By THERESA WINSLOW
The Capital of Annapolis
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — For three months, Matt Rutherford’s home has been a sailboat so tiny he has to crawl around the cabin. He’d hit his head if he tried to stand up.
The cushions are constantly wet, as is his pillow, which is moldy. His clothes and books also have mold.
When he hit Baffin Bay near Greenland, there was so much ice he couldn’t really sleep for hundreds of miles. The water was too cold to do laundry, and even if he could wash his clothes, they’d never dry on the 35-year-old Albin Vega he’s dubbed the ST Brendan, in honor of the 6th-century explorer.
All the while, he’s been dodging storms on the 27-foot boat. He also suffered through a fuel tank leak which left everything on the boat reeking of diesel.
“It’s a bit like living in a small, wet cave, except my cave doesn’t stay still,” said Rutherford, who communicated through email.
He just completed the Northwest Passage — and guess what.
He wants more. Rutherford still has at least seven months of travel ahead in his solo circumnavigation of the Americas. He left in June and probably won’t finish the 23,000-mile, non-stop journey until sometime in late April or early May.
“I don’t think there has been any one moment that was most satisfying,” he said. “Every day, I have small victories and defeats.”
Rutherford’s not doing this merely to challenge himself, but also to raise money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB). He has a blog on his website, http://www.solotheamericas.org, and his latest entry from Sept. 12 tells of being “hammered by storms” for days before being back on the move and spotting Russia.
“My morale is bit bruised,” he said, “but my inner-Shackleton is as strong as ever.”
One of Rutherford’s heroes is legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Rutherford’s friends consider the 29-year-old Annapolis resident a hero.
“He’s proven himself before, but this is quite a giant leap,” said Don Backe, executive director of CRAB. “It’s a tribute to his determination. I call him the nautical MacGyver.”
Rutherford’s counter-clockwise route will take him south until he reaches Cape Horn in South America. From there, he’ll head north past the Caribbean until he returns to Annapolis.
Before he left, Rutherford was most worried about making it through the Northwest Passage, given the frigid weather and the route’s equally chilly reputation among sailors. A polar institute informed him he set a record for the smallest boat ever to traverse those waters.
“I didn’t get trapped in the ice and I made it through in one piece,” he said. “That’s all I can ask for.”
But the challenges are far from over. Backe and others said Cape Horn itself is no bargain.
“Most people I know would have bailed out long ago,” said Simon Edwards. “This trip shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Edwards runs a local yacht delivery business and had Rutherford as his crew for about 10,000 miles. He’s monitoring his friend’s progress and helping him troubleshoot when he can.
“Knowing what he’s up against, I can respect the incredible achievement of it,” Edwards said. “(But) I wouldn’t say I’m surprised at all.”
One of the biggest hurdles for Rutherford is being alone for so long. The mental toll is often more taxing than the physical obstacles.
“Loneliness comes and goes like the rise and fall of the tide,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about it, so I try not to let it bother me. Being alone at sea is all mental. I have a strong mind, so I can handle it. Being alone on land is emotional, therefore, it’s much harder.”
Rutherford has no Internet access, and his satellite phone is for emails, not conversations, because of the expense. And he doesn’t email often to further keep costs down.
Nevertheless, he’s without regrets.
“People don’t climb Mount Everest or K2 for fun, they do it for the challenge,” he said. “If it was easy, everyone would do it…Can a person truly appreciate the good times if they’ve never had the bad? I knew this trip would be hardest thing I’ve ever done long before I left.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://www.hometownannapolis.com/
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)