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Sailor still savoring his ‘Mars’ mission

Reid Stowe is determined to finish his 1,000 days at sea with no stops on land and no reprovisioning

It was April 21, 2007, when Reid Stowe set sail from New York Harbor aboard his 70-foot wooden schooner, Anne, which he built himself in 1971. His goal then, as now, is to spend 1,000 days at sea without touching land.

Now, almost two years into his voyage, Stowe, 56, is still sailing, with no indication he’s coming ashore.

“It has been a pleasure not seeing the land and learning about the sea,” says Stowe in an e-mail to Soundings. “A lifetime of experience, boatbuilding and seamanship skills are balanced and rejuvenated by my soul quest.”

Stowe has titled his voyage “1,000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey” because, he says, it would take about that long for a spacecraft to reach Mars. His “soul quest” began with one other person, Soanya Ahmad, his girlfriend and now the mother of his 9-month-old son, Darshen.

On Feb. 22, 2008, her 306th day at sea, 25-year-old Ahmad was forced to abandon the journey off Perth, Australia, because of severe bouts of seasickness, aggravated by her pregnancy. Darshen was born July 31, and he and Ahmad are now living with her family in New York City.

“I read somewhere that life on a boat was ‘an exercise in minimalist living.’ ” says Ahmad on the Web Site ( “When I left the schooner, I took those techniques of conservation and minimalist living with me.”

As the New Year dawned, Stowe was in the Southern Ocean and headed for Cape Horn. Approaching his 800th day at sea, he has not resupplied since the beginning of the voyage and says that since he had stocked the boat initially with food enough for two, there is plenty left. His only fresh food is the sprouts he grows on the schooner.

“My supplies are holding out well. I spent many years developing my diet for the sea, getting contributors and finding out what would last,” says Stowe. He calls fresh sprout salads “the key to my diet.”

Stowe, an artist as well as a sailor, brought along several extra sails to use as canvas for his drawings, but he has found himself using them over and over for repair work.

“Being at sea for more than a few weeks becomes much more difficult on many levels — food, health, psychology, etc.,” says Stowe. “The wear and tear on both myself and the boat goes to levels I have not experienced after a lifetime of sailing.”

Part of Stowe’s adventure includes sailing a course to match different sea life. Recently, he sailed the Pacific in the shape of a whale without realizing it. In a previous sailing journey in 1999, he and his wife at the time, Laurence Guillem, sailed a course in the shape of a sea turtle.

“Some of my friends have said they don’t understand the significance of the turtle and whale course drawings and artistic creativity in exploration,” says Stowe in his blog. “Symbols have often helped humanity bridge the gap between reason and wonder: The symbol of the turtle makes people remember the ancient wisdom of Aesop’s fable — to go slowly but surely.”

Stowe says the whale drawing has been the highlight of his trip so far. As for the solitude, he says he is doing fine, since this trip was something he had planned and dreamed of for more than 20 years. Ahmad says she understands what the voyage means to Stowe.

“While I miss him, and I know he misses me and his son, Reid is a very determined individual,” says Ahmad. “He has more discipline than anyone I have ever met. But he has stayed healthy, and he never gets sick, so he’s pretty self-sufficient out there.”

Slow and steady has been the theme of each course.

“With our heavy displacement hull, short rig, baggy old sails and no extended bowsprit, we also don’t sail very well against the wind, especially if it is a light wind,” Stowe writes in his blog, adding, “It is actually quite amazing how I can set her up on a course and she just keeps going.”

Stowe and Ahmad met in 2003 when she was a student at the City College of New York. She continued to pursue a second degree in maritime technology at Kingsborough Community College in Manhattan in 2004, and in 2005 she began living aboard Anne.

“I would like to point out that Soanya was a brave and supportive partner, and she deserves applause for how well she did over 300 days out of sight of land,” says Stowe. “Soanya should be quite an inspiration for women to try to excel beyond all known limitations.”

Soanya says she will not be able to rejoin Stowe before the end of the voyage because of the needs of their son. But they e-mail one another often, providing updates on their respective journeys.

“It has been very interesting and endearing to get photos and letters and watch Darshen grow up,” says Stowe. “By coincidence, when I was born, my Air Force father went to Korea for a year and a half and my mother went home to live with her family.”

Stowe says he has no set plan for his eventual return, but is looking forward to seeing his family. Meanwhile, he writes frequently in his blog about sea and weather conditions and how the journey is fulfilling him spiritually.

“It is hard for me to know what I will do when I finish the voyage, but I want to be with Soanya and our new son, Darshen, and spend time with my parents, who have always been so supportive,” says Stowe.

Along with many parts of the globe, Stowe has also put a family issue behind him. Stowe says the $10,000 in child support he owed an ex-wife, Iris Allarmira, mother of his daughter, Viva, has been paid in full. The news of the support issue broke in a New York Daily News report last year, a story Stowe calls “fabricated and exaggerated.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2009 issue.