Meet The Eagle Rock Grad Who Sailed 27,000 Miles Solo

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Matt Rutherford graduated from Eagle Rock way back in August of 2001 (ER 24 as we call it around here), and according to Robert Burkhardt, our founding head of school, this former student is being quite productive these days.


It’s been a bunch of busy years for Rutherford, who prior to leaving Eagle Rock articulated three distinct and immediate goals for himself during his final POLs (Presentations of Learning):

  1. Ride a mountain bike across Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.
  2. Sail alone across an ocean.
  3. Start and run a not-for-profit organization focused on addressing important environmental issues.

Well, after leaving Eagle Rock, Rutherford did ride his mountain bike across those three Southeast Asian countries. He did sail across an ocean (in fact, he became the first person in history to complete a nonstop, single-handed voyage circumnavigating North and South America; that’s 309 days and 27,077 miles on the ocean without stepping ashore even briefly to stretch his legs). And he did start a not-for-profit organization that’s deeply focused on positively impacting the environment — the Ocean Research Project aims to identify new, lower-cost methods of conducting ocean-based research.

Burkhardt said he tried to get in touch with Rutherford last month to find out what this grad was up to these days, and the former student’s voicemail recording announced he wasn’t taking messages. It suggested callers ring back after Feb. 1.

By Feb. 3, Rutherford’s voicemail box was full. When he did return Burkhardt’s call a week later, he reported that he was waiting on the tarmac in Cabo San Lucas, headed for Anchorage to make a presentation before the 2015 Alaska Forum On The Environment.

The mountain biking sailor turned not-for-profit executive said he was taking a brief break from the voyage to San Diego, and would put out to sea again from Cabo in a few days.

Burkhardt said he’s been following Rutherford’s adventures since he left Chesapeake Bay in Maryland in June of 2011 to begin his fantastic journey. On the first leg of his nautical trek, Rutherford broke a record by sailing the smallest boat ever to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage.

Rutherford then hugged the coast of Alaska, heading downwind in the Pacific Ocean from North America to South America, conquering the stormy Cape Horn and then completing his record-breaking ocean journey. (You can learn more and see actual footage of the voyage by watching Red Dot on the Ocean: The Matt Rutherford Story, a 1 hour and 17 minute documentary film directed and edited by Amy Flannery — see trailer below.)

And while some might have settled for bragging rights and found a nice couch and a TV to watch, Rutherford stepped off his tiny boat and immediately began working to establish Ocean Research Project.

As founder and executive director, it’s his view that “no one person can do everything but everyone can do something,” and by creating Ocean Research Project, Rutherford says his goal is to educate people about marine issues and give back to the earth’s oceans.

That’s why Rutherford was rushing off to Alaska the day Burkhardt finally got in touch with him. He was the keynote speaker at the environmental forum.

The Alaska Forum on the Environment is that state’s premier gathering of environmental professionals from government agencies, nonprofits, businesses, community leaders, young people, conservationists and biologists.

Rutherford and his team have surveyed more than 14,000 miles of ocean, with a major focus on marine plastic pollution. The organization’s Plastic Pollution Project has concluded and Rutherford’s organization is now coordinating with other institutions in an effort to share how widespread the problem is and present arguments why plastics in the ocean are toxic to both marine and human health.

What’s next for Rutherford and his team?

Since Greenland holds the Arctic’s largest contribution to sea level rise, Ocean Research Project heads north to Greenland this year to monitor glacial stability relative to the warming planet. In addition, the crew will study ocean acidification dynamics along the eastern seaboard.

Matt Rutherford… he’s productive, happy, and is making a positive difference in the world. As Robert Burkhardt would tell you himself — Live like him!

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