Outside of hurricanes and tropical storms July is a great month to sail the North Atlantic.  Both times I’ve sail the Labrador Sea I’ve had steady Southeast winds around 25kts for days on end.  The Labrador Sea may be foggy and wet but pushes you north at a good speed.  The sun did finally make an appearance for a day or so and we saw our first ice berg of the trip.  Then the fog came back until we spotted land. The radar sees icebergs easily but not growlers (little bergy bits) those you just have to watch for.

We took the southern approach to Nuuk, crossing through fjords and passing by rocky little islands.  After so many days in the fog it felt like we had sailed to some mythical land of the lost. This also gave us a chance to stop and further test our scientific equipment.   It’s absolutely crucial that all devices and sensors are working properly, or else this entire Greenland Climate Project will be for nothing.  Although we have been collecting data with both the PCO2 device and the thremolsainiagraph since Annapolis it is the Arctic waters just north of us where the real interest lies. I’ll explain the research more as we sail north.

It was nice to get back to land, but it’s not like you’re going to pull into a marina and tie off.  There are no marinas.  We spotted Nuuk from a distance and watched as it would get completely shrouded in fog, then clear up, then disappear.  I didn’t want to navigate Nuuk harbor blind as a bat and luckily the fog cleared briefly as we entered the harbor.  But Now what?  Should we just tie off to some random boat, hope the owner is ok with it and isn’t about to go anywhere? What else can we do?

We temporally tied off to a tug boat until customs came and we could figure out a better place.  When you look at the picture of Nuuk’s inner harbor can you see our boat?  We are the boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to a boat that’s tied off to the wall, with another boat tied off to our other side.  As you can imagine Nuuk is not set up to handle sailboats, it’s about as far from being “yachty” as possible.  But everyone is very nice.

We met another sailing couple around our age, Jessie and Samantha.  They sailed through the Northwest Passage last year and are on their way to Iceland.  Only three boats made it through the Northwest Passage last year so they had to deal with serous ice that wasn’t there when I sailed through in 2011.  You never know what you’re going to get in the Northwest Passage. Money doesn’t mean much up here as there is not much to buy, so it’s all about trading.  I traded Jessie a giant salted pig for a Refleks diesel heater, with the chimney and day tank (Jessie was being very generous).  I hope to install in in our aft cabin where we sleep.

We have used our time in Nuuk fairly well.  It can be difficult to get around to fixing the boat when all you want to do is walk around town and get a break from the boat.  We will push off either tonight or tomorrow heading for Sisimut.  It’s a brief layover, I have to find a guy named Bent, ill explain later.   All in all everything is going well.

The tally:

To get from Renee and Bobby Muller’s back yard in Annapolis MD, to Nuuk we sailed 2,669 nautical miles at an average speed of 4.7kts (113 miles a day).  We were underway for roughly 23 ½ days, which compared to 63 days last year and 73 days the year before isn’t bad.  We even got to stop twice.  We certainly aren’t breaking any speed records with this boat but it is fairly comfortable, all things considered.

Fortotudine Vincinimus

Matt Rutherford

DSC_0664 DSC_0728 DSC_0724 DSC_0705 DSC_0614

The Southern Ice Belt

After rounding southeast Newfoundland we could finally head north.  It’s pretty incredible how far east you have to go before you can turn north heading from the U.S. east coast.  Canada is wider than it looks on a map. It was great to finally be heading north towards Greenland but now we had our first real obstacle, southern icebergs.

Icebergs comes out of Hudson Bay and the Labrador Sea and travel south to southeast.  It was one of these southern icebergs that sank the titanic, so you know they can be pretty serious.  Basically you look at an ice map which is a map broken into squares with numbers estimating the number of bergs in that region.  You try to steer a course connecting the boxes that have the least amount of icebergs (check picture).  At least that is the theory.  The wind direction ultimately determines which box on the map you have sailed into and you just do your best to keep a sharp lookout.  A sharp lookout in the fog that is.  It’s a good thing we installed a radar before we left.

Sailing in the fog day after day is strange experience.  It can even be a bit claustrophobic.  It can be blowing a gale and still be incredibly foggy, and rainy.   Hard to imagine a more dreary place to sail than the southern Labrador Sea.  The grey foggy sky gives the water a greyish color so you’re completely surrounded by grey, for days on end. The fog can come or go so quickly that it seems like someone flipped a switch and the pea soup fog machine turns on or off. Fog itself is nearly always misting water so the deck, lines, everything outside is always wet. Mixing icebergs into this equation makes for sleepless nights.  My stomach is not happy with all the coffee I’ve been drinking lately.

We are now north of the Southern ice belt, it will be a little while before we get far enough north to see the big boys.  Huge icebergs that can be a mile around, hundreds of feet tall and who knows how deep.  These southern bergs are hardly an appetizer compared to the feast waiting in the Arctic.  Each iceberg is a unique and always changing natural sculpture.  Icebergs are one of the most beautiful natural phenomena’s I’ve ever seen.

Last time I sailed north along this route in 2011 I had 20-25kt southerlies for days pushing me north.  I think I was making slightly better time in the Albin Vega then we are in this boat.  It’s basically the same conditions I experienced before. I had one gale on my way to the Arctic Circle last time and it looks like we will have a gale hit us tonight or tomorrow.  Not a big deal, that’s what third reef points are for.  We may get another gale later in the week, but as long as the wind is from the south we make good time.  Once we get to Greenland we can hide from gales in the various fjords, at least you can in central West Greenland.  Its gets harder to find protection in Northwest Greenland. At any rate it will be a nice change of pace from this grey ocean sailing we are doing right now.

I am currently writing this blog while sitting in the pilot house watching the seas roll up from behind us, break slightly and pass by giving us a push.  The winds are blowing 25kts and building, rain is coming and going in sheets and the fog is growing thicker.  The gale is coming. It’s this type of weather that makes you love a pilot house.  I’m relatively warm, dry and out of the elements.  This would be miserable if we had to sit out in a normal cockpit, cold, wet with nothing to do but stare into the fog.  At least that was what it was like last time I sailed the Labrador Sea.

Vincinimus Fortitudine

Matt Rutherford

fogpicture 20150710_NFL_Bergs-C

Sailing to a Nearly Frozen World

Who cares about Greenland and why is the Ocean Research Project team going there? About 90% of the island is covered in ice and the people and animals who live there rely on it staying froze. They live along the rocky fringes separated around the island by partially frozen fjords and towering dynamic marine terminating glaciers where their means of survival, traveling and hunting by dogsled is threatened. When the ice sheet eventually melts at least 21 feet of sea level rise will occur globally, but when? Our observations will help scientists from NASA to determine the stability of the ice sheet and predict when the water will be displaced.

Onboard the R/V Ault, Captain Matt and I are sailing to Greenland and are currently in the North Atlantic Ocean off Canada’s, Newfoundland where we have entered a maze of small ice bergs not far from where the Titanic cruise liner met a berg face to face. It is scary to sail to a near frozen world where you have to rely on yourself to survive but it is even scarier to ignore climate change and the impact it is having not just on the Arctic but on the entire planet. Just imagine, you could fill the Chesapeake Bay up 3 times each year with how much water is melting off of Greenland.  How much of an impact does human civilization have to do with these changes?

Matt and I take turns sailing the boat, we help each other out when things get tough. 5 hours on, then 5 hours off, days go by and time becomes a blur especially as you head closer to the Arctic. As we head North eventually the sun will not set during the summer months. The tilt of the Earth’s axis and its position around the sun causes daylight around the clock. We have already climbed 10 degrees of latitude heading north, 16 more and we will be in the Arctic and if environmental circumstances allow we will study the climate change impacts of Smith Sound at 78 degrees North.

We aim to survey narrow fjords with rapidly melting glaciers especially in the less explored fjords of Melville Bay. There are dozens of fjords that are often too narrow for research planes to operate and to shallow for large research vessels to navigate safely.  We are trying to find where the warm water is coming up and at what depth.  Warm water is thought to be coming all the way from the North Atlantic Ocean traveling up over the shelf, through connecting deep water canyons, entering the glacial fjords only to eat away and melt the underbelly of the glaciers that stick out over the water. We will survey these uncharted regions to observe if this warm water is really coming up from the depths.

Cautiously we will approach glaciers to periodically drop a sensor, a RBR ltd. CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth device) all the way to the bottom to help identify where the warm water is and how fresh it is considering the adjacent glacial melt activity.

Since we left Annapolis, Maryland about 3 weeks ago we have recorded much about the ocean’s surface along the eastern seaboard such as: how much carbon is present, how salty it is, and what the temperature is. We have two automatic sampling systems installed aboard the R/V Ault to manage; an ocean carbon sampling Smithsonian pCO2 system and RBR’s thermosalinograph which mainly measures sea surface salinity and temperature. Why should we measure ocean carbon, salinity and the temperature of the surface of the ocean from a temperate to polar climate?

Avannaarsua, (Greenlandic translation: To the far North)

GreenlandClimateProject2015 map

The Push to Greenland

When we left the Deleware Bay I was planning on taking a more offshore route to Newfoundland, similar to the route I took in 2011 when sailing around the Americas.  Poseidon had a different plan in mind and so we had to adapt.  Certainly never thought we’d be stopping in Sydney Nova Scotia, heck I’d never even heard of Sydney Nova Scotia a week ago.

The last week had been mostly light winds and heavy fog.  Our engine seems to be running well, I hope it stays that way.  With the exception of last summer’s Trans-Pacific every major sailing expedition I’ve completed I have done so with a broken engine.  To replace the diesel engine on this boat would cost around $17,000, without the installation.  Marine diesel engines are mind-bogglingly expensive.  I think our engine will be okay, or at the very least I hope so.

Because of aboundance of light winds we burned through most of our diesel and didn’t have enough left to get to St Johns Newfoundland.  I didn’t want to risk it so we turned to the quiet town of Sydney, which is the largest town on Cape Breton Island.  The people of Sydney are very friendly and laidback.  On the east coast of the United States we get so caught up in the daily hustle and bustle of life.  It would be nice if we could learn to relax a bit and stop taking life so seriously all the time.

Last week was a bit hard for Nicole as she had an allergic reaction to gorilla glue of all things and broke out in hives for a couple days.  We were in route with nowhere to stop and by the time we were south of Halifax she was on the mend.  Nikki has been officially banded from using all glue, epoxy, silicone, etc.   It’s very strange, I’ve never seen someone have such an allergic reaction to glue.  She’s a trooper and has fully recovered.  We also went to the drug store in Sydney and picked up a ton of various medicines in case it comes back. If she stays away from those chemicals she shouldn’t have any more problems.  Back in 2013 when doing micro plastics research in the Atlantic Nikki got stung by a Man O War jellyfish in her eyeball.  We were over 1,000 miles from land in any direction, which was scarier than this allergic reaction.

Generally speaking things are going well.  The bowsprit we added is really helping balance the boat and has added an additional 20% to our overall speed, when there is wind that is.  On the down side my computer broke this morning.  I just bought it a year and a half ago. It was the most expensive computer I had ever bought.  It didn’t fall or get wet, the screen went white and no matter what I try that’s all that happens.  Stupid computer!

Sailors talk about storms, navigation and blue water boats but I’ve never once heard a sailor talking about the importance of entrainment at sea.  It super important especially on long voyages to be able to keep yourself entertained over the long days and nights.  The best way to do this is with books, don’t just bring a kindle they break.  Books don’t need power and you can drop kick one from stem to stern and all you’ll do is bend a few pages.  But you want more than just books.  Bring a musical instrument or a Gameboy, bring as many different things as humanly possible to keep yourself entertained.  I brought almost nothing with me the second time I crossed the Atlantic alone and was bored out of my mind for most of the 28 days it took to get from Gambia to Antigua.  At sea boredom is your enemy.

In another 12-15 hours we will turn the corner of southeast Newfoundland and head straight for Nuuk the capital of Greenland.  There is no need to stop in St John now that we have fuel and water.  Nuuk is about 1,200 miles from here.  We will still have to sail another 32 degrees north to get to our final destination, Smith Sound.  If we sailed south for 32 degrees we would be in Barbados, and I would be sunburnt.  North sounds better.

Vicinimus Fortitudine

Matt Rutherford


sydney pilot whale Nicole in Sydney Dobson Yacht Club

A Gale or a Lobster?

A Gale or a Lobster?

We were heading for Newfoundland and wound up in Nantucket. The first time I sailed alone across the Atlantic in 2008 I was heading for Iceland and wound up in England.  In my defense I had a late start in 2008 and then got nailed by tropical storm Christabel in nearly the exact same location we are in right now. Christabel blew hard enough that some other guy sailing alone had to get rescued off his boat. My dad heard about it somehow and thought it was me who was rescued.  After the storm I realized I could make it to Iceland but I wouldn’t make it back down again before the season changed and the fall weather began, so I changed course for England.  This time was a bit less dramatic but was still weather related.

After the first night at sea and the massive frontal boundary passed the winds died and remained light.  We were slowing motoring along when I starting seeing easterly headwinds in the forecast.  At first they were forecasted at 15kts, then 20kts, then 25kts.  With easterly headwinds we can can’t sail east, we can only go north or south.  Trying to get to the Arctic by going south makes no sense at all, so north would have been our only option.  The forecast continued to get worse, 30kts, 35kts.  I really don’t like stopping once we have started but if we were to stay at sea and head north we would get hit by a gale right on the nose (check picture of forecast).  The closest port was Nantucket only 50 miles to the north.  I asked Nikki, “Dear would you like a gale or a lobster” she looked at me funny and said “lobster please”, so we were off to Nantucket.

All I knew of Nantucket was its whaling history, I had no idea how high tony the place had become. We pulled into port and were about to grab a mooring ball when I found out they want $75 a night.  What? $75 to tie off to a mooring ball?  I’ve sailed all over Europe and the US and have never seen a mooring that costs more than $25.  Welcome to Nantucket.

We motored passed the overpriced mooring field and dropped anchor.  We had some time before the gale hit so we went ashore and played tourist.  It felt very strange to stop and smell the roses (there are a lot of roses in Nantucket). In the past we always just stayed at sea until we had collected our data.  We went to the whaling museum, walked all over town, I ate a 2lb lobster and it was all quite nice.  Even though I knew a gale was coming I still had a hard time blocking out the voice in my head telling me “you should be a sea right now”.

We pulled anchor and tucked into a more protected part of Nantucket bay.  It blew hard and rained even harder.  Instead of battling the gale at sea we just went to bed.  We left the Smithsonian’s PCO2 sensor on during the gale (the PCO2 device measures ocean acidification, more or less).  It will be interesting to see if there are any changes to the amount of carbon in the water as a low pressure system passes by.  It was a battle keeping the sensor working as it kept sucking up eel grass and clogging.  The research doesn’t stop just because the boat has stopped.

The moment the wind shifted from east to southwest we pulled anchor and pushed out to sea.  On the way out we passed a sailboat that had broken free of its mooring and was laying half submerged on the jetty. The poor boat died in that gale.  Usually sailboats are not lost at sea in some big storm, often they are lost due to neglect.  In this case it was an old mooring line chafed through.  What a shame.

For the first 24 hours the seas were still very lumpy and the wind died down.  This is a horribly uncomfortable situation, without wind to pin us over we get tossed by the seas something awful.  All things come to pass and we have been mostly motoring since.  Right now we are motoring into a current which is slowing us considerably.  There are good winds in the forecast and by tomorrow we should be sailing along nicely.  We need good wind as we still have a long way to go.

Fortitudine Vicinimus


lost boatGRIB