By Rich Wilson
Skipper Great American II
When I was a boy and learning to sail, I
read about three great solo sailors: Joshua Slocum (American), Sir Francis Chichester
(English), and Bernard Moitessier (French). I wondered whether I could ever do what they
didcould I be smart enough, strong enough, and brave enough to sail alone across the
Growing older, I learned steadilysmall boats, then bigger, then overnight sails,
then ocean passages. For short-handed sailing, I sought those with experience and deluged
them with questions. In 1988, I got my chance, sailing the solo transatlantic race and
winning my small classwhat a joy! Two years later, in an attempt on the San
Francisco to Boston record, a disastrous double capsize in 65 seas off Cape Horn
almost cost us our lives.
Sailing on the big ocean combines mental, emotional and physical challenges. And racing on
itwhat a sport! No time-outs when the game plan goes awry; no substitutes when
exhaustion sets in; no referee to keep things fairjust another thousand walls of
water sent by King Neptune to ask if youre up to it.
Via this program, you can follow Great American II's progress on the big ocean:
sea trials to the Azores and to Plymouth, England, and The Transat race back to Boston.
Wonderfully, an accomplished team of experts (see below) will join me in writing to you.
A Life on the High Seas
By Captain Murray Lister,
Master, M.V. Cape Preston
Lister and Rich Wilson became friends when Rich and Steve Pettengill were rescued by the
giant refrigerated containership New Zealand Pacific in a terrible storm off Cape
Horn in 1990 that twice somersaulted the original Great American. Lister was
Chief Mate aboard. Now, when Rich goes to sea, he contacts Murray to find out where he is.
Rich says he's more comfortable knowing that Captain Lister is also at sea.]
Major decisions by an eight year old are not the norm, yet at that age I was determined to
go to sea, something that was achieved when, at the age of 15, I joined the Royal New
Zealand Navy as a Boy Seaman in 1960.
My contract was for ten-and-a-half years, which took me through to the rank of Petty
Officer First Class, sub-specializing in Gunnery Control and also qualifying as a
Ships Diver. In that period I was drafted to five different vessels: two new
a Second World War anti-submarine frigate, a Second World War minesweeper, and most
powerful of all, a World War II cruiser. She was
512 long and had a crew of 550.
On completing my Naval time I joined the Merchant Service as an Able Seaman, firstly on a
fishing research vessel, until the opportunity arose to study for the first of my
Officers Certificates. This was not easy, as having left school at age fifteen my
background education was far from good.
I increased my nautical
experience by serving on various ships and spending lots of time at sea over the years. I
passed more Officers Certificates until I reached the point where I had successfully
completed all the requirements and papers for a Certificate of Competency as Foreign Going
Master. This meant that I could Captain virtually any Merchant Ship in the world.
By this time I was serving as Chief Officer in some of the worlds largest container ships,
one being New Zealand Pacific. She was, at that time, the largest refrigerated
container ship in the world. She was a 61,000-ton vessel and was 816 feet long. She
carried 1,273 refrigerated containers, as well as at least another 1,000 containers of
New Zealand Pacific sailed around the world every 75 days, from New Zealand to
Europe via Cape Hornat the bottom of South Americaand back around the Cape of
Good Hopeat the bottom of South Africato Australia, and thence returning to
On one of these voyages New Zealand Pacific was directed to a distressed yacht
some 400 miles off Cape Horn in seas that could only be described as horrendous. Even
though it was the middle of the night, the winds blowing 65 knot, the seas 35 feet high
and snowing, we were so fortunate in finding the yacht and rescuing the two crewmembers.
The yacht was lost, but it lives on in our memories due to a new yacht now sailing from
Hong Kong to New York. The skipper that was rescued from the yacht Great American was
Rich Wilson, currently chasing down the record of Sea Witch in Great American
Life-long friends can be made anywhere at anytime. Rich and I became friends on that
dreadful day in 1990 when I was one of the men who pulled him to safety from what could
have been his death.
My life has continued at sea, having been promoted to Captain not long after Rich was
rescued, to a point where I now currently command M.V. Cape York, a 557-foot long
general cargo vessel sailing between Australia and South East Asia.
Solving At Sea
By Vice Adm. John Ryan,
President, SUNY Maritime College
Imagine standing in a huge, flat
field that goes endlessly in all directions. No buildings, mountains, or signs serve as
reference. Your destination is a thousand miles awayhow do you find it?
Once a ship leaves sight of land, a mariner finds himself in this situation. Yet the
safety of ship, personnel, and the environment all depend on finding your way across a
trackless ocean and arriving precisely where you planned.
Years ago, mariners used sextants to measure angles from the horizon to stars and planets.
After much mathematics, a position accurate to a few miles was considered excellent.
Today, using satellites with advanced nuclear clocks, the Global Positioning System (GPS)
pinpoints a ships position to a few feet. And paper charts have migrated to digital
files so that your ship can be tracked in speed, direction, and time-to-destination across
your laptop screen!
As navigator aboard the USS Nimitz,
I found GPS technology critical to our ability to coordinate aircraft both lifting off,
and landing on, the carrier. Once, 20 aircraft had to fly hundreds of miles to targets.
Returning to the ship, their fuel was low, yet they couldnt refuel in mid-air due to
bad weather. They had one chance to find the ship and land on her. Advanced technology,
aided by pilot skill and courage, brought them all aboard safely.
The Value of Going to Sea
By Captain Tom Bushy,
Master, TS Enterprise
Massachusetts Maritime Academy
For hundreds of years, sending young men
to sea has been a trial that was considered making them men. This ambition of
turning young people into adults at sea is no longer reserved for men only. Women of all
ages partake in the ritual of exploring the sea.
The sea is a strict teacher. Before venturing beyond a harbor, the seafarer must be
trained to cope with routine challenges, have practiced decision making, and have been
exposed to emergency situations.
The ocean is not a humans natural environment. We can swim for only a short period
effectively. We cannot live very long in it since even 80ºF water will cause hypothermia.
There are creatures living in the sea that might want us for dinner.
I lead five hundred cadets to sea each year. Some have been to sea before and consider
themselves experienced. Most of them are rookies. For all, the power of the ocean humbles
and induces a thought process that remains with a person for a lifetime. The sea is a
tough mentor, but after completing a few voyages, the cadets are different people: they
see things in better focus, having the understanding of a hostile environment; and they
process problems more efficiently, knowing their training and available resources are
The sea is one of the best teachers a person can have.