Ground Control to Major Reid: 600 Days at Sea-and Counting
"My friends sent me the short NPR radio interview you did about me, and I wished that I'd kept up with you so you'd have been better informed," he wrote. Magnanimously, I thought, given the reason he'd tracked me down, he wished me well and added a link to his website (www.1000days.net), which I clicked on with more than a little curiosity.
And I was absolutely, unequivocally, blown away. Though largely ignored by the main-steam media-and, for that matter, by the sailing press-I was totally unaware that he'd been under way for more than 500 days. Stowe was unquestionably in the midst of one of the most remarkable sea journeys of all time. If you don't believe me, please, make your way to his website.
Has it been an eventful journey? Oh, yes. (And one in which I'll write about in more detail in an upcoming print story for CW.) Fifteen days into it, he lost his bowsprit in a collision at sea. Off the Cape of Good Hope, in a vicious gale, he and his lone crew, his wife, Soanya, lost their mainsail and foresail. Then, mysteriously, Soanya became wracked with illness and nausea, which is what happens when one becomes . . . pregnant. After 307 days at sea, she boarded an inflatable off Western Australia commandeered by none other than Jon Sanders, whose record Stowe is after-you can't make this stuff up-and soon after gave birth to a son, Darshen.
Stowe details all of this on his site, which is engrossing reading, to say the very least. That said, he's not everyone's cup of tea. His wide-eyed wonder, his unabashed spirituality, and his vision of life-as-performance art doesn't rest well with his critics. Since that first e-mail, Stowe and I have swapped several more, and I asked him what it was that made him such a lightning rod.
"The Internet allows a place for those of mean disposition to express themselves," he said. "I'm not a perfect sailor, and they've found some flaws. That gives them a handle, and they don't like my lifestyle, my philosophy, my woman, my personality, my boat, and perhaps the fact that I'm following my dreams. Perhaps it isn't 'me'; it could be seen as pure energy flow, a product of our times. I want to give out an inspiring story to the world, and they dampened it, and it's been hurtful, but it's caused me to dig deep for love."
Meanwhile, Stowe sails forward. Currently, he's several hundred miles west of Chile, on an eastward heading to complete Anne's first circumnavigation. A few weeks back, he was headed in the trade winds and just decided to follow the breeze. What happened next was, at least to Stowe, nothing short of divine.
"Around October 2, I got an e-mail from an old sailing buddy that said, 'Congratulations, Reid. You've drawn a whale with your course.'
"I looked at my map, and sure enough, it was a whale! It didn't take me long to realize that if I changed course, I could draw the flipper and define it better. I was thrilled, having previously given up the possibility of creating more oceanic art with my course because without our bowsprit and with damaged sails, we lost our ability to go well to weather. This accidental art confirmed to me that I was in tune with the ocean, as my style of sailing created an unbelievable but true spiritual and technical wonder. This is where I am now, living out my lifelong dream close to the sea and the grace of the universe."
On December 12, bound for Cape Horn, Reid Stowe recorded his 600th day adrift from terra firma. And while he's certainly rankled numerous souls along the way, he's also touched a few, as evidenced by this e-mail he received from a U.S. West Coast woman caring for an ailing mother that arrived at the same time as my "interview" transcript.
She wrote: "I'm calmed by your recent messages to your audience, about feeling love, expressing love, and also gratitude when there are frustrations and worries with no end. Although I was intrigued with your story and journey all those hundreds of days ago, I didn't know what to think of you, but now, after all this time, I just go with it because, Reid, you truly lift me up.
"You radiate a warmth that speaks to me in a really lasting way, and I hope, in reciprocity, you can feel something similar from me in my thanks to you. I'm native to Southern California, a land rich in Mexican culture, so I send this for you, as you journey on, Reid. It's a most positive and beautiful Spanish expression: Vaya con dios. Go with God."