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Iceberg, Savissivik, Greenland

Matt Rutherford: Because He Can…

A story about dominating dreams. Oh, and cults, sailing, rehabs, oceanography and record-breaking. But mostly,dominating dreams.

The frigid arctic sea was choppy and unpredictable. Astonishingly, there was one single soul bearing the storm. Matt Rutherford, the first man to finish a solo circumnavigation of the Americas, held on to the ropes as the elements tossed his 27-foot boat around like a rag doll. On the port side, a 40-foot glacier loomed above him through the fog. He rushed from one rope to another, checking his ship while trying to stay on it. This was a monster of a journey, ten months and 27,077 miles.

“I was beating into the wind all day every day, just pounding,” Matt said. “Forty-one days hard on the wind.”

The tip of the boat cut through the frost tipped waves as they absconded the ship. He was always self-motivated and headstrong, not even nature would foil his plans. Nevertheless, he was often certain he’d have to turn back and occasionally he almost did. People called this a suicide mission, what was he thinking? On this vessel he was the navigator, the mechanic, the captain and everything else.The waves finally began to let up, giving him a moment to breath. The rain was so strong he felt as though he was drowning.

He wrote in his log, “chills go up my spine as I can finally see Cape Horn through the rain clouds, only three miles away! I see rainbows- “

Cape Horn, southernmost tip of South America.

He’s in an alien environment, icebergs on his wake. Exhausted, Matt sits on the deck and catches his breath. He looks up at the sun, which sneaked a few rays through the clouds, and he hums a glorious melody. As he sat, thoughts swept by like leaves on a stream. How did he end up here? Matt was not groomed to be a sailor. He wasn’t a politician’s son with a silver spoon in his hand. What Matt had was persistence, dedication and lived his life on a road paved with lessons learned. Defeats are required to get a glimpse of who we truly are.

So, who is Matt Rutherford?

Matt Rutherford was raised in the strangest of circumstances. In the 80s, he was born and conditioned into a cult in the middle of Ohio. With his parents completely devoted to the group, he knew of nothing else. They called themselves the “Truth Fellowship”. Even though his parents finally left the cult in 1990, there were still many mountains to climb for 9-year-old Matt. Apparently, the “Truth Fellowship” was the only thing that kept the family together. Shortly after they left, his parents got a divorce.

At 11 years of age, he had already spent years battling a diagnosis of ADHD and various other disorders, he was depressed and began abusing drugs. Subsequently, when he was 13, Matt was spinning between a drug rehab and living on the streets. He had been in juvenile detention five times by 16. There’s nothing like sitting in a jail cell to really put things in perspective. That solitary night was a revelation which began the new chapter of his story. When things are at their worst, when the world seems to collapse around us, that’s when we push against the tide. That is when we grow.

The next chapter would be Eagle Rock, a school for troubled kids in Colorado. It was a change of scenery, with the right people around to work miracles. The facility turned Matt’s situation into something better. He took to the academics and education extremely well. Around this time, an atlas caught his eye. He began to dream of exploration and conquering his newly formed goals and aspirations. His passion for travel and the seas began to flourish.

“Focusing on the positive stopped my mind from drifting back to harder times that could still feel consuming. Alone at sea, you can’t run away from anything,” he says.

Redemption and success often go hand in hand…

Matt graduated, began a relationship with a local girl and was steadfast in his newly found sense of adventure. In 2004, the 20-year-old decided the first step in this legendary journey would be a boat. His goal was a 25-foot Coronado. Yet, everything he had, or wanted, he had to work for.

All of his energy and focus went into getting the funds, and he did. He and his girlfriend drove to Maryland to make the purchase. In a whim, they decided to sail it down to the Florida Keys. Unfortunately, both the relationship and the boat soon sank. After a turbulent hurricane took down the boat the girlfriend decided she preferred life on dry land. Matt’s story had only just begun.

A few years later, he embarked on solo treks from the USA to Europe and Africa then back to the Caribbean Islands. He was born for this. There was a gentle breeze on that beautiful Saturday in April of 2011. This is the day the first man to finish a solo circumnavigation of the Americas would step foot on solid ground. That man is 27-year-old Matt Rutherford. “Long time no see,” he said into the microphone, worn to the bone from the 10-month long journey.

Record… Broken…

Besides building character, his voyage had a higher purpose. The trip raised funds for Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, a non-profit that supports those with physical disabilities by giving them back the sense of freedom that comes with sailing on the open sea. Matt had done volunteer work for them and decided that he would use his Northwest Passage journey to raise funds. When it was announced, a member gave him the 27-foot Albin Vega that would go on the historical voyage with him. In total, Matt raised nearly $120,000 for the organization.

The story doesn’t end there…

On his journeys Matt saw firsthand the destruction of our natural habitats caused by pollution and decided to create the ‘Ocean Research Project.’ This non-profit based in Annapolis, Md. is dedicated to helping professionals, scientists and environmentalists discover solutions for the problems facing our oceans, through education and science. Often in tandem with current partner, Nicole, a NOAA scientist, he has sailed tens of thousands of nautical miles conducting scientific research to secure the future of the seven seas.

“ORP’s research expeditions optimize resources to provide an effective alternative to the big science paradigm and give scientists access to remote areas for a fraction of the cost. Our research objectives are born from close collaboration with scientists focusing on the most important issues impacting the health of the ocean and the planet,” states their website.

In 2016, documentary director Amy Flannery and Tory Salvia of The Sailing Channel created a 77-minute-long documentary of Matt Rutherford’s journey, “Red Dot on the Ocean.” It has since been picked up by PBS for rebroadcasting.

Although the 33-year-old still roams the seas, currently surveying oceanic debris from continent-to-continent, he has put his anchor down in Annapolis. We suspect Matt Rutherford’s journey has only just begun and Throomers plans to stay on board awaiting his next adventure.