Sailor, mystic and artist Reid Stowe has spent the longest ever time at sea without stopping. Before he left I met this glorious eccentric
This weekend was a landmark – a seriously big one. On Saturday American sailor Reid Stowe passed his 1,000th day at sea without stopping.
The 57-year-old set off from the US nearly two years and eight months ago with the aim of completing the longest ever recorded voyage. He has easily done so, beating (if that is the word) Bernard Moitessier’s voyage in Joshua.
It even trumps Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen’s long stint in Fram in 1893, when he was iced into the Polar Sea for a mere two years.
Reid Stowe has been sailing in the most leisurely fashion in a 60-ton 70ft gaff-rigged schooner, Lady Anne.
He is now making his way back home to the US, slowly as you might expect, to arrive in the summer.
I met him seven years ago when he was planning the voyage and living on board in New York and was both impressed and slightly spooked by him. The sailing world suffers no shortage of oddballs, but Reid Stowe is one of its most original eccentrics.
He is an artist and spiritual healer who is “into mysticism”, a seagoing bohemian who has been roaming for the last three decades. As a teenager, he met Bernard Moitessier, who has been an inspiration to him ever since. Moitessier’s son Stephan was one of many friends who helped him get his boat ready.
Stowe had previously made a voyage he called the Odyssey of the Sea Turtle. It lasted six months and took a course round the South Atlantic High in the shape of a sea turtle. It was, he said, the largest piece of conceptual art ever made.
When I asked him why he wanted to go for longer, he replied that it was to do with seaworthiness. His seaworthiness.
“I’m interested in how seaworthy a person can become. How long can you stay in the moment? What are the things you’ve got to do? The reason more people don’t go to sea for longer is that they’re afraid of physical harm, of physical and mental harm. They’re scared they’ll get sick or create something that makes them sick.”
His boat Lady Anne is amazing. He designed it himself at the age of 25 in the style of American fishing schooners and with the aid of John Leather’s book The Gaff Rig Handbook.
Stowe built it with the help of his father, brothers and friends. In true Seventies style, she is made of steel and epoxy resin, constructed like a ferrocement boat with wire filled with a grout of Ferrolite aggregate.
Down below, Lady Anne is covered with beautiful and elaborate wood carvings, some of which are designed to cast shadows or capture beads of sunlight so that they dance theatrically across the saloon as the boat moves.
Originally Stowe was going to sail with his cat Tao and his girlfriend, but the girlfriend got cold feet and left so he advertised for another female companion. Soanya Ahmad, 24, volunteered and off they went.
However, Soanya suffered badly from seasickness and decided to ditch boat and sailor in 2008 after 306 days. They were close to Australia. “That was my chance to get off and I took it,” she said.
The story took another incredible twist after Ahmad came ashore and found out she was pregnant. She gave birth to a son later that year. The only time I’ve ever laughed about this bizarre but wonderful voyage was when I read her comment: “Reid said he was very sorry he couldn’t be here for the birth – or for the first few years.”
It’s a measure of how long Reid Stowe has been at sea that when he finally reaches land again he will be meeting his walking, talking two-year-old for the very first time.
No, you just couldn’t make it up.