Ground Control to Major Reid: 600 Days at Sea-and Counting
A few weeks back, I received a phone call from a producer at a public radio station in Minnesota. She asked me if I'd do a follow-up interview to a sailing segment that the station had recently broadcast that ended up being more than a little controversial. To my everlasting chagrin, though I hadn't actually heard the piece, I agreed to go on air. (Note: This seems to be what happens when someone considers you an "expert" on something. You endlessly find ways to prove that you aren't.)
The subject of the story was artist/sailor/adventurer Reid Stowe, who'd been at sea for well over a year aboard his funky, handcrafted, 70-foot schooner, Anne, in his attempt to record the longest continuous nonstop passage ever. The previous mark had been set by an intrepid Australian named Jon Sanders, who spun himself around the planet three times in a voyage that lasted 657 days. Stowe was aiming for an even 1,000 days in a trip he'd dubbed "The Mars Ocean Odyssey"; that's supposedly the time it'd take to fly to and from the distant planet. Stowe reckons future space travelers might learn something useful from his own isolated experiences.
Feel free to insert your own joke here. Plenty of Stowe's detractors, I've come to learn, already have.
Actually, I did know a bit about Stowe and his voyage-just enough, as it turned out, to be dangerous (or, perhaps more accurately, stupid). Years before, while planning the expedition, I'd written about him for The New York Times, whose sports editors were intrigued by the rather mystical figure with the zany objective who, at the time, was living aboard on the Manhattan waterfront. Later, at Cruising World, I commissioned a story from him called "The Voyage of the Sea Turtle," which told the tale of his rambling voyage through the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic, the intent of which was to carve the image of a giant tortoise in his wake. (Ahem. More on this later.)
Anyway, the interview went forth, and I mumbled a few utterances about how most sailors go to sea not to set records but for the joy and satisfaction of it. I'd sensed that the radio producer considered Stowe a bit of a wing nut, as had the majority of listeners who'd posted a follow-up opinion on the station's website, and in retrospect, I did little or nothing to dissuade her of the notion.
Then, about a week later, from deep in the Southern Ocean, I received a chirpy, upbeat e-mail. The sender? Reid Stowe.