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Marblehead sailor preps boat for solo round-the-world race

MARBLEHEAD – Marblehead sailor Rich Wilson wants to go around the world – alone.Wilson was at the Maine Yacht Center in Portland in August to witness the launch of Great American III or GAIII, his Open 60-style racing sailboat, which recently underwent a 10-month refit. He has since participated in sea trials on Maine’s Casco Bay to determine whether the boat can right itself in the event of a knockdown. GAIII passed the test.With those details behind, the course is clear for Wilson to pursue his latest quest – race in the 2008 Vendee Globe, a competition among solo sailors in which he would be the only American.The race is held every four years. Wilson is betting that GAIII will be a serious competitor as the skippers sail 23,700 miles by themselves over 90 days, pushing the limits of technology, human endurance and sailing ability. There’s no stopping along the way and no getting assistance of any kind on the racecourse.”It embodies the attributes in which Americans pride themselves,” said Wilson, a familiar face among the international sailing community and especially along the North Shore.To prepare for the Vendee Globe, Wilson and co-skipper Mike Birch will race the GAIII in November in the Transat Jacques Vabre. Meanwhile, Wilson is working over the boat’s finer details in Portland, Maine, stepping the mast, tuning its various systems and getting accustomed to the way it sails.The Vendee Globe, known as the Everett of yacht racing, is undeniably a major challenge, but it won’t be Wilson’s first. Schoolchildren from Massachusetts and several other states may remember him from the SitesAlive educational program, which in the 1990s linked his global sailing adventures to their desktops via satellite phone, and later by Prodigy computer.Wilson has three voyages to his credit that set world records, including the 1993 challenge in which he and Bill Biwenga of Newport, R.I. sailed from San Francisco to Boston by way of Cape Horn.That 15,000-mile voyage was aboard the 53-foot trimaran Great American II. The quest was to break the record for such a passage set in 1853 by the clipper ship, Northern Light. It took them 69 days, 14 hours and 44 minutes. The Northern Light’s best time was 76 days, six hours to travel the same route during the golden age of sail.In 1990, Wilson’s cruise aboard the 60-foot Great American I ended badly when the boat capsized in a storm 400 miles from Cape Horn. Wilson and crewman Steve Pettengill were rescued by what was then the world’s largest refrigerated container ship, the 815-foot New Zealand Pacific.A Massachusetts native, Wilson founded the Sites Alive Foundation, a non-profit platform for his ongoing educational program Ocean Challenge, a series of educational programs for students worldwide. In 2005, Wilson’s ocean voyages and contributions to education earned him one of sailing’s highest honors, the Cruising Club of America’s prestigious Blue Water Medal.Wilson holds degrees from Harvard Business School and MIT. A former math teacher in Boston, he remains a trustee of both the Sea Education Association, and The School for Field Studies in Salem. He is also an overseer at the Boston Museum of Science.Only one other American, Bruce Schwab, has ever qualified and finished the race.

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