Carrying two sailing adventurers and a symbolic cargo of tea, the trimaran Great American II departed Hong Kong Harbor yesterday in a bid to set a new sailing record to New York City.
Rich Wilson, 52, from Rockport, Mass., and Rich du Moulin, 56, from Larchmont, NY, are undertaking the non-stop 15,000 mile voyage in an attempt to break a 154-year old passage record but also to break new ground in adventure-based education for K5-12 schoolchildren.
The 53-foot trimaran, home-ported in Rockport, is chasing the time of 74 days and 14 hours, set in 1849 by the legendary clipper ship Sea Witch as she raced home to New England with a cargo of tea from the orient.
If Great American II can beat the clipper ship's pace, Wilson and du Moulin will finish at the Statue of Liberty sometime during the week of May 26. The voyage of Great American II will be followed online by school children from throughout the United States, and students will be able to see how math, sciences such as meteorology and oceanography, and even the lessons of history apply in real-time adventure.
Before their departure, the Director of Hong Kong's Marine Department, Mr. Shung-yiu Tsui made a formal presentation of a carton of tea that the two adventurers will carry to New York.
Great American II crossed a starting line set off the host Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club at noon local time. The starting gun was fired by Robert Bird, general manager of the Yacht Club.
Tacking in bright sunshine and a ten-knot southerly, the trimaran threaded her way through the typical press of harbor traffic, including the green and white Star ferries and a variety of fishing boats.
Life onboard Great American II will be tracked by an estimated 360,000 school children in the education programs Wilson creates on his www.sitesalive.com website for the World Wide Web, for daily newspapers in the wide-ranging Newspaper In Education network, and on the AOL@SCHOOL network.
According to Wilson, the first leg of the passage to New York from Hong Kong through the South China Sea will be an intensive trial. Sailing alternate watches they will weave a course through a labyrinth of islands, reefs, and shoals, and a region heavy with shipping traffic and piracy. They will travel some 2,000 miles before passing through the Sunda Strait and entering the Indian Ocean. From there, Great American II will sail for the southern tip of Africa, round the Cape of Good Hope, and then turn north into the Atlantic Ocean for the passage across the equator to New York.