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Matt Rutherford and his solo sail for CRAB!

Teresa Carey Words 3 Comments

“Reward lives in the house of risk,” he said from the makeshift stage that was erected near the city dock, the town center. It was the first time he stepped on land in almost a year. His hair was long, his feet bare, and his smile big.

Matt Rutherford was there to talk about his journey around North and South America in a small sailboat, non-stop, and alone. I watched his expression and wondered if he was experiencing the culture shock that I sometimes experienced after having sailed solo for a while. His would be ten-fold. Three-hundred-and-some days is a long time to be at sea. I call it re-entry-itis. Its the unnatural colors, loud sounds, fast pace, and people…simply to many people, with demands that don’t align with a solo life on a boat.

I wonder what drives a person to spend so much time alone. Matt’s journey around the Americas is quite an accomplishment. But doing it non-stop…now thats an entirely different dynamic, I’m sure. Its not something I’m driven to do. I want to stop, to see new places, and hang out for a spell, while getting to know the cultural. Yet at the same time, having a charitable motivation, as Matt did, gives a greater purpose to any journey.

Matt Rutherford’s sail was to raise awareness and money for CRAB, Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating, a non-profit organization that makes boating accessible for people with disabilities. His goal was to raise 250k dollars, and while he raised a significant amount, he didn’t reach the goal. Members of CRAB explained one way they would like to use the money. They planned to adapt a boat so that people in electronic wheelchairs can come aboard in their chair and enjoy a day on the water. A privilege I often take for granted. They talked about wheelchair bound people often being afraid to leave their chair and it even being such a barrier for some that they choose not to set out for an afternoon sail with CRAB. This modified boat would welcome so many more would-be sailors in wheelchairs.

CRAB is a remarkable program. I remember years ago, when I first began teaching sailing to children at a summer camp. One week out of the season was reserved for a special program. Instead of enrolling children in the courses, we took disabled children and adults sailing on the lake. A middle-aged man in a wheelchair was lifted into my boat. Two of his friends joined us and the four of us hoisted the sails and pointed the bow toward the opposite shore. The man smiled and turned his face into the wind. My thoughts were focused on keeping the boat stable and the man comfortable.

“This is the first time I’ve been sailing since the accident,” he said and explained how he used to have a boat on Lake Michigan. He sailed every summer for years until his car was hit by a drunk driver leaving his paralyzed from the waist down. “This is the best day of my life, since then.” He thanked me several times as he was lifted off the boat, but I’m not sure who was more grateful, he or I.

CRAB needs to raise 21k by the end of next month in order to receive a matching donation. Ben and I are placing our donation today. Please give a few bucks and then pass this story on.

Thank you CRAB and thank you Matt Ruthford for keeping us grateful for what we have and reminding us to share and help as often as possible!

Comments 3

  1. Merry O'Brien

    It would be interesting to hear more about those with disabilities and aging boaters–how and if they are able to connect with the water. I’m just a few years in, and already I can’t imagine living on land again. So I have this fear about getting older and being forced to be dirt-bound due to disability. It’s great to hear about CRAB and how we can support accessibility to the life we all love!

    1. AJ West

      I’m 76 and just bought a new older sailboat that’s 25 ft. long. I’ve sailed solo for sixteen years and am sure the larger boat will be just fine. I’m looking forward to the room below, the handy cockpit and rigging for solo handling. My small boats were 15 to 17 ft. long but the new boat is shorter than the longest boat I’ve sailed which was 47 feet. I really like small boats yet have found that the tiny boats like the 15 ft. West Wight Potter to be too cramped as I age. I had a knee replaced several years ago and don’t like to crawl on my knees anymore. I can do it but don’t like it. That’s it as far as being older goes. I find sailing keeps me younger in mind and more athletic as time goes by. Solo: no one tells me what to do or suggests there’s anything I can’t do. Love it, do it, quit when tired, keep on moving.

  2. Dan Haywood

    This is a wonderful story. How great that sailing is being made accessable so those with disability can (again) enjoy the beauty of flying over the waters surface. This is great thing Matt Ruthford has done for C.R.A.B, a wonderful organization. I met Don Backe in ’05 & was down hard, though I am not disabled & he is, he lifted me up. I wish I could do something to greatly benefit C.R.A.B as Matt has done.

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