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

To the Arctic!

They say the hardest part of winning a race is getting to the start line.  The only thing we are racing is the melting pack ice but damn it was difficult to get this expedition off the ground.  For starters we have an older steel boat, abused by previous owners, rotten, rusty, and in need of some serious attention. The vessel’s condition was unavoidable as I was broke when I bought her.

I had just returned from my circumnavigation of the Americas and starting an ocean research organization was my first priority.  The paperwork involved with becoming a 501 c 3 (a non-profit) was an expedition in bureaucracy, my least favorite type of expedition.  Once Ocean Research Project was an official nonprofit we needed a research boat.  I could have waited ten years for someone to donate a proper boat or enough money to buy one, but those weren’t realistic options. I knew the only way to get a research vessel was to borrow as much money as possible and buy what I could afford.  Which was a rusty, rotten Colvin Gazelle 42.  Don’t get me wrong she had a lot going for her, but she needed some serious loving.

In 2013 we fixed up Ault (our Colvin Gazelle) the best we could and sailed her out into the Atlantic.  Our first big international research project brought us to the eastern side of the Atlantic garbage patch.  We were dragging a trawl and collecting samples within the Atlantic Garbage patch trying to help scientists better understand how much plastic trash is in that previously unexplored region.  All was going well until day 47 when we found an abandoned Swan 47 “Wolfhound” and tried to drag her 800 miles east to Bermuda.  That was a nightmare.  We never saved Wolfhound, instead we broke our engine and became trapped in the windless doldrums of the Bermuda-Azores high.  We spent 73 days at sea, Nicole never complained once, she is the bravest woman I’ve ever met.

Fast forward to 2014.  We continued our marine plastic research, this time in the Pacific.  There was no easy way to get Ault from the east coast to the west coast so we convinced WD Schock to allow us to take a Harbor 29 proto type from San Francisco to Japan non-stop.  We spent 63 days at sea coving 6,800 miles dragging a trawl and collecting samples across the entire route.  When we returned to Annapolis Ault must have found out that we had been cheating on her with another boat, it seemed like everything was broken, as if our boat had committed suicide in our absence.

This projects refit started six months ago.  We have been working on her nearly every day, often all day long since January.  We hauled her out and lived in a boatyard for six weeks. We grinded, scraped and painted the whole boat.  We have added system after system until our vessel became more seaworthy than ever before.  If doing a massive refit wasn’t enough we still had to write grants, fundraise and workout all of the scientific objectives.  Trying to create a fully functional ocean research organization has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever undertaken.  Thank god we are finally out to sea and all of that is behind us.

During our 2015 Greenland Climate Project we will be primarily be working with NASA, The Smithsonian, Five Gyres and S.E.A. We will be conducting ocean acidification research along with lowering a RBR CTD and measuring surface salinity with a RBR thermosalinograph.  We will also be dragging a trawl collecting Arctic marine plastics samples.  I’ll talk more about the research as the project continues.

We are off to a good start. Dolphins followed us out of the Delaware Bay and into the ocean.  We had a perfect 15 knot breeze on our quarter.  Then we got hit by a massive frontal boundary and spent half of last night surrounded by lighting hoping not to get hit.  That’s the ocean for you, beautiful and peaceful one moment, and crazy as hell the next.

We have 8,000 miles and 100 days to go.  We will sail to the furthest corners of Northwest Greenland.  I look forward to sailing with the icebergs again!

Matt Rutherford

frontal boundery

Aaron Anthony’s Intership Blog

Blog 2 Aaron Anthony 8/11-8/22

I act as the grounds crew for Nicole and Matt who have been sailing up the Chesapeake Bay looking for tagged cow nose rays. They have been traveling with biotelemetry data using Vemco receivers (VR2W and VR100) trying to receive data from any tagged fish species swimming by. As grounds crew, I would receive data from Nicole and Matt they would send me the date of the find, time, transmitter number, and the coordinates. I would then take this data and find out the species of the fish, who tagged the fish and where the species were tagged. Then I would place the detection’s on Google Earth along with the paths and anchorage of Matt and Nicole.

James River Species Detections

James River Species Detections

I am able to figure out the species of fish and other information with the help of the crab lab at theSmithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). I have been assisting with the crab lab through my internship with the Ocean research project. Learning about the studies they have at the lab. I have been helping out in a wide range of different labs. I have been helping out with the Chesapeake Bay river herring project where I would count river herring seen swimming through a river with dual- frequency identification sonar to monitor spawning runs through the Chesapeake Bay. I have also assisted with the predator prey interactions of crabs, shrimp and mummichogs. We would tether shrimp and mummichogs and check them over different time intervals of 15 minutes, 30 minutes,45 minutes, 60 minutes then 90 minutes to see if they were preyed upon, missing or if we caught a predator with the hook. For the crab predator prey we went dredging for juvenile crabs. And once we caught a good amount we would bring them back to the lab tether them, place them in one of the locations and check them after 24 hours to see if they were preyed upon. I have also helped with epibenthic fish and crab to understand annual and seasonal changes to community structure and population. For this project we went on a trawl in the Rhode river were we did 4 trawls with a net. We measured each species of fish we caught from bay anchovies to blue crabs. We caught many fish types and we would only measure the first twenty of the fish species. We then put in fishing lines to see if we could catch any striped bass or other fish species.

This internship in all has given me experience in scientific research and a better understanding of organisms in the Chesapeake Bay. I have also had experience in field work, lab work, and work on the computer as well. I am having a great time working here with everyone. In the future I will probably be spending less time at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center now that school is starting up soon. I can still do some work from my home computer such as placing detection marks on google earth but I will be coming in every now and then, when I receive data from Nicole and Matt so I can identify the species and so on.

Hopefully we will find some cownose rays soon.

-Aaron Anthony


Week 1 blog Aaron Anthony Ocean research project 8/4-8/8/2014

The first week is supposed to be the hardest but my experience so far has not been difficult. I have been exposed to many things I didn’t know before and I’m starting to find my interest in marine biology. I haven’t been receiving any date yet from Nicole and Matt but I am still put to work around SERC. I am working with the people of the Crab lab I was shown around the lab and I also have seen the projects there are doing and how long they run most of them have been running for over 10 years and even longer. The first project I assisted with was the Benthic Infauna Invertebrate Community. Infauna means aquatic animals that live in the substrate of a body of water. Benthic is defined as occurring of the bottom of the water. This project was created to see species differing habitats and fluctuating abundances over time and an understanding of the process that regulate their community and population dynamics. The Organisms that mostly live at the bottom of The Rhode River is Macro invertebrates such as crustaceans, mollusks and worms. The team will go out and take benthic samples from sites in the Rhode River. They are taken back and stained with Rose Bengal making the living organisms pink. Once stained samples are looked at through a microscope and are dissected and identified. Finding the species under the microscope was one of the jobs I continually worked on throughout the week I would find one and place them in a petri dish filled with DI water. Another project I helped with was the River Herring project. Using a DIDSON (Dual frequency Identification Sonar) reek by funneling the fish through the weir and at weekly intervals a net is deployed and the fish are studied and classified. We went out on the boat and got in the water to fix the gates where they are breaking and getting older. My first week has been great I will be looking forward to the next week and receiving data from Nicole and Matt.

Aaron Anthony

Have you seen a ray in the Chesapeake lately?

Some people call them skates or Stingrays, the Ocean Research Project team is looking for the cownose ray. A species that has experienced an increase in population due to the gradual decrease of their main predator, sharks. We are 7 days into conducting our Bay-Wide Biotelemetry Survey. We started near Jamestown 20+ miles up the James River and will be working our way to Annapolis after about 300 miles of acting as a mobile listening station. What does that mean? Probably sailing the bay under 2.0 knots, with one sail up but reefed. We are using multiple ultrasonic telemetry & tracking receivers underway and on anchor to occupy areas that have the potential for detecting marine species. There are many fixed receivers on buoys, bridge supports, and piers that line the shorelines of the bay. They can only detect a half a mile radius from their fixed location leaving a lot of uncovered area where tagged species are getting by unnoticed.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) has tagged cownose rays throughout the bay this summer and we hope to make their acquaintance really soon. One of our devices has a speaker that will actually let you hear when we have a visitor! When we sailed down the James we had multiple detections that were likely all sturgeon. There have been a variety of marine species (invasive and native) to the bay that bay scientists have tagged for research purposes including: Rays, sturgeon, bass, blue crabs, and blue catfish.

I hope we detect a variety of species in this survey. All of our detection data will make its way back to those scientists responsible for the tagged species. This information will shed light on the habits and migratory activity of these species which will allow bay scientists to better advise bay fishery resource managers who have the ability to modify regulation.

We are excited to have our 1st high school intern from Anne Arundel County Public School on the project. Aaron is busy acting as the data manager or Fish Spy Analyst and is stationed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center creating a detection map with Google Earth as we send him available data.

92 miles

Mid-summer wind in the bay is minimal. We have been lucky that the winds fill in often in the evening allowing us to survey at night but leaving us on the hook during the day. We have become partially nocturnal. A few days ago our dinghy escaped! We had to book it in the middle of the night to a safe anchorage as a thunderstorm threatened to run us down. The next morning the bow u-bolt for our dinghy was all that was left on its line. Some eastern shore waterman will have a good find this week. Unfortunately, that leaves our boat without a little boat. This hiccup partially severs our tie to landside conveniences. So if you see us on anchor, come by and say hi!project. Aaron is busy acting as the data manager or Fish Spy Analyst and is stationed at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center creating a detection map with Google Earth as we send him available data.

Today we explore the York River where Virginia Institute of Marine Science VIMS helped tag and release rays for SERC. Tomorrow we hope the winds are favorable to start making our way up the bay potentially towards the Rappahannock or Tangier/Smith, areas where oyster & eel grass may attract our friends!


Nicole Trenholm


Receiver deployed

Receiver deployed

Matt and VR2W pre- receiver launch

Matt and VR2W pre- receiver launch

Testing receivers with pinging tag.

Testing receivers with pinging tag.


Japan! (Day 63)

This expedition remained exciting to the very end.  For the last 5 days we were trying to track a storm that looked as if it would hit us just as we were crossing a very strong current (Kurosio current).  Japan has a current on its south coast which is very similar to the Gulf Stream off of Florida.  It can be very dangerous to cross.  The information we were getting was very different depending on the source, no two weather models agreed with each other.  It rained for 7 days straight at the end, we were tired, had sailed over 6,500 miles and were ready to finish but we couldn’t cross the strong current unless it was safe.

We still didn’t know what was going to happen as we approached this 55 miles wide 2-4 knot current.  We knew a gale was coming and in theory we had just enough time to make it to land, so we went for it.  We pushed the boat as hard as possible and made it to the entrance of Yokohama, very happy to be across but now we had a new problem.

We had not seen another boat for 6 weeks and now we were completely surrounded by freighters.  There must have been 50 of them going every which way.  Looking at the AIS signals on the GPS it looked like an aerial photo of a mass buffalo migration.  It was also the middle of the night which makes the whole thing that much stranger. I also hadn’t slept in 3 days, so that didn’t help.

As the sun rose in the sky we could clearly see the Japanese mainland.  With the daylight came new energy and a feeling that we have passed the vast majority of the obstacles in our path.  Now we just have to find Bayside Marina and tie off.  After 63 days at sea and 6,850 miles we finally made it, tied off, and could relax.

The samples we collected will be shipped back to Maryland.  Nikki will be working at a laboratory called Baltimore underground science space AKA B.U.G.S. for the next several months analyzing the samples with help from our interns. Comparing the information with other institutes and writing a scientific paper.  The fun part is over, now the lab work begins.

Plastic is not the problem, in fact plastic is an incredible material.  The problem is we use plastic to make items that we will only use once then throw away.  We know that plastic can take hundreds of years to decompose so why in the world would do we use this material for so many items that we will only use once?  It’s because it’s cheap and convenient and it’s our obsession with things being cheap and convenient which is at the root of the problem.  Take recycling in Annapolis, which is a well to do town.  Not a single yacht club in Annapolis recycles, neither do the vast majority of restaurants.  Can you imagine how much waste one restaurant in Annapolis will produce in one night, let alone all the restaurants?  I once did a talk in an NPR building and the whole building didn’t recycle.  It’s not that people or businesses don’t care, the reason they are not recycling is because it would cost money and take time.  People will spend a vast amount of time and money trying to acquire some meaningless material possession yet won’t spend a little time trying to better manage the waste that they produce.

So only 8% of the plastic produced gets recycled.  The companies that make plastic understand these problems yet don’t want to spend time and money making and promoting more bio degradable plastics for these onetime use items.  The issue of plastic trash in our oceans starts on land.  This issue is completely within our power to solve, if we are willing to spend a little time and money.

We can’t stay in Japan for long because we a starting a Bio-telemetry project with the Smithsonian in the Chesapeake Bay in July.  The Smithsonian has tagged invasive marine species and we will use our 42 foot schooner as a mobile listening platform tracking these species throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

I don’t write blogs outside of major expeditions so the best way to follow along is by liking us on Facebook.  In September, we are offering an opportunity to learn how to sail on board the 42 foot schooner.  It will be 6 nights 7 days from Norfolk Virginia to Annapolis Maryland.  I will teach anything from basic sailing to advanced offshore techniques.  We only have room for 2 or 3 people and will cost $1,250 per person.  Nikki has a 100 ton licensee and if you’re interested in becoming a licensed captain she can help you get started with that.  If you’re interested please email me at matt.rutherford31@gmail.com.

Thank you all for following along during the expedition and a big thanks to all everyone who helped contribute funding for the processing of the micro plastic samples!

Special thanks to WD Schock, Save our Seas Foundation, Heavy Seas Beer, Monitor Windvane, Predictwind, Treeson, Victor (Mr.NWP) and Pat, ATN, and Fiorentino.


Until next time

Matt Rutherford

Science, education and exploration.


63 Days!


3:00am freighter traffic coming into Yokohama Bay

3:00am freighter traffic coming into Yokohama Bay