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Solo sailing star's passion = busy environmental schedule

by Nancy Knudsen on 12 Jul 2014
Matt Rutherford and Nicole Trenholm, common environmental passions .. .
Matt Rutherford, who came to prominence in the non-competitive sailing world by completing a non-stop solo journey around the Americas in a 27ft boat that looked only fit for an afternoon sail, is now a busy environmentalist. Having just completed a 'plastic-finding' crossing of the Pacific, he and his partner, environmental scientist Nicole Trenholm, are pushing towards their next project.



Having arrived in Yokohama in Japan after an ocean of solitary days to find themselves, as he described it, a 'mass buffalo migration' of commercial ships all around them, they will turn around and go right back. They have to get back to Annapolis to begin a project with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in August, doing a bio-telemetry survey of cow-nosed rays on a 21-day voyage up and down the Chesapeake Bay.

Next year Rutherford and Trenholm, working with the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute, will sail to eastern Greenland for a oceanographic and glacier survey of the Helheim glacier, which has retreated several miles up Sermilik fjord in the past decade.

But that is not to downplay the amazing voyage they have just completed. Their arrival into Yokohama, just beating super-typhoon Neoguri into port, ended a 63 day, 6,850nm non-stop voyage in their 30ft sailing boat.

Matt was forever changed by his solitary voyage around the Americas, which took him 10 months and demonstrated to him how badly the oceans need our help.



As a result, together Rutherford and Trenholm have formed the Ocean Research Project, whose goal is to do oceanographic research from a small platform. This was their second major voyage to capture samples of the minute plastic bits that float in the world’s oceans.

It was also the first coast-to-coast, trans-Pacific Ocean plastics research voyage, Rutherford said.

Last year the pair sailed into the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic and collected thousands of samples of plastics, some still being analyzed in labs in Baltimore and Japan.

The latest voyage set out from Oakland, California, in mid-April, two weeks later than planned because the boat they were to use, a Harbor 29, had not been completed and Matt ended up helping to build the boat when he should have been at sea.

The delay meant they would get to their destination at the beginning of typhoon season. But they were lucky, making into port in the middle of the night on July 2, six days before Neoguri started taking aim at Japan.

'That is a huge storm for this early in the season. It would have certainly killed us,' Rutherford said via email from Japan early Wednesday.

The journey, he said, was successful in gathering yet more plastics. As in Rutherford and Trenholm’s previous voyages, but just as they thought they were 'home clear', disaster almost struck.

After passing Wake Island, with about 1,500 miles to go, they noticed a bowing in the deck where the mast was secured. Jury-rigging commenced, and the pair were able to wedge wood and a piece of spare spinnaker pole into place, secured by fiberglass resin.

With the mast secure, they thought it was a good time to change their head sail. But a fitting failed and the sail would not budge. More jury-rigging ensued.

As they neared Japan, and after a week of steady rain, the pair approached a very strong current, much like the Gulf Stream off Maryland’s shore — just as word of the gale that became Neoguri was coming in.

'As the sun rose … we could clearly see the Japanese mainland,' Rutherford wrote in his last blog entry. 'We pushed the boat as hard as possible and made it to the entrance to Yokohama.'

Which is where this story began - after all those weeks of solitary sailing, tired from their recent complications, they were suddenly, frighteningly, surrounded by hundreds of 'charging buffaloes' in the form of ships in one of the busiest harbours in the world.

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