A Gale or a Lobster?

A gale sidetracks the trip to the Arctic, prompting a stop on the island of Nantucket.

July 21, 2015

We were heading for Newfoundland and wound up in Nantucket. The first time I sailed alone across the Atlantic in 2008 I was heading for Iceland and wound up in England. In my defense I had a late start in 2008 and then got nailed by tropical storm Christabel in nearly the exact same location we are in right now. Christabel blew hard enough that some other guy sailing alone had to get rescued off his boat. My dad heard about it somehow and thought it was me who was rescued. After the storm I realized I could make it to Iceland but I wouldn’t make it back down again before the season changed and the fall weather began, so I changed course for England. This time was a bit less dramatic but was still weather related.

After the first night at sea and the massive frontal boundary passed the winds died and remained light. We were slowing motoring along when I starting seeing easterly headwinds in the forecast. At first they were forecasted at 15kts, then 20kts, then 25kts. With easterly headwinds we can can’t sail east, we can only go north or south. Trying to get to the Arctic by going south makes no sense at all, so north would have been our only option. The forecast continued to get worse, 30kts, 35kts. I really don’t like stopping once we have started but if we were to stay at sea and head north we would get hit by a gale right on the nose (check picture of forecast). The closest port was Nantucket only 50 miles to the north. I asked Nikki, “Dear would you like a gale or a lobster” she looked at me funny and said “lobster please”, so we were off to Nantucket.

All I knew of Nantucket was its whaling history, I had no idea how high tony the place had become. We pulled into port and were about to grab a mooring ball when I found out they want $75 a night. What? $75 to tie off to a mooring ball? I’ve sailed all over Europe and the US and have never seen a mooring that costs more than $25. Welcome to Nantucket.


We motored passed the overpriced mooring field and dropped anchor. We had some time before the gale hit so we went ashore and played tourist. It felt very strange to stop and smell the roses (there are a lot of roses in Nantucket). In the past we always just stayed at sea until we had collected our data. We went to the whaling museum, walked all over town, I ate a 2lb lobster and it was all quite nice. Even though I knew a gale was coming I still had a hard time blocking out the voice in my head telling me “you should be a sea right now”.

We pulled anchor and tucked into a more protected part of Nantucket bay. It blew hard and rained even harder. Instead of battling the gale at sea we just went to bed. We left the Smithsonian’s PCO2 sensor on during the gale (the PCO2 device measures ocean acidification, more or less). It will be interesting to see if there are any changes to the amount of carbon in the water as a low pressure system passes by. It was a battle keeping the sensor working as it kept sucking up eel grass and clogging. The research doesn’t stop just because the boat has stopped.

The moment the wind shifted from east to southwest we pulled anchor and pushed out to sea. On the way out we passed a sailboat that had broken free of its mooring and was laying half submerged on the jetty. The poor boat died in that gale. Usually sailboats are not lost at sea in some big storm, often they are lost due to neglect. In this case it was an old mooring line chafed through. What a shame.


For the first 24 hours the seas were still very lumpy and the wind died down. This is a horribly uncomfortable situation, without wind to pin us over we get tossed by the seas something awful. All things come to pass and we have been mostly motoring since. Right now we are motoring into a current which is slowing us considerably. There are good winds in the forecast and by tomorrow we should be sailing along nicely. We need good wind as we still have a long way to go.

Fortitudine Vicinimus

–Matt Rutherford

The gale that passed over Nantucket and sidetracked the expedition. Matt Rutherford
Some boats are lost to negligence, but this unfortunately was the result of a snapped mooring line. Matt Rutherford

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