Essays
Week 1 — April 10, 2004

Great American II Team of Experts
Pursuing A Dream
By Rich Wilson
Skipper Great American II

Rich WilsonWhen 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 did—could I be smart enough, strong enough, and brave enough to sail alone across the world’s oceans?

Growing older, I learned steadily—small 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 class—what 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 it—what a sport! No time-outs when the game plan goes awry; no substitutes when exhaustion sets in; no referee to keep things fair—just another thousand walls of water sent by King Neptune to ask if you’re 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.

Welcome Aboard!

A Life on the High Seas
By Captain Murray Lister,
Master, M.V. Cape Preston

murraylister60h.jpg (3747 bytes)[NOTE: Captain 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 Ship’s Diver. In that period I was drafted to five different vessels: two new anti-submarine frigates, 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 Officer’s 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 Officer’s 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 world’s 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 general cargo.

New Zealand Pacific sailed around the world every 75 days, from New Zealand to Europe via Cape Horn—at the bottom of South America—and back around the Cape of Good Hope—at the bottom of South Africa—to Australia, and thence returning to New Zealand.

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 II.

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.

Problem Solving At Sea
By Vice Adm. John Ryan, USN (Ret.)
President, SUNY Maritime College

Vice Admiral John RyanImagine 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 away—how 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 ship’s 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 couldn’t 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

Capt. Tom BushyFor 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 human’s natural environment. We can swim for only a short period effectively. We cannot live very long in it since even 80F 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 limited.

The sea is one of the best teachers a person can have.