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Matt Rutherford Launches Ocean Research Project

Ocean Research Project - Ice in the NW Passage. Photo by Matt Rutherford during his Around the America’s expedition last summer.
Ocean Research Project – Ice in the NW Passage. Photo by Matt Rutherford during his Around the America’s expedition last summer.

I last wrote about Matt Rutherford in the May edition – Math Rutherford Completes Around the Americas. At the time, Matt had just returned from his record-setting voyage around North and South America, sailing into the Chesapeake Bay and closing the circle on one of the greatest sailing accomplishments in history. Aboard St Brendan, a donated 27-foot Albin Vega sloop, Matt sailed north from Annapolis, through the legendary Northwest Passage (becoming recognized by the Scott Polar Institute as piloting the smallest-ever craft single-handed through it), between the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and way south to Cape Horn, before returning again 309 days later.

Since his triumphant return, Matt has enjoyed considerable celebrity in the sailing world, but also in the greater society in general. His first public speaking engagement was on the City Dock in Annapolis, literally moments after stepping ashore for the first time in nearly a year. The gathered crowd was buzzing with excitement, yet there was a palpable anxiety about what he might actually say. After all, he’d been alone for nearly a year, and certainly no one can be sure how that kind of experience can alter one’s mental state.

The audience needn’t have worried. Following a brief address by sailing legend Gary Jobson, who’s become one of Matt’s mentors and biggest supporters, Matt regaled the crowd with stories of ice and narwhals, storms in Alaska and rainbows at Cape Horn, and it was immediately apparent that Matt was indeed a special kind of sailor, and a special kind of person.

The next stop was an exclusive dinner party at the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, hosted by Gov. Martin O’Malley and his wife. Matt brought the house down during a 45-minute presentation of his audacious voyage in front of a very discerning audience, and set the standard for what would become a whirlwind speaking tour over the summer, including stops in Los Angeles and Chicago, plus a TED talk in Maryland.

Matt completed the entire endeavor as an audacious fundraising effort for Chesapeake Regional Accessible Boating, CRAB for short, which through the inspiration of its founder Don Backe, himself a paraplegic, aims to help the physically and mentally disabled enjoy time on the water. Matt’s combination of a love of exploration – “He really sees himself as an explorer,” his sister Rachel says – and an even stronger desire to do good in the world has helped him raise more than $100,000 for CRAB. And it’s that same desire that’s prompted his next great endeavor.

Ocean Research Project


Matt is hoping to roll his newfound celebrity into a series of crewed expeditions to benefit the foundation that he recently founded and is calling the Ocean Research Project.

The Ocean Research Project is a nonprofit science and public outreach organization dedicated to gathering scientific data that will enable improved characterization of the global oceans and coastal areas,” Matt says through the foundation’s mission statement. “In addition to collecting useful scientific data, Ocean Research Project will create educational documentaries promoting sailing and discussing the various problems and potential solutions for our changing oceans.”

The first planned expedition will be to the Arctic to gather data on ocean and permafrost conditions and create an engaging educational documentary. Since meeting Matt in 2010 we have since become close friends. The first thing Matt asked me on his return in Annapolis in April was “wanna go to the Arctic?” It was an easy answer.

Matt is set to lead the Arctic expedition with myself along as first mate, my wife Maria Karlsson along as chef/logistics officer, Jamin Greenbaum, a polar scientist who has been working closely with the Polar Scott Institute at the University of Cambridge and the University of Texas along as head researcher, an additional scientist, and an as-yet-to-be-named filmmaker.

“This first project will begin in June 2013 and will be sailing to the extreme north of Baffin Bay near Greenland, and traversing the polar ice cap to the Chukchi Sea off Russia. The trip will take 4 ½ to 5 months and cover roughly 10,000 miles from Chesapeake Bay to the Artic and southern Alaska,” Matt says. “Ice melt is hard to predict ahead of time so there are various routes that could be explored depending on the temperature differences for that year.”

September is a big month for us, as we’re officially making the project public and will start the fundraising efforts in earnest for the first of the expeditions to the Arctic. We’re currently in talks about a suitable boat. “What he’s trying to say,” said Don Backe at the governor’s mansion, as Matt, humble as he is, struggled to explain exactly what he was seeking for his next project, “is that he needs a 50-foot steel boat!” We plan to have the framework for the documentary in place by the New Year.

“The Ocean Research Project is committed to developing and conducting expeditions to various locations throughout the world to collect data to aid the scientific community and to create documentaries that are both educational and fun to watch,” Matt concludes in the foundation’s mission statement.

For more information on Matt Rutherford’s Around the America’s voyage and to read his blog in its entirety, visit solotheamericas.org. To learn more about the Ocean Research Project or to donate, visit oceanresearchproject.org.

Andy Schell is the former editor of All At Sea Southeast. He’s currently in Scotland sailing his yawl Arcturus towards Sweden with his wife Mia. Contact or follow them online at fathersonsailing.com.

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