Expedition Madness (one week left)

Last year our Atlantic Gyre expedition was delayed two weeks because our sails were late to arrive. This year it is the entire boat.

April 30, 2014

Ocean Research Project, Sakura

Sakura, a new Harbor 29 from W.D. Schock, is Matt Rutherford’s platform for the Trans Pacific Plastic Pollution Survey.

I’m certainly not the first person in history to be scrambling around like a mad man on the eve of a major expedition. It seem that every expedition I’ve been on starts this way. All expeditions start with an idea, but making that idea into a reality is a very complicated process. Ocean sailing is especially difficult because there are so many important, and often expensive elements in the equation, sails, rigging, safety equipment, communications equipment, etc. Not to mention a boat that can handle the rough conditions that can occur in the open ocean.

Sponsorship is one way to gather some of the funding and equipment necessary for an open ocean expedition, but this too is difficult and complicated. First off you have to find a business who makes a good and reliable product and try to convince the owner of the business that what you are doing is aligned with his or her own ideology and will ultimately benefit both parties. You will fail far more than you will succeed but if people believe in what you’re doing then things slowly start to come together. You have to start this process months before your departure date, and typically sponsors will do what they said they would do when they said they would do it. Now this is where things can get really complicated.

Because you are getting, sponsored paying customers will almost always come first. This is completely understandable as a business has to sell their products to stay in business. Once in a while a sponsor will become very busy and you will get bumped further and further back until you start to panic because you are about to leave on an expedition and you don’t have a crucial piece of equipment. Last year our Atlantic Gyre expedition was delayed two weeks because our sails were late to arrive. This year it is the entire boat.


Last October my friend Tom Harkin called me and said he wanted to hang out at the Annapolis boat show. He will be retiring from his senate position in Iowa at the end of 2014 and wants to buy a small sail boat. Before Tom got into politics he sailed quite a bit and dreamed of sailing around the world. Tom wanted to see a WD Schock Harbor 25 at the boat show. While he was climbing around on the boat, the owner of WD Schock recognized me and said “why don’t you sail one of my Harbor 25’s around the Americas”? He was joking of course. I said “you better be careful what you say because I might take you up on that”. That’s how this expedition began.

We don’t have the time or money to bring our research vessel Ault, a 42 foot steel schooner, around from Maryland to California. Even if we did, what am I going to do with a boat in Japan? I called Alexander at WD Schock and told him that I wanted to do a marine plastics survey in the Pacific Ocean to piggyback on last year’s marine plastics expedition in the Atlantic. He told me that WD Schock is going to release a new line of sail boats, the Harbor 29. The Harbor 29 is technically a 30 foot version of a Harbor 25. A 30 footer may seem like a small boat for a 7,000 mile non-stop voyage but its 3 feet bigger than St. Brendan (the boat I sailed around the Americas) 40 years younger and $170,000 more expensive. People generally underestimate small sailboats, there not as comfortable but they can certainly cross an ocean. Ocean Research Project does not own the boat, WD Schock has a dealer in Japan, we will drop it off there when we arrive. WD Schock gets to say, yes it’s a day sailor/ racer but it’s built strong enough to cross an ocean. We get a free boat to do our marine plastics research. It’s a win win situation.

We arrived to the WD Schock factory just south of LA on April 1st. We were hoping the boat would be mostly finished. Alexander had a great influx of new orders and our Harbor 29 was pushed back. We were surprised to see the boats hull still in its mold with no deck, no bulkheads, engine, rudder, keel, wiring, ect. The boat was in pieces, some pieces hadn’t even been made yet. We were supposed to leave April 13th!


Nikki and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We spent the next 8 days working 14 hour shifts grinding fiberglass, cutting wood and working resin. I ground so much fiberglass it looks like I have poison ivy up and down my arms. The whole factory quit what they were doing and got involved and the first Harbor 29 was born. I have done a lot of boat work in the past but I have never helped build one from scratch. On the bright side of things, at least I know the boat well, I built some of its bulkheads!

The experience has been insane but complaining about it wasn’t going to build the boat. We are currently one week behind schedule and hoping to leave April 20th. We need to leave as soon as possible because the later we leave the longer we will be at sea during typhoon season in the western Pacific. I look forward to getting out to sea so I can take a deep breath and relax.

We would like to thank the Save Our Seas Foundation for accepting our grant proposal and supplying us with the funding necessary to complete this expedition.


We believe that while no one can do everything, everyone can do something. Our project is committed to serving the ocean research community. We provide data that explores man’s relationship with our planet’s oceans. Learn more about the Ocean Research Project at


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