Sailor Charts Solo Trip Into The Record Books

It's been more than a hundred days since Matt Rutherford has walked on dry land. With any luck, it'll be another 200 before he does. The 30-year-old Marylander is sailing around North and South America. Alexandra Gutierrez of member station KUCB in Unalaska reports that if he makes it, he'll be the first person to do the 23,000-mile trip alone and without stopping.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

Been more than 100 days since Matt Rutherford has walked on dry land. And with any luck it'll be another 200 before he does. The 32-year-old Marylander is sailing around North and South America. Alexandra Gutierrez of member station KUCB in Unalaska reports that if he makes it, he'll be the first person to do the 23,000-mile trip alone and without stopping.

ALEXANDRA GUTIERREZ: When Matt Rutherford left Annapolis to circumnavigate the Americas, he was looking forward to seeing faraway places like Baffin Bay and Cape Horn.

MATT RUTHERFORD: It's like "The Odyssey," except I'm not getting laid at all.

GUTIERREZ: This month, Rutherford's Scylla and Charybdis was an area of the Bering Sea known as the Mixmaster. He's had to put out a fire, and cope with gear failures in Arctic waters. He can't stop in a port to replace that equipment if he wants the International Sailing Federation to certify him as the first sailor to do this trip alone. But he can have other boats meet him.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOAT)

GUTIERREZ: We connected when he anchored up in the Aleutian Islands to get a new water purifier and some fuel for his stove. The rules for contact were so strict that I couldn't get on his boat to interview him, and I had to shout out questions from the supply boat. Rutherford seemed relieved to get the new gear, but he was more excited for the hot pizza and the cold beer that we ferried over.

RUTHERFORD: It's almost so good and so strange that you can't even wrap your mind around it. You know, it's like you're drinking beer, and it's great to be drinking a beer, but it's so great to be drinking a beer that it's almost like you're not drinking a beer?

GUTIERREZ: His 27-foot boat looks tiny in choppy Unalaska Bay, and it's hard to imagine it sailing through the icy Northwest Passage. The cabin is smaller than a college dorm room, and the deck could be mistaken for a Jacuzzi tub, especially after rough weather when it's full of water.

RUTHERFORD: I'm just dodging these storms, trying not to get run over. But since I'm really too slow to dodge a storm, it comes down to a bit of luck, and my luck hasn't been that great. But then again, I'm not on the bottom of the ocean, so I guess my luck is still holding up somewhat.

GUTIERREZ: Despite the harsh conditions, Rutherford takes plenty of joy in the voyage.

RUTHERFORD: I mean, I don't got to worry about bills. I don't got to worry about nothing. I ain't got to go to work. But then again, it's a lot of work to be out on the ocean alone. So, I mean, it goes both ways. But I got no boss. My boss is Poseidon.

GUTIERREZ: Plus, after getting this far, it would be hard to justify blowing the record for just one easy night on land.

He also doesn't want to let down Chesapeake Regional Accessible Boating, a non-profit that works with people with disabilities. They gave him the boat for the trip, and getting it back to them is a big motivator.

RUTHERFORD: You know, it's sheer determination that's going to get me through this trip and it's gotten me this far. There is no failure. There is no - well, I might fail, but I hope not. But there is no other option.

GUTIERREZ: Rutherford is scheduled to finish his trip by May.

For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Gutierrez in Unalaska.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You can track Matt Rutherford's journey on his website, solotheamericas.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: This is NPR News.

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