Posted By RichC on May 8, 2009
I regularly read the updates from Reid Stowe and his 1000 Days at Sea Mars Ocean Odyssey and wanted to archive an AP story from earlier in the week. The AP article written by Verena Dobnik was published a couple days ago and portrayed Soanya and Reid’s story as “quirky” — at least the beginning. It offers an outside look into the couple’s meeting and eventual sailing together and unusual relationship with Reid on his schooner and Soanya raising their son back in NYC.
Voyage of the heart: Sailing quest tests couple’s skills and bond
NEW YORK — A thousand days at sea – that was the couple’s dreamy plan. They’d crisscross oceans aboard their 21-metre sailboat, the Anne, never making landfall, never resupplying.
It would be an inspired adventure, which they viewed in different ways.
The voyage “is an experiment in the psychology of what it takes for humans to live in a dangerous situation, isolated and self-sufficient,” Reid Stowe told The Associated Press, speaking from the Anne in the rugged South Atlantic, with the satellite telephone line dropping several times.
His crewmate Soanya Ahmad, now back on dry land in Queens, N.Y., where she’s raising the baby son conceived on board, sums up the trip in a phrase: “A voyage of the heart.” That’s the title of a book she’s writing.
It’s quite a story, with an ending that’s still to be written, and a middle full of thrills, perils and even a quest for a world record.
The story’s beginning has a quirky, almost Hollywood quality.
Ahmad was a 20-year-old college student when she first met Stowe a half-dozen years ago. She was photographing Manhattan’s West Side waterfront where he had docked his homemade schooner.
“He invited me aboard. It was my first time on a sailboat,” says the daughter of ethnic Indian immigrants from Guyana, who raised her and her two brothers in Queens.
“Reid was looking for someone to go with him,” says Ahmad, “And at first, I said no. But then …”
She says she was fascinated by this man with “transparent grey eyes that seem to have seen distances far greater than I could ever imagine.”
Within several months, the delicate, 5-foot-tall young woman boarded the boat and put her life into the hands of the 6-foot-1 sailor, 32 years her senior, whose face is weathered by decades of adventures to every continent.
Stowe had set out on his first sea journey as a teenager, dropping out of college in Arizona and sailing from Hawaii to the South Pacific with another young man.
For years after that, he found work at boatyards and as a skipper in the Caribbean, while selling some of his own sculptures and paintings. In 1999, he and his then-wife made it through 197 days together at sea.
He had fallen in love with the water as a boy on vacation with his grandfather, who owned a beach house on the North Carolina coast. That’s as grounded as Stowe ever was, the oldest of six siblings whose father was a U.S. air force officer who kept the family on the move around the United States, Germany and the Philippines.
By the 1970s, in North Carolina, Stowe and his relatives had built the Anne, naming it after his mother. The masts were hewn from pine trees that Stowe chopped himself, and his wood carving decorates the interior.
In the past few years, the Anne has been tested to the extreme.
Before they pushed off on April 21, 2007, from Hoboken, N.J., on the Hudson River, the couple crammed the boat with supplies.
The food ranged from rice and beans to tomato sauce, pasta, pesto, olives, chocolate, spices – plus one luxury: about 90 kilograms of Parmesan cheese. Ahmad also brought along Indian spices.
Provisions included coal and firewood for the heating stove and fuel for limited motoring, with solar panels powering the electronics on board. Water would be collected from rainfall and the sea, using a desalinator.
With small funds from friends and family, plus donated equipment and food supplies, the schooner disappeared into the sunset “on a warm spring day with a light breeze,” Ahmad wrote on their online log.
They alternated watches, vigilant for other vessels and braced for the fierce wind she called “our capricious master.”
Within days, heading south in the Atlantic, they hit stormy weather.
In their bunk, pitching around on the violent ocean, she wrote, “I clung to Reid and hoped he didn’t notice me clinging… I was more scared of losing Reid than of the storm.”
However “unlikely” their relationship is, she said, “from the inside, it is a perfect love.”
She and Stowe balanced one another as a crew at sea, she observed recently in her journal: “Where Reid might overreact, I was calm. Where I lacked the energy or manual skill to complete a task, Reid more than made up for it. We complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Stowe had proposed a trip of 1,000 days at sea without resupplying or stops. But it nearly ended in disaster soon after it began.
Fifteen days from Hoboken, the couple collided with a freighter in the Atlantic, smashing the Anne’s bowsprit and mast.
“It looked like everything was over,” Stowe says now by sat phone. “I got all stressed out, but Soanya was very calm. She steadied me and said, ‘Yes, we can go on.”‘
The repairs took a month “and we drifted until we could sail normally again,” Ahmad remembers.
After crossing the Equator on the 90th day, she wrote excitedly: “We’ve been picking up enough flying fish off the deck every morning to have fish with every meal.”
There were also romantic interludes.
“Full moon nights on the ocean are magnificent,” she wrote on the 186th day. “The sky is suffused with a soft luminosity as if dawn were arriving at any moment. The waves are mesmerizing.”
But on the 230th day, her tone was changed as conditions worsened, with strong winds that rocked the boat in the Indian Ocean. She wrote: “I’m not sure it’s healthy to take seasick pills every day … I spend a good deal of my day curled up on the pilothouse bunk…”
By Day 289, on Feb. 6, 2008, she knew pregnancy was causing this seasickness – and her fluctuating mood: “It’s not easy to be loving all of the time. It takes as much work to remember to be loving as it does to act out frustration or negative feeling.”
Still, it was wrenching for both to decide she had to leave.
“Together we have made memories we will never forget,” she wrote on her last day aboard.
The two had sailed together for 305 straight days when, near Australia, Ahmad was helped off the Anne by a fellow long-distance sailor. From Perth, Australia, she flew home to New York, where on July 16, she gave birth to their son Darshen. His name is Sanskrit for a glimpse of something divine.
Stowe is still sailing. He’s been alone at sea for a year, though he keeps in touch with a log posted on a website by satellite phone.
To reach his 1,000-day goal, Stowe faces another eight months of solitude and, at times, terrors.
Gale-force winds have blown huge holes in his sails, which he’s always mending.
“I am sending an extra update today,” Stowe wrote in his web journal, “to take a little time off since my hands are so sore from constantly working, sewing sails and pulling ropes. But I am always ready if something comes up.”
One day in the middle of the South Atlantic, roaring seas capsized the Anne, submerging the sails and knocking Stowe into the cabin wall. The waves crashed over the schooner, “and had me hanging on with my heart beating,” he wrote. “I am a little gun-shy now, after capsizing, losing my staysail and blowing out my old red foresail.”
Ahmad, no longer there to help, supports him in spirit, writing daily emails, calling when possible, and sending digital photos of Darshen.
Also monitoring Stowe’s travels is Charles Doane, editor-at-large of Sail magazine. “I check his positions every day,” he says.
Already, Stowe “has set the record of the longest non-stop, unsupplied voyage at sea,” says Doane, adding that proof the schooner has not touched land comes from a GPS satellite system tracking the voyage, along with regular photos and videos posted on the web.
Stowe has his detractors: authors of Internet posts who paint him as a fraudulent, Svengali-like figure who seduces women and spirits them into danger. One blogger pointed out that Stowe had been convicted of drug dealing.
He acknowledges having served nine months in prison for conspiracy to deal drugs in the Caribbean – helping transfer marijuana from a Colombian vessel to some yachts in 1987.
“But what I’m doing now is an honourable thing – working hard and keeping love in the forefront to guide my actions,” he says.
Doane likens Stowe to French sailor Bernard Moitessier, who in the 1960s completed the first non-stop round-the-world race. “He was a very spiritual person on a spiritual enterprise,” says Doane, and Stowe “is in that tradition.”
More than 700 days into the voyage as of April, Stowe’s many repairs are holding, sprouts for salads grow in boxes on the Anne’s deck, and he catches fish daily.
“I have an excellent diet,” he says. “And I feel very close to a universal god.”
He still wants to break the record of 657 days alone at sea set in 1988 by Australian Jon Sanders. Stowe aims to return in January 2010 after 1,000 days.
And after that? “We do plan to be together when he returns,” Ahmad wrote on the website.
“I’m her man,” he confirmed from close to 10,000 kilometres away at sea.
“I have no idea,” she says brightly.
Stowe says he’ll return to land “to be the best man and father I can. We probably will get married.”
Ahmad has no regrets about taking the trip, or about the separation. “When it comes to making certain life decisions, there’s a feeling, when you’re doing the right thing, that it’s the right thing – something solid inside.”