based learning resource sitesALIVE!, lives in the small seaport town of Rockport, north of Boston, Massachusetts. Wilson grew up and went to school in Boston. He received an A.B. Degree in Mathematics from Harvard College, an S.M. Degree in Interdisciplinary Science from MIT and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Before he started sitesALIVE!, Wilson worked as a math teacher in Boston, a defense analyst in Washington, DC, and as technical consultant on power/desalination plants in Saudi Arabia. He was also a successful investor in six entertainment companies in Massachusetts.

Wilson served six years on the Board of Trustees of Sea Education Association and nine years on the Board of The School for Field Studies, both hands-on college-level science programs, and as an Overseer of the Boston Museum of Science. A severe asthmatic, he has served on the Board of the American Lung Association of Boston, and as Honorary Chairman of the ALA's Christmas Seals campaign in 1993.

In 1980, Wilson became the youngest Overall Winner of the prestigious 605-mile Newport to Bermuda Race skippering Holger Danske. In 1988 he won his class sailing the 35-foot trimaran Curtana in the Carlsberg Singlehanded Transatlantic Race.

Believing that an ocean voyage, with its continual excitement and vast breadth of content, would make an ideal event from which to create a "learning adventure," Wilson created the project Ocean Challenge in 1990. He and one shipmate would tackle the clipper ship record set by Northern Light in 1853 during the Gold Rush from San Francisco to Boston by way of treacherous Cape Horn. They would be linked by newsletter and radiotelephone to schools during the 15,000-mile non-stop voyage.

Great American set sail on October 22, 1990, and all went according to plan until they reached Cape Horn. There, after driving under bare poles for three days in seas that built to 65 feet, the trimaran capsized on Thanksgiving Day 400 miles short of The Horn. An hour later, in a first in recorded maritime history, the massive trimaran was thrown upright by a mountainous sea. Seventeen hours later, in a dramatic midnight rescue, the giant containership New Zealand Pacific located the awash trimaran and Wilson and his shipmate Steve Pettengill leapt for safety on a scrambling net draped down the side of the ship for them.

Later Wilson visited a dozen schools that had participated in the "learning adventure." The effect of bringing the real world into classroom learning was so stunningly effective that he decided to try for the record again.

In 1993, Great American II set out from San Francisco with Wilson and Bill Biewenga aboard. The "learning adventure" was now an interactive feature on Prodigy, and a 12-part weekly series written aboard ship and published by 12 major daily newspapers (L.A. Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, etc.). Prodigy reported a "spectacular success," and each Newspaper In Education program was oversubscribed by teachers. GAII successfully rounded The Horn, arrived safely in Boston, broke the standing record, and reached 1/3 million schoolchildren. The "Ocean Challenge" concept was proven.

sitesALIVE! evolved from that original idea: to excite, engage, and teach.

In September 2001 Great American II departed New York City for Melbourne, Australia, in pursuit of the record passage time recorded by the great clipper ship Mandarin in 1853 during the Australian Gold Rush. Sailing down the Atlantic, around the Cape of Good Hope and across the vast gale-strewn wasteland of the Southern Ocean, Great American II broke the record by over a day in another adventure followed by tens of thousands of students.

In March 2003 Great American II departed Hong Kong for New York City, in an attempt to beat the speed record of the clipper ship Sea Witch along the China trade route. In 1848, Sea Witch set out from Hong Hong to ply the 15,000-mile trade route, arriving in New York Harbor after 74 days 14 hours—an amazing time that beat all clipper ship speed records at that time. Setting another record in May 2003, Wilson and his only crew member, Rich du Moulin, brought Great American II into New York Harbor after 72 days, 21 hours, 11 minutes, and 38 seconds.

Wilson keeps in shape for future ocean voyages by swimming and running. He has completed the Boston Marathon four times. He is married to Leslie.