The Wild Learner

Explore, adventure, adapt, discover.

Around the World in 80 Days (or less)

Report from the doldrums

Every four years, the IMOCA class sailboats embark on an epic adventure racing solo, without stops, around the world. The race is called the Vendée Globe. The boats themselves are technological wonders, with the fastest foiling versions capable of speeds nearing 30 knots. The sponsoring organization provides a suite of free pedagogical materials for educators teaching from kindergarten through high school, touching on science, engineering, conservation, meteorology, cartography and, my favorite, emotional recognition and regulation. While the sailors don’t stop once they get underway, they can return to the starting port to make repairs and re-start the race within a window of time after the initial start date. This year, two boats returned to port to make repairs and have re-started the race. The deadline for re-starting has now passed, and the rest of the fleet is too far along to return and re-start at this point. In fact, the lead ship crossed the equator today at 1319 GMT.

One of the ships that returned and restarted had been in the lead group for several days before a series of damages occurred, forcing him to return to port. The skipper, Jérémie Béyou, had been a favorite to contend for a top three finish. His team managed to make the significant repairs, and return him to racing one day before the cut-off, and 9 days behind all the other ships. Here with the Wild Learner, we have been discussing what this must be like for him, the disappointment of returning, the uncertainty of whether or not the boat could be repaired in time, and what it would be like to start again, more than a thousand nautical miles behind the next boat. He is no longer competitive in the race, so why is he continuing? What kind of journey will it be, knowing that he cannot win, and might not even finish? The dangers of this circumnavigation are not minor, and lives have been lost in years past. Boats capsize, get dismasted, epic rescues have been attempted. Starting the journey so far behind the others means he will have entirely different weather systems to navigate, and no ship behind him in the event of disaster.

Persistence, fortitude, resilience in the face of disaster, commitment to a goal, and the importance of being adaptable to circumstances – these are just some of the lessons to be gleaned from following this race.  Homeschooling allows us the opportunity to do a deep dive on character development, something that feels even more important in these pandemic days, when caring for others often means being alone, where uncertainty has become ordinary, and adaptability to changing conditions the rule of the day, all while focusing on the connections we can forge and nurture even at a distance; for me, to be following the Vendée Globe provides a condensed reflection of our larger pandemic reality. The skippers, at least some of them, should finish their journey in about another 60 or so days. The rest of us will continue the pandemic journey for much longer, until some new social reality emerges, whether as a result of a successful globally distributed vaccine, or by a wholesale restructuring of how humanity operates, or by something much less dramatic somewhere between those two points.

Fair winds, and fair skies to all.  

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