The speech was ready. He knew he’d be emotional, so he’d jotted a few things down in advance. Now where were the shoes? It’d been a year and a half since he’d worn them, but he scrounged them up and tugged them on. For months and even years, Reid Stowe had been planning for this moment, and now, on a breezy afternoon in the heart of New York City, it was time to emerge from the cabin of his tired, well-traveled, 70-foot schooner, Anne, and close the book on the longest, strangest voyage—on a couple of different levels—of all time.
Streaked with rust, her threadbare sails doused and furled, poor Anne appeared frightful and decidedly worse for wear. But not Reid. Fresh and fit, the youthful-looking 58-year-old mariner bounded on deck and stood before the hundreds of well wishers who’d come together to welcome the sailor home from the sea. It’d been well over three years since he’d seen his parents, Harry and Anne, and more than two since his pregnant sweetheart, Soanya Ahmad, had boarded a waiting launch off the coast of Western Australia and left Reid to carry on alone. As for his son, Darshen, now nearly 2 years old himself, well, he’d never laid eyes on the lad.
“You know what it’s like in an audience when you’re speaking and you see everybody looking at you—you feel like you’re kind of connected to everyone at the same time? That’s the feeling I had,” said Reid. As he took in the scene, his first words were a simple, heartfelt, and joyous declaration:
“I see a lot of people I love!”
So much for the prepared statement: With that ad-libbed pronouncement, on June 17 at Pier 81 on the Hudson River, Reid Stowe’s self-proclaimed “Love Voyage” came to an end more or less precisely where it started—some 1,152 days before.
“I tried to inspire the world,” Reid said later, long after he’d gathered his boy and Soanya in his arms as the cameras clicked and whirred. “What I did physically, achieving what no man was capable of achieving before, I did through the power of love.”
As I’ve said before (see “Spaced Odyssey?,” October 2009), Reid’s mystical worldview inspires some to raise their eyebrows, but there’s no question that his nautical achievements are unsurpassed. Though Soanya accompanied him for almost a year at the outset of the voyage, when she stepped off Anne on Day 306, Reid made the decision to carry on solo. By the time he tied up at Pier 81, he’d sailed 846 days alone, shattering the previous singlehanded record of 658 days established by Aussie sailor Jon Sanders on a triple circumnavigation in the late 1980s.
Furthermore, according to noted sailing writer Charles Doane, Reid’s 1,100-plus days at sea easily exceeds the only other “1,000-day” voyage that belongs in the “longest ever” conversation: Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s Arctic exploits aboard Fram, from 1893 to 1896. And Nansen’s 1,067-day journey probably deserves an asterisk; though he never stepped on terra firma, he did take leave of Fram to travel extensively across the ice.
So now, with one long, fell swoop, when it comes to long-range, marathon sailing, Reid Stowe’s dual records have set the bar for endurance voyaging. Like baseball great Cal Ripken Jr.’s record of 2,131 consecutive games played, it’s almost impossible to fathom the accomplishment itself, as well as the possibility that the lofty numbers will ever be bettered.
“The voyage itself exceeded my wildest expectations, which were really over the top,” said Reid in a conversation. “But before I left, I had no way of conceiving of the exalted state of consciousness that I eventually reached. I cried a lot at sea, just tears of joy. I’d look out over the ocean, and I was just so grateful.”
In previous offshore forays, Reid, a sculptor, painter, and musician, had “carved” conceptual artwork in his wake via Anne‘s GPS tracks, and he resumed the practice on his record-setting voyage—a single circumnavigation with long stretches in the tropics, to reduce the wear and tear on his tattered sails—by fashioning the image of a whale in the South Pacific and a heart in the South Atlantic.
Reid’s route is archived on his website (www.1000days.net). Up until the last six months of the trip, he also posted regular updates, photographs, and paintings on the site, a practice he was forced to stop after both his computers failed.
As it turned out, it gave the final stretch of the trip a new sense of urgency. “Losing the computers was actually better for me,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had to be entertaining everybody. I was able to write deeper essays and paint richer paintings. I was receiving illuminations, one after the next. It was incredible. I didn’t have time to read. Coming back to land, I felt like I was running out of time. So I worked even harder trying to interpret my visions. The closer I got, the more I didn’t want to return.”
As he closed in on New York, however, two things changed his outlook and ultimately eased his transition back. First, he wants to share his story, through a book and a documentary. “With all the terror and bad news in the world, I have a message of great hope and inspiration,” said Reid. “That’s my mission now, to take the best opportunities that are afforded to me to do the best thing for humanity.”
More important, Soanya and Darshen, with whom he’s now living aboard Anne on a dock in Hoboken, New Jersey—a stone’s throw from “the media and cultural center of the world, New York City, which is important for my art career and my writing”—drew him home.
“The boat needs a lot of work,” said Reid. “There will be other voyages, but for now, I’m feeling real satisfied. I have too much to do on land right now.”
At the top of the priority list is getting to know and nurture his young son and family. “I’m back with a beautiful woman,” he said. “Every man knows how great that is.
“Plus I’ve got this little boy going ‘Daddy!’ He’s pulling ropes, and when we’re down in the cargo hold trying to make things neat, he’s down there with us trying to help. So we’re having fun, and it’s going to be a great joy to me to grow up with him on the boat. Before he even knows what’s happening, he’ll have great knowledge of boats and the sea and the larger way that I look at nature. That’ll be in him.”
And so Reid Stowe, dreamer and doer, has rejoined the world. In more ways than one, like never before, he’s now a grounded man.
Like Reid Stowe, Herb McCormick, a CW_ editor at large, has recently returned to the grounded life, having completed a bluewater marathon around the continents of North America and South America. To read his blog, log on to Herb’s Watch_