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29 May 2003, 09:48 am
Great American II Arrives in New York
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Great American II Arrives in New York© Billy Black

China Tea Trade Clipper Ship Route
New York

A legendary sailing ship record that has remained untouched for a century and a half toppled on Tuesday night (subject to ratification) when the trimaran Great American II sailed into New York Harbour, 72 days out of Hong Kong.

Yesterday morning, American adventurers Rich WILSON (USA and Rich DU MOULIN (USA) were greeted by cheering family and supporters as their 53-foot sailboat passed the Statue of Liberty soon after 10:00 AM (local time).

"Two and a half months at sea is a long, long time for a classroom session . . . but it was worth every minute!" said WILSON, skipper of the Great American II, as he and DU MOULIN stowed their ship's sails at Chelsea Piers on Manhattan's West Side. For their entire journey, two men have been communicating with 360,000 school children who were following a series of lesson plans linked to the voyage, on WILSON's www.sitesalive.com web site and in the Newspaper In Education program for schools.

Great American's time from Hong Kong on the 15,000 mile passage to the Ambrose Light Tower off Sandy Hook at the entrance to New York Harbour was 72 days 21 hours 11 minutes and 38 seconds. Her time eclipsed the record of 74 days, 14 hours set by the extreme clipper ship Sea Witch in the China tea trade in 1849. The record, which is one day and 17 hours faster than the old mark, has been reported to the World Sailing Speed Record Council for formal ratification.

Although 154 years of technological development separated these two vessels, WILSON and DU MOULIN struggled to keep pace with the ghost of the 192-foot clipper ship, as they trailed her several times in the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

"This voyage was never straightforward," said WILSON, recounting their day by day battle with the Sea Witch. "Every time we turned around, we were behind that great clipper ship . . . We have lots of appreciation for those great sailors who went before us. Even with the technological advances we enjoyed, we learned not to take any of that for granted. The ocean is a great leveler."

WILSON is already planning future projects for his non-profit sitesALIVE Foundation, in Boston, Massachusettes, with the aim of training teachers to make effective use of communications technology in their classrooms. Another goal is to identify funding sources for schools and school districts with insufficient resources to tap the full power of computers and technology. DU MOULIN, who is also Vice-Commodore of the Storm Trysail Club, will be briefly at the desk of his Intrepid Shipping Company in Stamford, Connecticut, before helping to run the Club's biennial Block Island Race Week at Block Island, Rhode Island in late June.

This was the first time that DU MOULIN, a former America's Cup racer, has undertaken a passage of such duration. "I had to have an element of competition in this," said DU MOULIN. "I had to have the daily benchmark--so I was keeping all these statistics, my own tally. Until we got to the Northeast tradewinds off of Brazil, ten of the eleven fastest daily passages were held by Sea Witch. The Sea Witch could handle the heavy seas of the Indian Ocean. She could charge through them doing 300-miles days, one after another, while we had to slow down in those conditions. Our advantage was in the light stuff. Taking Sea Witch on in the trade routes was a bigger challenge than people realise."

On arrival, both men said time with their families and fresh food were their top priorities as they prepared to return to their normal business life after weeks cooped up in the tiny cabin of their wave-tossed boat. Without the benefits of refrigeration they were limited for most of the voyage to a diet of freeze-dried, preserved and packaged food.

Fatigued but buoyant, WILSON reported their arrival off New York Harbour to the Sandy Hook pilot vessel on Tuesday night after a frustrating day of slow sailing in calms and light airs that followed in the wake of wet and squally weather that drenched New York.

Hailing the pilots on VHF radio, WILSON employed the traditional vernacular of the era of sail. "Sandy Hook pilots, this is the sailing vessel Great American II," WILSON said. "We are 72 days out of Hong Kong by way of Sunda Strait, Cape Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope, bound for New York. We request you log the finish time of our voyage at Ambrose Light."

Great American's return to New York Harbour marked the completion of a brace of record passages - the just-finished voyage from Hong Kong, plus one from New York to Melbourne, Australia last year when she smashed the record set by the American extreme clipper ship Mandarin as she carried prospectors to the Australian Gold Rush in the winter of 1855-56.

Even though they broke the record on Tuesday night with their arrival at Ambrose Light, the two men continued sailing overnight, waiting out calms and light winds until a light breeze carried Great American II across her original 2001 starting line this morning at the Statue of Liberty. The tug Zachery Reinauer was on hand to record the finish and was joined by the tugs Miriam Moran and Baltic Sea, plus well wishers and supporters on several other boats.

In 1993 WILSON sailed the same boat around treacherous Cape Horn from San Francisco to New York, breaking the record of the clipper ship Northern Light and setting a new mark of 69 days 20 hours. A prior attempt in 1990 in a previous Great American trimaran nearly ended in tragedy when she capsized in hurricane force winds and giant seas off Cape Horn. WILSON and his crewman were rescued in a daring feat of seamanship by the containership New Zealand Pacific that went to their aid.

Some 360,000 schoolchildren followed the adventure of Great American II on a daily basis through the sitesALIVE! educational program at www.sitesALIVE.com. Students have been schooled in math, science, history, language arts, and the hard lessons of life at sea, through the unique Internet-based programs Wilson has created around his record runs across the world's oceans.

Keith Taylor (As Amended by ISAF Secretariat)
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