1,000 days without touching land

Author:
Publish date:

An artist and his girlfriend are attempting a ‘voyage of the heart’ aboard his 70-foot schooner

An artist and his girlfriend are attempting a ‘voyage of the heart’ aboard his 70-foot schooner

Standing on a dock at Shipyard Marina in Hoboken, N.J., Reid Stowe glances across the Hudson River at dark rain clouds looming over lower Manhattan. Despite the impending weather, the lifelong sailor greets a small group of writers with a smile and guides them through a tour of his 70-foot wooden schooner, Anne, which is tied to the dock. Afterward, he answers questions about his upcoming adventure.

Two days later, April 21, Stowe and his 23-year-old girlfriend, Soanya Ahmad, set off on a voyage he has been planning for 15 years: to spend 1,000 days at sea without touching land. “This is something I’m doing because I think it’s the most exciting thing there is,” says Stowe, 55, from Anne’s pilothouse. “I don’t envy what anyone else is doing with their lives. To be able to step aboard a boat and sail off out of sight of land is a wonderful opportunity. This is going to be a beautiful experience, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”

Stowe and Ahmad plan to spend nearly three years on the boat, surviving mostly on the thousands of pounds of provisions they have packed on board. They will catch rainwater in tarps stretched over the deck, grow sprouts, and Stowe plans to fish using rods he’s rigged to Anne’s stern. They will dry and salt the fish they don’t immediately eat.

“If we land a big tuna, we won’t be able to eat it all,” says Stowe, an artist from North Carolina. “I’ll slice it into dinner portions and salt it. It’ll be totally delicious.”

The idea to spend 1,000 days at sea came to Stowe several years ago, and the pair aims to top the record for days at sea set by Australian Jon Sanders, who spent 657 days sailing around the world three times from 1986 to 1988. Stowe likens the 1,000-day voyage to an expedition to the far reaches of the solar system. “It’s just about the same amount of time it would take a spaceship to get to Mars,” he says. “It also poses similar obstacles in regards to managing a crew on a boat, although I’ve learned over the years that sailing Anne with one crew is best.”

Stowe and Ahmad plan to sail east into the Atlantic, then southwest toward Brazil. In the South Atlantic, they will attempt to sail a three-month course in the shape of a heart about 3,000 miles wide. “Everyone wants to love and be loved. This really is a voyage of the heart,” Stowe says. “Soanya and I will do our best to keep each other happy. I think our formula works.”

This won’t be Stowe’s first conceptual art piece at sea. In 1999 he sailed a course in the shape of a sea turtle with his then wife, 26-year-old Frenchwoman Laurence Guillem.

Stowe’s fascination with the sea began when he was a child and solidified as a teenager, when he met renowned French solo sailor Bernard Moitessier. “He really was my idol, my mentor,” Stowe says.

At age 19 Stowe sailed from Hawaii to New Zealand. After returning to the United States, he built a 27-foot, 1,400-pound engineless catamaran and sailed it over the next three years, venturing across the Atlantic twice and along the Amazon River. In 1976 Stowe spent about two years in North Carolina constructing his gaff-rigged schooner with help from friends and family. He says he has sailed Anne to every continent, including Antarctica.

Ahmad, a recent City College of New York graduate, met Stowe about four years ago while photographing the Big Apple’s historic waterfront. The two began dating, and Ahmad has been living with Stowe aboard Anne for the last year. They realize that being restricted to a 70-foot sailboat for nearly three years can be exhausting, but Stowe says the real challenge will be running the boat.

“I think our obstacles will be sailing through bad weather and avoiding other boats while under way,” he says. “When a storm hits and we’re in a dangerous situation, there won’t be any room to argue. I think moments like those will help bring us together.”

On May 6, Stowe’s theory was put to the test when Anne had a minor collision with a freighter. Although no one was injured, Anne’s bowsprit was damaged, and Stowe and Ahmad were attempting to make repairs. To track the voyage, visit www.1000days.net .