Monday, 28 June 2010

Reid Stowe’s Odyssey

Reid Stowe, the maverick artist, painter, carpenter, new age thinker and sailor has just completed 1,152 days roaming around the oceans on a 70-foot schooner, the Anne, that he built himself. Stowe returned to New York last week after breaking a century old record for the longest sea voyage ever. For his entire voyage, Stowe has lived off his supplies, never put into port or set foot on land.

The epic voyage started in April 2007 with Stowe, 55 and girlfriend and rookie sailor Soanya Ahmed, 23, intending to spend three years at sea. Soanya had to leave after ten months when she got pregnant, transferring to a yacht well off the Australian coast. She returned home to New York where she gave birth to a boy. Stowe went on sailing alone; he said that Soanya’s departure was the most difficult time of the voyage. When he finally came into New York Habour last week, he said it was his first glimpse of land for more than two years. “The first people I’ve seen in years!” he shouted, as a boat carrying a United States Customs officer and half a dozen other people approached his schooner. “I was never lonely once in the whole voyage,” he told people later. “Being alone in the wildness and the beauty of nature is an enlightening experience.”

The voyage was not without difficulties. The Anne collided once with a containership, damaging her bowsprit that Stowe repaired at sea while drifting for a month. His sails were torn rounding Cape Horn and he even capsized once. Stowe spent his time sewing torn sails, performing other maintenance and doing regular yoga and meditation. He lived on rainwater, fish and sprouts grown on the boat, along with beans, cheese, oatmeal, pasta and rice. “I’ve still got enough food left for another year,” he told visitors in New York.

Stowe has faced great criticism, ridicule and even abuse on websites and elsewhere from many. Critics call him careless, a bad sailor and an exhibitionist. "Reid is a hazard to navigation," says a writer on the Sailing Anarchy website. "He dead yet?" asked another. Says Charles Doane, a sailing writer, "I can think of no other long-distance ocean sailor who has ever endured such relentless and venomous public abuse while actively engaged in a voyage."

The trip, an obsession with Stowe for long, took two decades to take off. Sponsors were finally found, and the voyage was nicknamed the Mars Ocean Odyssey: a voyage to study the stresses on an isolated, self-sustained crew over the length of a Mars mission. However, another Stowe goal was to break the record for the longest sea voyage: set in the 1890s, it was held by Fram, a Norwegian ship that was frozen in Arctic ice on a 1,067 day voyage.

Stowe was met on his return by Soanya and Darshen, the son that he had never seen. He stayed in touch, blogging from an onboard computer until last year when it broke down, after which his only means of communication was a satellite phone.

Stowe has built a berth on board for his son for future trips. He wants the three of them to live on the Anne on the New York waterfront. Besides this, he has no other plans after his remarkable voyage. “I have no wants at all,” he said. “I want to make everyone happy. I want to share the story.”

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