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He's done it! Sailor sets Around-Americas solo sailing record

by Nancy Knudsen on 21 Apr 2012
Matt Rutherford arrives showing his barnacles from over 300 days of continuous sailing including the North West Passage and rounding Cape Horn .. .
He's done it! With aircraft flying over and people waving, Matt Rutherford crossed the finish line at the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge in Norfolk, Va., at 10:48 a.m. Wednesday, becoming the first solo sailor to circumnavigate North and South America nonstop. Rutherford, who is sailing a 27-foot boat called the St. Brendan, steps on land for the first time today (Saturday) at noon during a public ceremony in Annapolis in Maryland USA.

During his solo journey which lasted ten months - 314 days - he has had every sort of weather and every sort of problem. He has sailed, non-stop, and incredible 23,000 miles. He was almost run over by a freighter and had to fire shotgun rounds into the air so drunken fishermen would steer their boat clear of his boat.

The boat was not purpose built and, after gale conditions, an icy pathway through the North West Passage, then vast miles down the Pacific, then the huge waves of Cape Horn, his boat is showing some wear. The engine is out some time ago, the wind generator and solar panels ceased working, so no power left.


The story:
31-year-old Matt Rutherford left Annapolis on 21st April, with a dream of doing something outrageous - to sail more than 23,000 miles around the Americas to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating( CRAB).

At the time, hardly anyone believed he could do it, and even Matthew was cautious, hoping at first that he could just survive the North West Passage. Defying all the odds, he not only conquered that, but finished the complete rounding of both Americas without touching shore.

'It's like Edmund Hillary going up Mount Everest without Sherpas,' said Lee Tawney, director of the National Sailing Hall of Fame, this week. 'I don't think anybody believed he could do it and he's almost here.'

His boat is a 36-year-old donated 27ft Albin-Vega. It's so small he couldn't stand up in the cabin.

This is how the Washing Post described the moment of his arrival:

Within minutes of his placing his first bare, calloused foot on dry land, they whisked Matt Rutherford away from his joyful family and led him to a makeshift stage in the center of Annapolis's City Dock, where, clad in a crusty floppy hat, a pungent pair of black mesh shorts and the same vintage Popeye T-shirt he had worn at his departure 10 months earlier, he took a seat next to the governor and his wife and gazed out at the hundreds of faces suddenly staring at him.

The incongruity of it all was not lost on him. For 10 months, as he completed a solo, nonstop circumnavigation of the Americas aboard a 27-foot sailboat - a feat certified as unprecedented by the U.S. Sailing Hall of Fame - Rutherford had scarcely had any human contact.

But now, on a gorgeous, breezy Saturday, at the end of a spirited ceremony replete with a Dixieland jazz band, a drum and bugle corps, a bagpiper and speeches by Gov. Martin O'Malley and a half-dozen others, someone was handing him a microphone and - as the crowd roared for the man one speaker called 'our hero' - asking him to say a few words.

'Long time, no see,' Rutherford, 31, said into the mike, with the same familiar combination of awkwardness and comedic timing that those who know him best had missed these last 309 days. He was still barefoot, his toenails brown and gnarled, and thick shocks of dark orange hair spilled out below his hat.

'Being here is like a dream,' he said. 'Any minute I'm going to wake up and be in the middle of the ocean.'

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