Our Teacher At Sea: Skipper Rich Wilson and the Great American 3

Skipper Rich Wilson looks on as students walk down to the cockpit of the Great American 3 before it sailed in the Jacques-Vabres race from Le Havre, France to Bahia, Brazil. Since 2001, when Skipper Rich Wilson headed out from Chelsea Pier to Melbourne, AU, my students have followed him on his ocean voyages. We went to http://www.sitesalive.com website to track his position, check the weather, send him questions and listen to his audio reports each day to hear what it was like to be way out there in the middle of the ocean. Before the introduction of Skype, when it was less common to connect so easily with people abroad, we had satellite phone calls from Rich in the middle of the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. As he sailed, he told us amazing details about the flying fish, the moonbow, the Aurora Australis, dolphins that swam by the boats, and the absolutely beautiful albatross. Students rooted him on as he attempted to break the record of the Mandarin, a clipper ship that sailed back in the days of the Australian Gold Rush. Students wanted to know exactly where Rich was each day. The excitement mounted as a teacher from Melbourne told us details about what it was like to live in Melbourne and what he might see when he finally arrived after his long voyage. One of my students aunts lived in Melbourne and took pictures of the boat as it came in to Port Philips Bay. A sign that we sent over to Melbourne greeted Rich and Bill Biewenga as they stepped off the Great American II. The students were so proud to see the skipper holding the banner that they made. He broke the record and they were right beside him as he made history!
We followed Rich again when he sailed from Hong Kong to New York. As he sailed we corresponded with a student in Hong Kong, a class in Florida, a college teacher in Liuzhou, China, two teachers in Italy and a teacher in Denmark who were also following the voyage. It was fun to share this experience with emails to our new friends. When Rich arrived in NYC I joined other teachers and students on a tugboat to watch the Great American II as it arrived back in Chelsea Piers with the fireboat spray greeting him proudly as he crossed the finish line near the Statue of Liberty-- once again beating the record of a clipper ship...this time it was the Sea Witch that sailed back in the days of the China Tea Trade. I remember looking out in the distance for this very very tiny boat and wondering in amazement how he and his crew traveled all of those miles. It was incredible!
In 2004 once again the students followed Rich as he sailed. This time he wasn't racing against the records of clipper ships though. He was racing against the other boats in the Transat 2004. Wow, was that exciting! Just hours after he left Plymouth, his mast broke and he had to return to the start of the race. Never one to give up, he and a team fixed the mast and he arrived second place in Boston. I remember watching the Great American II as it sailed into Boston Harbor. The winds were strong and the Great American II was sailing like an eagle back home. An unforgettable experience for my students who were standing at the pier, ready to great their teacher at sea.
As Rich prepares for the Vendee Globe, around the world alone, we are once again looking forward to following his inspiring voyage . The excitement of this global learning adventure combined with all of the web 2.0 technologies for collaborating with others will connect us not only with Skipper Rich Wilson at sea, but with all of the students and teachers who join in to particpate in this incredible learning opportunity. You can hear Steve Hargadon's interview of Skipper Rich Wilson in the videos. I've also uploaded a video of Rich speaking with students in Le Havre and a commentary by Ewan McIntosh in his involvement with following Skipper Rich in the Vendee Globe. To prepare students for this race, we have used Google Earth to look closely at the continents he will sail by. We've designed a whole fleet of sailboats in Scratch and figured out how to sail them across our screens. And we've brainstorned very long supply lists in excel about what we might like to bring with us if we were going to be at sea more than 100 days. How can you envision incorporating web 2.0 technologies into this once-in-a- lifetime adventure?

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Tags: greatamerican3, richwilson, stevehargadon, vendeeglobe


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