You’d think that in a voyage of now 310 days – the time Matt Rutherford has been at sea since departing the Chesapeake almost a year ago – that the hardest part would have long since been behind him.
In fact, it’s happening right now.
Matt has the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in sight, and is only a handful of miles from crossing his outward track, making him the first person in history to complete a solo, nonstop voyage around the North and South American continents. He’s already long-ago been recognized by the Scott Polar Institute as piloting the smallest vessel ever through the Northwest Passage, and if the weather cooperates, he’ll make history again in a much bigger way sometime today.
The trouble is, the weather is not cooperating.
The stretch run for Matt has doled out perhaps the toughest conditions he’s faced yet, mentally at least. He’s sleep-deprived trying to keep a watch in the heavy shipping around Hatteras, and he weathered a spring gale just a few days ago on his way north from the Caribbean. And now, with the finish line in sight, he’s run out of wind. Yesterday at this time, he was closer to finishing than he is now, 24 hours later.
But his spirits are high. His friend and old yacht delivery compatriot Simon Edwards and I chatted yesterday on the phone. Simon had just completed another run down to the Caribbean and had intercepted Matt 600 miles off the east coast.
“You can’t believe how good it was to talk to him face to face,” Simon told me on the phone yesterday. “This is just unbelievable what is about to happen when he crosses the finish line.”
I can't agree more. Simon and I were giddy with pride at what's happening with our friend - I talked to Simon on the phone not as a journalist but as a friend and supporter, and suddenly, for both of us, sensibility is kind of our the window. For the first time we're able to release some of the stress we've pent up, especially for Simon, who has organized Matt's resupply efforts in the far-flung places along the way. It's almost over. We can almost relax.
My last real communication from Matt was last July, when he was waiting for the ice to clear to enter the NW passage. My wife and I were staged in St. Pierre on our own boat, about to set out across the Atlantic. ‘Have a good trip,’ he wrote to me, when his onboard email was still working. ‘Godspeed.’
I got to talk to Matt himself yesterday on the phone for the first time since then. “Right now I’m drifting at 3.7 knots in the wrong direction,” he told me. He was frustrated and tired, but he couldn’t hide his excitement either, and I couldn’t hide mine for the chance to chat with him. Matt's character is still intact, and he's still Matt - the trip was never totally about him, and even as he neared the finish line, we ended up chatting not about the Arctic or Cape Horn, but about Portugal, Matt giving me some pilotage advice for an upcoming trip I have planned.
I’ve been writing about Matt for a while now, but at this point I can’t wait for him to get back as a friend. The stories will come, but for now I find myself just wanting to talk to him as a sailor, no notebooks, no recording devices, just listening to some sea stories with some good friends.
There’s going to be a circus atmosphere in Annapolis on Saturday. The whole town is planning for a hero’s welcome for Matt, who is expected to step off the boat for the first time at high noon at the National Sailing Hall of Fame at the City Dock in town. The organizers are encouraging a spectator fleet to escort Matt and St. Brendan, the 27’ Albin Vega that has safely seen Matt through his adventure, from Thomas Point Lighthouse and into the harbor. Gary Jobson will be on-hand ashore, emceeing the event, which will include the Governor of Maryland and several other dignitaries (Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has twice spoken about Matt on the floor of the US Senate), as well as Matt’s band of supporters, which I suspect will have grown exponentially by then.
Godspeed, the Hinckley SW 50 that Matt has delivered several times with Simon, just anted up a matching donation of $21,000.00 towards Matt’s goal of raising $250,000.00 for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB), and I hope the donations to start rolling in now that he’s this close to finishing and on his way home. Physically, Matt can sail for as long as he wants. But the folks who CRAB support can't, not without some physical help and modified boats.
Join the historic party in Annapolis this Saturday, April 21, and continue to follow Matt’s progress online at solotheamericas.org . And donate to CRAB – Matt’s mission from the outset was to complete an extraordinary journey, which he’s now about to do, but that, remarkably, was only half of the goal. The other half requires the will and the wallets of his supporters. I know Matt – he’s restless and goal-oriented and extremely bull-headed, and this adventure will not be complete until he sees it through to the end that he envisioned so long ago. Matt’s been solo for 310 days – now he and CRAB need your help.