Science, Adventure Mark Maiden Research Voyage

On day 46 of their maiden voyage in the Atlantic Ocean, Matt Rutherford and Nicole Trenholm finished their scientific mission aboard the 42-foot R/V Ault. Then they turned for home.

The next day, they spotted a sailboat. There were no signs of life.

The couple wouldn’t reach Bermuda for another four weeks.

The abandoned sailboat became a $45,000 salvage job that nearly proved disastrous. Add to that a frayed halyard, a dead engine from funky fuel garnered from a passing freighter and days of dead-calm drifting, and it’s a wonder the couple made it back in one piece.

This is the story that happened on the way to the other story.

First, the mission.

It started with a 2,200 nautical mile beeline to the eastern reaches of the Sargasso Sea. Rutherford, the first to do a solo circumnavigation of the Americas, was captain. Nicole Trenholm, a scientist formerly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, was in charge of the science.

Their Ocean Research Project was intended to prove that small-scale sustainable oceanographic research is a viable alternative to bigger, better-funded efforts aboard well-staffed vessels.

The two began collecting samples to learn more about plastics floating in the oceans. They compiled data for NOAA, dropped sensors to listen for the ping of tagged fish, and placed 10 hurricane data buoys in storm-prone areas of the Atlantic.

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