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RISKING LIFE AND LIMB: Senior sailors take on one of sailing’s most grueling races

The Vendee Globe solo round-the-world yacht race is not for the faint-hearted, but at 66 Rich Wilson is ready to risk injury, exhaustion and hurricane force winds a second time.


Sunday 6 November 2016, 10:51AM

US skipper of monohull ‘Great America III’, Rich Wilson takes the start of the 6th edition of the gruelling round-the-world Vendee Globe yacht race. Photo: Thomas Bregardis/AFP
US skipper of monohull ‘Great America III’, Rich Wilson takes the start of the 6th edition of the gruelling round-the-world Vendee Globe yacht race. Photo: Thomas Bregardis/AFP

Wilson, one of four over-60s in the gruelling race that starts today (Nov 6) at Les Sables d’Olonne, on France's west coast, endured broken ribs, crushed vertebrae and a deep cut in his face when he competed in 2009.

Masts that break in a gale and the constant threat of being swept overboard over-shadows all 29 entries in this edition of the race held every four years.

Wilson said he is very aware of the fate that befell top Chinese navigator Guo Chuan who went missing in the Pacific last week while attempting to get from San Francisco to Shanghai in less than 20 days.

“If such things can happen to him one can envisage the same things happening to less accomplished navigators,” the skipper of Great American IV said.

This time the Massachusetts Institute of Technology educated professor has vowed to tell every bump and scrape to an audience of hundreds of thousands of school children from Taiwan to Tennessee.

“Definitely,” he said when asked whether his on board adventure would get a full and frank airing on his website which aims to use adventure to encourage children to learn. Thousands of schools have signed up to follow his program.

“I am an asthma sufferer on top of all the other challenges in this, so I will tell it all.”

Wilson will have to eat 5,000-6,000 calories a day, instead of the usual 2,000, to keep up with the energy-sapping schedule. Last time he lost weight despite the extra food and most competitors lose muscle bulk because of the limited space.

The sleep deprivation – four or five hours each day for about 100 days – is an additional trap awaiting competitors.

His blog and other educational work will take up two hours a day.

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Last time, Wilson’s auto-pilot broke down for the final month so he had to check the winds every 20 minutes to keep on course.

“It is absolutely exhausting as well as stressful for many,” he said.

As in 2009, Wilson will again be the oldest competitor, but not the only senior in the race. Enda O’Coineen, 61, will be the first Irishman to take part in the race now in its eighth edition. O’Coineen also runs an educational trust and is president of the International Federation of Irish Pubs.

“At the press conference in Paris, I was asked was I concerned about the younger sailors in the race, so I said I thought they’d be okay,” O’Coineen told The Irish Times.

Dutch businessman Pieter Heerema, 65, will be one of nine rookies in the race.

Nandor Fa, 63 took part in the second Vendee Globe in 1992 and took fifth place. He also knows the risks, in 1996 he had to give up after a collision.

“There are eight or nine skippers in with a chance of winning, for the rest of us the aim is to finish this personal adventure in the best conditions,” said Wilson.

The others agreed.

“I have a long way to go and I’m no spring chicken,” said Heerema. But he insisted the position does not matter.

“My challenge is to complete the voyage. Make it all the way around the world alone.”



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