One Waypoint at a Time
Fueled by Matt Rutherford's incredible determination and resilience, an unlikely solo odyssey takes shape. "Sailor Profile" from our January 2012 issue.
At 65 degrees north, I saw my first iceberg. It looked like a white mountain off in the distance. I was closing in on the pack ice; navigation soon became much more difficult. To the north was an area of pack ice measuring 600 miles north to south and 400 miles east to west. Most of Baffin Bay was still covered in ice. It was impossible to head directly toward the Northwest Passage; I would’ve had to haul the boat over the ice. My only option was to sail up a narrow, ice-free corridor off the coast of Greenland. The corridor was free from the pack ice, sure, but was still full of icebergs of all shapes and sizes. I saw more icebergs than I could count, from giant growlers as big as office buildings to bergy bits the size of Volkswagen Bugs (see more photos of them here).
Icebergs are nature’s sculptures, each one unique; as they melt and break apart, their beauty changes and evolves. Some are bleach white, but most have a tint of blue or sometimes pink. The largest are both majestic and intimidating. They’re amazingly beautifully, but oh, man, it’s hard to sleep when they’re around. Hitting an iceberg would be like running into a giant rock, and the ice would sink my little boat in record time. But I couldn’t dwell on that; I had two days of 15- to 20-knot headwinds in thick fog, and I couldn’t afford radar. Here’s my strategy for sailing through the fog with no radar when surrounded by ice: I stand in the cockpit with one hand on the tiller. My eyes stare straight ahead. I’m ready at every moment to dodge anything that comes out of the fog. Forget about going to the head or cooking a meal. I stand there until the fog leaves or the wind dies. You’d be surprised how the time flies.
When the fog lifts and I jump below, I realize that I’ve been standing out there for 10 hours or more. When I’m deprived of sleep, time becomes a blur. And just because the fog dissipates, it doesn’t mean my watch is over. It just means that I can see how close the next group of icebergs lie. If I have the time, I jump in the cabin, get out of the wind, and warm up. If I really want to spoil myself, I make a cup of coffee. Then it’s back on deck with me.