Battered and Worn After 20,000 Miles and 254 Days At Sea, Solo Sailor Anticipating Arriving Home

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Matt Rutherford on Final Leg of Record-Breaking Trip Around the Americas, Attempting to Raise $250,000 for CRAB Handicapped Sailing

Leaving Annapolis on the 27-foot St. Brendan, June 2011

When he finishes the last 5,000-mile stretch of his journey, Matt Rutherford will be the first person to solo-sail around North and South America.

With supplies running low and equipment failures becoming more frequent, solo sailor Matt Rutherford is racing for home. Eight months and 20,000 miles into his solo sail around North and South America, he has passed Rio de Janeiro off the coast of Brazil and is steering north for his final destination, the Chesapeake Bay. His network of supporters hopes that he and his 27-foot sailboat, St. Brendan, hold together that long.

Rutherford’s 25,000-mile journey is roughly equivalent to the distance around the Earth’s equator. He is making this incredible trip to raise $250,000 – $10 for each nautical mile – for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (C.R.A.B.), an Annapolis, Md., nonprofit that makes sailing available to persons with disabilities.

After 254 days at sea, much of his equipment is broken or jury-rigged. His engine starter no longer works, making him completely dependent on sail. The bilge pump is kaput – so he bails bilge water with a can – as are his freighter radar for detecting oncoming ships, solar panels for powering electronics, and VHF radio for talking to other vessels. Not able to generate power, he can’t even turn on his laptop to check the weather or post blog entries via satellite. And the last hand-pumped desalinator, his only source of drinking water, is making strange noises.

“I’ve lost my Bernard Moitessier mindset – thinking of sailing endlessly in an oceanic utopia,” he wrote on February 22. “It’s been replaced by a much more realistic idea that I need to get back to land before this whole boat falls apart. I’m riding close to the edge and it wouldn’t take much for me to go over.”

The situation has gotten so bad that an emergency resupply is being launched from the port city of Recife, Brazil. He will receive a handle to manually start his engine, a bilge pump, a desalinator and lights.

Rutherford has sailed through some of the most dangerous seas on Earth, including the ice-filled Northwest Passage and storm-tossed Cape Horn. The grueling trip is taking its toll on him and St. Brendan. He stands 10-hour shifts at the helm, handles the rigging in every kind of weather, and when he isn’t snatching some sleep in his damp bunk, he is on watch. And all on a 36-year old Albin Vega sailboat designed for weekend jaunting, not circling continents.

When he finishes the last 5,000-mile stretch of his journey, the 30-year-old Maryland resident will earn a singular place in the record books. He will be the first person to solo-sail around North and South America, completing the trip in about 300 days. And in all that time, he will not have stopped at a port, dropped anchor, left his boat or had another person on board.

As amazing a feat as this will be, Rutherford is chiefly motivated to show people, particularly those with disabilities, that there are no limits to what can be accomplished in life. He is also raising money for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), a nonprofit sailing program for people with disabilities based in Annapolis, Md. The nonprofit hopes to raise $250,000, which will go toward retrofitting CRAB’s current fleet of four sailboats, purchasing new handicap-accessible racing boats and modifying fishing boat for wheelchair accessibility.

So far, there is still a way to go on fundraising, much like Matt’s journey. Donations can be made online at http://www.crab-sailing.org or by calling 410-626-0273.

“We are extremely proud of Matt and grateful for his dedication to our cause,” said Dan Backe, executive director and founder of CRAB. “Because of his journey, many disabled people will get to experience the thrill of sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, gain confidence and improve their overall lives.”

A big welcome-home party is planned when Rutherford drops anchor at the National Sailing Center & Hall of Fame dock in Annapolis on or near April 14. His friends from CRAB, a large section of the Mid-Atlantic sailing community, city and state officials, and hundreds of other supporters will cheer him and his remarkable achievement.

To track Rutherford’s progress, map his course and read his ongoing blog about the trip, go to
http://www.solotheamericas.org/.

About CRAB
Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB) is a non-profit organization based in Annapolis, Maryland, that provides opportunities for people with physical and developmental challenges to experience boating on the Chesapeake Bay. Founded by Don Backe in 1991, CRAB maintains a fleet of Freedom Independence 20 sloops, which are designed specifically for use by mobility-challenged persons. To learn more about CRAB, visit: http://www.crab-sailing.org.

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