Seasickness halts record journey for one

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Attempt at record-setting time at sea will continue for solo sailor after his girlfriend is forced to return to land

Attempt at record-setting time at sea will continue for solo sailor after his girlfriend is forced to return to land

It was the dream of a lifetime, but reality intervened.

Reid Stowe is attempting to spend 1,000 consecutive days at sea, but he will finish his voyage alone, now that his girlfriend and first mate is back on land because of debilitating seasickness. Stowe, 55, and Soanya Ahmad, 23, left New York Harbor April 21, 2007, on a voyage dubbed “1,000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey.” However, on Feb. 22, her 306th day, Ahmad was taken off the 70-foot wooden schooner, Anne, leaving Stowe a solo sailor.

“It wasn’t until we got into the Southern Ocean that I began to be seasick,” says Ahmad, who spoke to Soundings from New York. “I thought, well, people get over seasickness; I’ll give myself a month or so.”

But the affliction never went away and, in fact, got worse whenever boat speed increased. When it became clear Ahmad’s health was steadily declining, Stowe arranged to have her taken off the boat. The nearest land was Perth, Australia, and the couple contacted the Royal Perth Yacht Club. In an ironic twist, general manager Stuart Walton sent Jon Sanders — the current record holder for longest time non-stop at sea, at 657 days — to take Ahmad to land. Sanders arrived in Walton’s 45-foot powerboat with a 16-foot Zodiac, which was deployed to the schooner to transfer Ahmad to the boat.

“It was pretty amazing to meet him,” says Ahmad. “Especially since we are trying to beat his record.”

Ahmad first met Stowe in 2003, when she was a student at City College of New York. She had recently changed her major from architecture to photography and was taking photos of boats on New YorkHarbor when she caught sight of Anne. “I asked him if I could take a picture of his boat, and he said sure,” says Ahmad. “The next week I brought back some prints of the photos I had taken for him, and he and his friends invited me to come sailing with them that day. That was the first time I had been sailing.”

It was during that trip that she learned of Stowe’s plan. He had been preparing this voyage for 15 years and was looking for someone to join him. “I remember he kept saying he was leaving in two months for years,” says Ahmad, laughing. “I was very fascinated by the whole thing.”

She pursued a second degree in maritime technology at KingsboroughCommunity College in Manhattan in 2004. After a year, there were various job opportunities, but Stowe’s voyage stayed on her mind. “At first I thought maybe I could do something like that for six months, but not three years,” says Ahmad. “But then I realized that I don’t have any obligations now. I’m not married. I don’t have kids, so there was nothing holding me back.”

She got in touch with Stowe and told him she wanted in. She spent two years living aboard Anne, learning the ropes of sailing firsthand from Stowe, who built the schooner in 1976 over the course of a year and a half. He built Anne in preparation for a six-month voyage to the Antarctic, having completed a sailing voyage from Hawaii to New Zealand. “Sailing a big gaff rig schooner like this is a big, athletic, skilled job, but I’m conservative, and she’s forgiving,” says Stowe of Anne in a blog after Ahmad’s departure. “It took me 30 years to learn.”

Of course, the voyage held unexpected challenges, such as a collision with a commercial freighter 15 days out of New YorkHarbor that smashed Anne’s bowsprit. “There were other things maintenance-wise that couldn’t be foreseen on land,” says Ahmad. “For instance, the salt air would corrode things faster than we thought, and items would shake loose due to the constant motion of the boat.”

Through storms and gales, Ahmad says she and Stowe never argued and always made the best of situations. “Having to leave was a huge disappointment. I fully intended on staying the entire time,” she says. “It was just the two of us for 305 days and my world was complete. I didn’t miss anyone.”

Stowe’s prelude to the 1,000-day voyage began in 1999 at age 46 with ex-wife Laurence Guillem, who was 26 at the time. They sailed in the South Atlantic Ocean, completing a course in the shape of a sea turtle from June 4 to Dec. 17. In January 2001 they set a course for Trinidad, but the couple encountered severe weather near Bermuda and, after injuring her jaw, Guillem declined to participate in any further voyages with him. But it is unclear if Stowe will be able to complete this current voyage — a recent article in the New York Daily News claims Stowe owes roughly $10,000 in child support to Iris Allamira, the mother of Stowe’s 30-year-old daughter, Viva, whom he divorced in 1990. Michael Hayes of New York’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance says they could seize his property, which may include Anne.

Ahmad was greeted by her family and 1,000 Days staff members when she arrived at JohnF.KennedyInternationalAirport Feb. 29. She says her family was relieved she was home, having never approved of the journey, but she says she feels out of place, trading the open ocean for crowded city streets. “It’s stranger to be back in New York than to be on land,” says Ahmad. “I was more comfortable in Australia, to tell you the truth, because there’s a big boating community down there.”

Ahmad says it will be hard to continue her life on land while Stowe attempts to finish the voyage. “We stay in touch by phone and e-mail,” she says. “What I miss is watching the scenery always changing. I know that when one is becalmed, a lot of sailors hate that because they want to get where they’re going. But if you don’t have a time constraint, you get the opportunity to do and see all the things you couldn’t see when you are moving at top speed.”

And Stowe misses her as well, but he is determined to finish what he started. He has no plans to bring anyone else with him for the rest of the journey. “Over the many years that I prepared to do the Mars Ocean Odyssey I always thought I would have people with me,” states Stowe on his blog. “Solitude is interesting and only for a few more years. I want to make the most of it and grow and learn.”

To track Stowe’s progress, visit www.1000days.net .

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