Rutherford Follows Around-the-Americas with Scientific Expedition

After Matt Rutherford became the first in history to sail solo and nonstop around North and South America in 2012, he asked, “What’s next?” In early 2013, he founded the Ocean Research Project (ORP) and set out to use sailboats as research vessels.
Author:
Publish date:
top-600x

After Matt Rutherford became the first in history to sail solo and nonstop around North and South America in 2012, he asked, “What’s next?” In early 2013, he founded the Ocean Research Project (ORP) and set out to use sailboats as research vessels. Unlike his previous voyages, which included two solo Atlantic crossings, the ORP’s mission is research-based. The sailing is secondary—simply a means of transportation. 

 Former NOAA researcher Nicole Trenholm

Former NOAA researcher Nicole Trenholm

Teaming up with Rutherford is former NOAA researcher Nicole Trenholm, who secured tens of thousands of dollars of equipment from NOAA and other organizations to study the density of the plastic waste in the North Atlantic Gyre—the ugly cousin to the Pacific Garbage Patch. In May, the pair set sail from the Chesapeake aboard the Colvin schooner Ault, bound for the eastern Atlantic and the Azores.

“We were at sea for 73 days,” says Rutherford. “Nicole, despite never having been offshore, is passionate about the science and didn’t care how long it took.” 

The primary research required the pair to tow a manta net, collect tiny plastic particles suspended in the seawater, tag them and stow for the return voyage. It was round-the-clock work, hauling and lowering, tagging and bottling. Simultaneously, they took hourly weather readings and tracked tagged wildlife to report back to NOAA as a “vessel of opportunity.” 

They returned on August 15, and distributed their samples to research organizations. NOAA and Baltimore’s Underground Science Space are looking for organic life that hitched a ride on the plastic, while the University of Tokyo’s Pellet Watch Program is analyzing for toxicity, examining how chemicals leech into the ocean—and ultimately the food supply—from the Atlantic Gyre. 

 Matt Rutherford became the first in history to sail solo and nonstop around North and South America

Matt Rutherford became the first in history to sail solo and nonstop around North and South America

Moving forward, Rutherford hopes to work with schools to raise awareness of the health of the oceans and how it affects humankind. He plans to spend the fall researching on the Chesapeake and, in the summer, head back to the Arctic. 

Though there are dozens of vessels conducting research on our oceans, Rutherford believes the ORP is different because it was designed to be a small, flexible, low-cost operation. “Our donations are not going to pay the office electricity bill,” Rutherford jokes—the office, of course, being the Ault. “We don’t have subs, cranes or helicopter pads, so there is some research that cannot be done. But, if we can be 75 percent as effective in collecting data, on just $78 per day, with far environmental impact, then maybe the model can work.” To that end, Ault is fitted with solar and wind generators to remain energy-independent; as a sailboat, it can travel without burning a drop of fuel. 

Like many sailors who attempt to make a living doing what they love, Rutherford is learning there’s a difference between sailing a boat and running an organization. He took out a loan to buy Ault and during the 80-day voyage raised only $700, compared to the $120,000 he raised for the Americas Voyage. 

 Rutherford is learning there’s a difference between sailing a boat and running an organization

Rutherford is learning there’s a difference between sailing a boat and running an organization

“Matt is a very charming person,” say Lin and Larry Pardey, who helped him raise funds for his Americas Voyage. “But he’s a bit naïve when it comes to business planning.” 

Still, Rutherford remains determined. “When I say I’m going to do something, I design my whole life around it,” he says. 

Note: Listen to Rutherford tell the story of the ORP’s expedition on the 59 Degrees North podcast, available on iTunes and at 59-north.com.

Related

Before-and-after-1_silo

Know How: Cleaning Stainless

Without a doubt, the best way to “clean” stainless steel parts is to have them electropolished. Electropolishing is an electrochemical process that cleans the stainless and removes any surface iron particles, leaving a shiny and far more rust-resistant surface. The downsides of ...read more

catstory

Cruising: Sailing With a Young Family

The dark is alive when you are surrounded by water. Black is tinted blue and silver, and sky meets surf with electricity and the lapping sounds of silence. Inside our 36ft catamaran, moored off Cooper Island in the BVI, the raw nature outside, just now settling down from a late ...read more

IslandPacket349

Boat Review: Island Packet 349

After years of quiescence in the wake of the Great Recession, iconic Island Packet is back with its new 349, a re-boot of the old Estero that not only looks great, but takes the Island Packet style of sailing performance to a new level. Design & Construction First among the many ...read more

190219NEEL51

Video Tour: Neel 51 Trimaran

At this past fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, SAIL magazine had a chance to corner Neel Trimarans founder Eric Bruneel and have him give us a tour of the accommodations aboard the new Neel 51, winner of the “Multihull over 50ft” category in the 2019 Best Boats contest. For a complete ...read more

IMG_0173

Electronic “Flares” for Cruisers

The United States Coast Guard requires that all boats operating in coastal waters or on the high seas carry a selection of visual distress signals. Almost invariably, such signals include the pyrotechnic type, either handheld or fired from a flare pistol, but surely there are ...read more

M2-HOOK-TOP-AND-CHAIN-1

Gear: M2 Chain Hook from Mantus

Stay Hooked Chain hooks on anchor snubber lines tend to fall off when you least want them to. Not so this latest example from Mantus. The M2 Chain Hook is secured to the chain by a simple elastic strap, so it won’t come off when the snubber loosens. Made from corrosion-resistant ...read more