Manitoba

Stranded on coral, Winnipeg sailor determined to finish trip around North America

A Winnipeg retiree who sold everything to sail around North America says he's determined to continue despite hitting a reef and destroying his boat off the coast of Honduras.

Robert Nuttall sold everything to retire on a sailboat, now stuck on reef in Honduras

Robert Nuttall's sailboat hit coral on Feb. 7 off the coast of Honduras, destroying the vessel. (Submitted by Lee Nuttall)

A Winnipeg retiree who sold everything to sail around North America says he's determined to continue despite hitting a reef and destroying his boat off the coast of Honduras.

Robert Nuttall, 66, was about 1/3 finished his journey circumnavigating the continent, a trip roughly 39,000 kilometres long and nearly as far as sailing around Earth.

Late in the evening on Feb. 7, he hit a coral reef off the coast of the island, Roatán. Nuttall and his four passengers were safely rescued by the Honduran Navy. 

The reef was not marked on the navigation system he was using, Nuttal said. He was expecting to arrive at a dock on the island by travelling through a 60-foot-deep channel when he heard and felt a crunch. 

"Whether you're hitting the Canadian Shield or coral, it's the same with Fiberglas. It's fairly terminal for the boat," said Nuttall. 

Robert Nuttall's boat, FredAgain III, on its side stuck on coral in the Caribbean Sea. (Submitted by Robert Nuttall)

The sound of the boat scraping along the coral was like nails on a chalkboard, he said. 

"The waves were so brutal on the boat it actually ripped the keel right off the boat, it ripped the rudder right off the boat and the waves parked us high and dry on the reef."

Boat loss valued at $100K

After Nuttall retired in 2016, he put "every nickel" he had into buying a 1987 Canadian-made sailboat and outfitting it with modern rigging and navigation systems. He named it FredAgain III after his father, Frederick Arthur Nuttall, who was an avid yachtsman and war veteran. 

Nuttall launched from Vancouver in 2017. He travelled down the west coast of North America, navigating swells off the coast of California, and crossed into the Caribbean by way of the Panama Canal.

"It was a long plan that I've had all my life and I was able to put it into fruition," he said from his phone in Roatán on Monday. 

"I just wanted something a little different to do — a legacy I could leave my children and talk to my grandchildren about."

Nothing is easy about removing a boat stranded on coral. Nuttall is working with local marine park officials to pay a barge to lift his boat off the reef with a crane. He wants to do as little damage as possible to the vulnerable ecosystem. 

"On the reef there's all kinds of conches and lobster they take protecting that very seriously," he said. 

"If I were to try to run away from this, I might well go to jail."

He expects it to cost about $25,000 to simply remove his boat and thousands more to dispose of it. His four children are raising money through GoFundMe to help with the costs.

Robert Nuttall plans to continue his journey around North America if he can afford to purchase a new boat. (Submitted by Robert Nuttall)

"He's not a wealthy man and this was his home," said Nuttall's son, Lee Nuttall.

"We're trying to get him back on his feet."

Apart from salvaging personal effects, electronic components and the rigging, the crash is a total loss for Nuttall. The boat was worth about $100,000 and was not insured. 

"I'm down and hurt but I'm not done and finished," Nuttall said. "If I can, I will replace and continue."

If Nuttall is able to purchase a new boat, he plans to continue north to Belize, up the eastern coast of the United States and Canada and cross the Arctic through the Northwest Passage.

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Winnipeg. Before moving to Manitoba in 2015, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.