The Whitbread Around the World Race – 1993-1994

Fall, Winter, Spring, 1993-94

Late in the summer after our successful Voyage of Great American II, Ocean Challenge was contacted by the American Sail Advancement Program (ASAP). They are a sailing industry promotion group, and saw that what we had done in bringing our GA2 project to the general public and to schools, was useful to promoting sailing.

They offered to fund us to do a small program off the Whitbread Around the World Race. The Whitbread, as it is called, is a sailing race from England to Uruguay to Australia to New Zealand to Uruguay to USA to England. Boats 60 feet or 80 feet long enter, with full crews of between 12 and 18 sailors each.

Without time to organize any Newspaper in Education programs, (the race was to start within 3 weeks of our agreement!!), we decided to produce a newsletter link between teachers and the race.

Reviewing various Prodigy and AOL bulletin boards, one by one, we found people who expressed interest in the idea, and signed up for the subscription. Whitbread Race officials thought that their manly crews would be too busy for any communications with classrooms, although Whitbread had produced a good teacher’s package, which we bought with the right to resell in the US.

Contacting each skipper or program manager individually of the 14, only one skipper, Nancy Frank of the U.S. Women’ Challenge, committed her team to answer student’s questions. This was critical to bringing reality into the classroom – to have this virtually live contact. Once again, as with GA2, we would use the Inmarsat-C system of communication, in which 4 satellites, evenly spaced around the world in geostationary orbits, can link our computer to theirs onboard.

The race set out, and Lyon Osborn, our Program Manager from GA2, and I produced 37 weeks worth of 2 page newsletters. Sometimes we would get journals or Q&A from the Women’s Team on Monday morning, incorporate it into the newsletter which was then faxed overnight to the teachers for receipt the next morning. It was really FAST! The teachers and students loved it, and it proved once again, the potency of this type of education.

The crew aboard US Women’s Challenge enjoyed the participation, saying that it made them feel as if others were rooting for them, and that it mattered elsewhere, namely in classrooms, about the example that they were setting. Even after Nancy Frank departed the boat after the first leg, the crew, with new skipper Dawn Riley, decided to continue to participate. They did a terrific job.

Halfway through the race, another boat, Dolphin & Youth, a British boat, decided to participate as well, and they were terrific also, regularly participating even though suffering some significant equipment breakdowns en route.

The icing on the cake for us was when the Whitbread Race Officials began publishing our Q&A interactions in their official, glossy, monthly review!

We uploaded all the interactions into a special area on the Compuserve Sailing Forum, through the kindness of Keith Taylor, Sysop there.

During the year, ASAP, had indicated their desire to fund us to do a larger program through the Newspaper in Education program again. At this time, we learned about the terrific program Class Afloat, and understood instinctively that it was unique, and would be a terrific focal event for a large school program.