to raise money and awareness for the organization. Word spread, and another club
member offered a 40-year-old, 27-foot Albin
Vega. I named her St. Brendan, and in 2011
I set sail north. I’d committed to go as far as
the Northwest Passage, but couldn’t leave
the boat in Alaska, and the Panama Canal
was expensive to transit. So before I knew it,
the voyage had morphed into 309 days alone
sailing 27,077 miles nonstop around North
and South America. The best bit was that we
managed to raise almost $120,000 for CRAB.
It was an epic journey. There was the
Arctic ice, the fog of the Bering Straits, and
the frigid Northwest Passage. There was the
giant wave in the Bering Sea that forced St.
Brendan over and buried the mast deep in
cold turbulent water. A gale in the Gulf of
Alaska threw me across my boat, Kindle
in hand, breaking one of my only forms of
entertainment, and I ended up having to read
books one line at a time on my smartphone.
Mid-Pacific I beat into the southeast trade
winds for 41 days, resulting in a persistent
leak below the waterline. Both my manual
and electric bilge pumps broke down, so
I bailed out every four hours. Then there
were the Roaring 40s and Furious 50s as I
plowed forward toward the great Southern
Cape that has stoked mariners’ dreams and
nightmares for centuries.
“After 206 continuous days at sea,” I wrote
in my log, “chills go up my spine as I finally see
Cape Horn through the rain clouds, only three
miles away! I see rainbows, and notice a bird
swimming quickly through the water. Wait. It’s
not a normal bird, it’s a penguin! They’re all
around the boat now, spinning and darting, playing in the waves. Above me, giant albatross soar
through the air. Now, all of the Americas is to my
north. I’ve reached my furthest point south. I can
turn north and head for home.”
Somewhere during those days, I realized
that all the goals I’d set for myself seemed to
be ones where I was running away from the
pains of my youth. I wondered, does going to
sea alone make you brave, or a coward? I also
wondered where I fit into society. I’d had a
hard time discovering that on land. When I
finally got back to Annapolis, I didn’t know
where home was. It had been years since I’d
lived in any one place for a time. But I came
back knowing what I wanted most out of life.
It was in the hard times that I’d found the
key to myself. I’m 33 now and have learned,
for me, that reward lives in the house of risk.
In August 2012, I started a nonprofit
called the Ocean Research Project (www.
OceanResearchProject.org), and now I sail to
remote parts of the planet with scientists collecting ocean data. I hope to spend the rest of
my life helping solve the problems facing our
changing oceans. I also have a great partner
now, on the boat and in my life. Nicole was
an NOAA scientist who used to race sailboats
before we met two years ago. These days,
we’re working on the first-ever continent-to-continent marine-debris survey to Japan. Our
lives are good. We’re happy.
If I could talk to my teenage self? I’d tell
him to hang in there, that it will get better.
I’d tell him to find a mentor or teacher he
can trust. After all, it just takes one person to
inspire you; so when you find that person,
listen to him or her. I’d tell him, don’t be
afraid of hard work ... keep learning, keep
exploring ... that exploration is the physical
expression of intellectual passion. And that it
does a boy good to dream.
Matt Rutherford and his team recently left
Oakland, California, aboard Sakuru, a Harbor
29, on the first-ever continent-to-continent
marine-debris survey. They will sail 6,500
nautical miles to Fukuoka, Japan, using a high-speed trawl net to generate data with the aim
of completing the longest marine plastics
survey in history.
Left: After persistent leaks below the
waterline, broken bilge pumps, and rough
weather in the Roaring 40s and Furious
50s, Matt rounded Cape Horn in clearing
weather with a full moon and eventually
completed his 27,000-mile voyage
Below: The author smiles from his boat,
St. Brendan, as he arrives back in Annapolis after his solo nonstop voyage.