A Voyage To Inspire

Matt Rutherford's voyage around the Americas doesn't have the glitz of a high-tech sailing campaign, but that's what makes his accomplishment all the more inspiring.

By all means celebrate the fact that that Banque Populaire just circumnavigated the globe non-stop in the Jules Verne Trophy record time of 45 Days, 13 Hours, 42 Minutes. Banque Pop is a spectacular, monster tri that measures in at 131-feet and is the fastest oceangoing sailboat ever built. Her professional crew, ably skippered by the supremely talented Loick Peyron, sailed smart and fast and deserves full credit for taking almost three days off the old record.

But when you are done wiping the champagne spray off, and the flashbulbs and red flares have stopped blinding you, I urge you to take note of another extraordinary voyage that is equally—and perhaps even more—heroic: 30-year old Matt Rutherford's circumnavigation of the Americas: 23,000 miles, solo and non-stop through the Northwest Passage and around Cape Horn, in a 27-foot Albin Vega. Wow.

It's always easy to be impressed and entranced by the glitz of a top-end, high-tech sailing campaign like Banque Pop. You've got crew whose names you recognize! Daily audio updates! YouTube videos of the Southern Ocean and Christmas dinner!

But my heart is always with the humble sailors like Rutherford, who dream big, work hard, save their pennies, fit out whatever sailboat—no matter how unlikely--they can lay their hands on, and then somehow manage to undertake astonishing voyages.

Rutherford is no Walter Mitty. He sailed across the Atlantic twice on his 32-foot Pearson, before getting involved with a great Annapolis sailing outfit called CRAB (Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating). While there, Rutherford, decided to solo the Americas, and raise money and awareness for CRAB (plus, watch a news report on Rutherford's voyage).

Simply sailing the Northwest Passage is considered a feat. Adding on all the rest of it, including Cape Horn, and doing it non-stop and solo would make Bernard Moitessier and Vito Dumas proud.

And Rutherford has patiently and steadily laid down the miles. He mastered the Northwest Passage, the smallest sailboat ever to do so, and last week rounded Cape Horn. He’s on the final, return leg to Annapolis and you can only hope his luck holds and that he suffers no major gear failures or runs into anything. It’s hard not to love a guy who laughs at the wind, and sounds as if he is having the time of his life at the bottom of the Earth:

“I brought in the New Year in a gale. I was in the mood for some excitement so it was entertaining. Sometimes gales are absolutely annoying but other times they can be good fun. I’m talking about a gale not a full ocean storm; a true storm is never fun. Anyway, I was thinking about wave patterns laying in my sleeping bag when a wave hit that filled my cockpit so full of water that water was pouring down from my companionway hatch into my cabin. I thought it was humorous, as I was just thinking about that right before it happened. I’ve become desensitized. It’s pretty funny to think I’m rounding Cape Horn without a dodger, or any canvas for that matter. My dodger was so badly damaged in the Bering Sea that there is no use trying to fix it. I don’t need a dodger, I have a paintball mask. Between my Paintball mask and my mustang survival suit I look like a heavy weather ninja (Karate chopping waves).”

Plus, he ends every blog post with a "FORTITUDINE VINCIMUS," which means "By endurance we conquer," and happens to be the Shackleton family motto. Perfect, right?

We can all fantasize about what it would be like to drive a maxi-trimaran at speed through the ice and seas of the Southern Ocean. But it is fantasy because that’s not an option for all but a few. The magic in a voyage like Rutherford’s is that it is a voyage that is possible for anyone who has the gumption and commitment to make it happen. That is truly inspiring. So I will be watching Rutherford as he sails north toward the Equator and home. And maybe I will even start looking for a used Albin Vega. What about you?