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Couple sets sail from NYC for 1,000-day, heart-shaped cruise


By VERENA DOBNIK
The Associated Press

HOBOKEN, N.J. - This trip makes the "1001 Nights" seem like a cinch.

On Saturday, 55-year-old Reid Stowe and his 23-year-old girlfriend, Soanya Ahmad, embarked on a sea voyage that is to last 1,000 days and take them three times around the globe , without once touching land.

Stowe and his seamate set sail aboard their 70-foot yacht, the Schooner Anne, at 3 p.m. from the Shipyard Marina in North Hoboken.

The pair aim to live away from land entirely, they say, surpassing the trip of 657 days taken by Australian Jon Sanders, who circumnavigated the globe three times from 1986 to 1988.

"This will be my first time sailing ever , except for up and down the Hudson River," said Ahmad, the Queens-raised daughter of immigrants from Guyana.

"I haven't gotten seasick , so far," she said with a grin.

By the time the Anne rounds South America's Cape Horn, it could be braving waves as high as 100 feet, as well as icebergs and snow. An iron woodburning stove, a French antique that sits in the main cabin, will keep them warm.

On Saturday, a sunny spring day in the 70s, the schooner headed toward the Atlantic, and in the next weeks, will sail south toward the Equator , navigating an Atlantic course shaped like the heart Stowe has sketched onto his nautical map.

"This is a voyage that takes heart," he said.

And it's the adventure of a lifetime: the two of them alone for nearly three years, out of sight of land, with no provisions except those crammed into every nook and cranny of the vessel , including cases of food that fill the bathtub, from rice and beans to tomato sauce, pasta, pesto, olives and chocolate wafers. There are also sprouts growing in boxes, for salads sprinkled with balsamic vinegar. Of Indian origin, Ahmad also brought spices like cumin, curry and masala.

The rest will be fresh from the sea.

Two contraptions at the back of the boat will snare fish, even while the couple sleeps; when a tuna or mackerel is caught, the line is rigged so it taps a piece of wood to alert them to the catch.

They'll collect rainwater in tarps stretched over the deck, and use a desalinator to turn the sea into drinking water.

Solar panels will suck in enough energy to power the communications systems and lights.

The cost of the journey is covered by both corporate and individual donations; they also got free food, the sails and marine ropes.

Stowe and Ahmad are pushing the limits of human endurance by sailing what he calls Earth's "last frontier" , the high seas. Their message to the world, they say, is that any human being cannot only persevere and survive, but also stay inspired and in love.

"It's inside everyone to go into the unknown, to sail by the sun and the winds of fate. Our ability to control our minds will allow us to do this," said Stowe, an artist whose wood carvings are chiseled into the cabin walls of the Anne, which has been his home for years. "If we had to come back for cheeseburgers, we wouldn't be able to do it."

He met Ahmad four years ago when the college student was taking pictures of Manhattan's waterfront, where the schooner was docked.

"He invited me aboard. It was my first time on a sailboat," said Ahmad. "Reid was looking for someone to go with him. At first, I said no, but then..."

The vessel is older than her , built about 30 years ago by Stowe and his family, including his mother Anne. As a child, he started learning about the sea from his grandfather, who had built a cottage on the North Carolina coast.

With a glass and steel hull and wooden interior, the 60-ton Anne is modeled after the most seaworthy 19th century American vessels, Stowe said , "round like a bottle, with a deep keel, so it floats like a duck in rough seas, and cuts through the water like a submarine."

Still, Ahmad's parents, both New York accountants, "are a little terrified," said their only daughter, the oldest of three siblings.

When she told her parents about her plan, "they were very angry at first. Then they were silent. Then they wanted to know how to keep in touch with us," said Ahmad, whose family has yet to meet Stowe.

The couple will be in touch every moment of their journey, through a GPS satellite system that pinpoints their location and allows them to send and receive e-mail. They'll also be posting live photographs, videos and blogs on their Web site.

The voyage is formally called "1000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey."

Stowe compares it to a space expedition to Mars, since it is supposed to take about the same time and pose similar endurance issues. In 1990, he published an article entitled "Seafarers of today provide a role model for spacefarers of tomorrow."

"I have the tools, I have the experience," said Stowe, who has sailed to every continent in the past four decades, including Antarctica.

It's not the first time he's attempted a sea adventure with a beloved mate. In 1999, he and his French wife completed a 200-day voyage.

This time, he's not married to his seamate.

"Right now, we're committed to do the 1000 days together. That's what's important to us," he said.

His ex-wife, Laurence Guillem, an artist who lives in Massachusetts, gave the couple a life raft for the journey, and she planned to join his mom and dad on the Hoboken dock to wave goodbye.

Stowe said the journey offers lessons even to someone who will never go out to sea , or someone like Ahmad, who grew up in New York City: "You learn to be present to the situation, to look and see what's happening, and to do what needs to be done."

Adds Ahmad, "On a sailboat, you have to be present in the moment, in the now. Or there's no tomorrow."

What happens if at some point, he and Ahmad can't stand each other in closed quarters?

"If she had to get off, we have a pump-up boat for emergencies," he said tongue-in-cheek.

But they don't plan to bail. "We try to keep Murphy off the boat," said Stowe, referring to Murphy's Law, which says that if anything can go wrong, it will. "You have to have a belief, that you're going to behave in the most noble character."

If they're shipwrecked, an emergency beacon goes out to all points, while they jump into a life raft with survival equipment and clothing.

They've thought of every possible mishap, stocking up on tools, paint, brushes, and a medical kit including pain killer; they've learned how to clean a cut and stitch it up, as well as to set bones.

The two also have what could be called "things to take to a desert island if you're shipwrecked."

While Stowe and Ahmad hope to stay far even from islands, their schooner is carrying every book written by Herman Melville, including "Moby Dick," and the collected works of Joseph Conrad. They also have a small library of books on yoga, meditation and spirituality, as well as art and history.

One culinary item is linked to Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island," in which the castaway Ben Gunn is finally rescued and fed what he asks for , a piece of parmesan cheese.

The Anne was setting sail with about 200 pounds of parmesan.

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On the Net:

1,000 Days at Sea: http://www.1000days.net


April 21, 2007 5:19 PM

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