To The Arctic!

Longtime sailor and founder of Ocean Research Project, Matt Rutherford, is sailing to Greenland, with the help of several organizations to research our oceans.

July 21, 2015
Matt Rutherford

They say the hardest part of winning a race is getting to the start line. The only thing we are racing is the melting pack ice but damn it was difficult to get this expedition off the ground. For starters we have an older steel boat, abused by previous owners, rotten, rusty, and in need of some serious attention. The vessel’s condition was unavoidable as I was broke when I bought her.

I had just returned from my circumnavigation of the Americas and starting an ocean research organization was my first priority. The paperwork involved with becoming a 501 c 3 (a non-profit) was an expedition in bureaucracy, my least favorite type of expedition. Once Ocean Research Project was an official nonprofit we needed a research boat. I could have waited ten years for someone to donate a proper boat or enough money to buy one, but those weren’t realistic options. I knew the only way to get a research vessel was to borrow as much money as possible and buy what I could afford. Which was a rusty, rotten Colvin Gazelle 42. Don’t get me wrong she had a lot going for her, but she needed some serious loving.

In 2013 we fixed up Ault (our Colvin Gazelle) the best we could and sailed her out into the Atlantic. Our first big international research project brought us to the eastern side of the Atlantic garbage patch. We were dragging a trawl and collecting samples within the Atlantic Garbage patch trying to help scientists better understand how much plastic trash is in that previously unexplored region. All was going well until day 47 when we found an abandoned Swan 47 Wolfhound and tried to drag her 800 miles east to Bermuda. That was a nightmare. We never saved Wolfhound, instead we broke our engine and became trapped in the windless doldrums of the Bermuda-Azores high. We spent 73 days at sea, Nicole never complained once, she is the bravest woman I’ve ever met.


Fast forward to 2014. We continued our marine plastic research, this time in the Pacific. There was no easy way to get Ault from the east coast to the west coast so we convinced WD Schock to allow us to take a Harbor 29 proto type from San Francisco to Japan non-stop. We spent 63 days at sea coving 6,800 miles dragging a trawl and collecting samples across the entire route. When we returned to Annapolis Ault must have found out that we had been cheating on her with another boat, it seemed like everything was broken, as if our boat had committed suicide in our absence.

This projects refit started six months ago. We have been working on her nearly every day, often all day long since January. We hauled her out and lived in a boatyard for six weeks. We grinded, scraped and painted the whole boat. We have added system after system until our vessel became more seaworthy than ever before. If doing a massive refit wasn’t enough we still had to write grants, fundraise and workout all of the scientific objectives. Trying to create a fully functional ocean research organization has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever undertaken. Thank god we are finally out to sea and all of that is behind us.

During our 2015 Greenland Climate Project we will be primarily be working with NASA, The Smithsonian, Five Gyres and S.E.A. We will be conducting ocean acidification research along with lowering a RBR CTD and measuring surface salinity with a RBR thermosalinograph. We will also be dragging a trawl collecting Arctic marine plastics samples. I’ll talk more about the research as the project continues.


We are off to a good start. Dolphins followed us out of the Delaware Bay and into the ocean. We had a perfect 15 knot breeze on our quarter. Then we got hit by a massive frontal boundary and spent half of last night surrounded by lighting hoping not to get hit. That’s the ocean for you, beautiful and peaceful one moment, and crazy as hell the next.

We have 8,000 miles and 100 days to go. We will sail to the furthest corners of Northwest Greenland. I look forward to sailing with the icebergs again!

–Matt Rutherford


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