“We’re departing on a circumnavigation trip really soon, wanna join us?” my mate Reid was calling me in Hawaii. After hoping for this opportunity for years, I dropped everything – my girlfriend, my house, my work, my friends – and flew off, eager for the trip of a lifetime.
It was late February 1986 when I made the precarious landing below the cliffs on St. Barthelemy in a tiny four seater roller-coaster Piper Cherokee. Schooner Anne was moored in Gustavia Harbour on the smuggling island made famous by, frequent visitor, Jimmy Buffett but nowadays overrun with swanky affluent European sun seekers.
I’d sailed with master mariner and artist Reid Stowe around the Caribbean in the late ‘70’s and we’d shared a few renegade adventures already so I was excited to join him again for this round the world sailing trip on board his two masted gaff rigged Schooner Anne. When we first met on beautiful Bequai island in 1979 he was accompanied by his wife Iris and daughter Viva. The vessel was named Tantra Schooner and was still being fitted out.
Reid had built it with the help of his father, brothers and friends. In true seventies style, she is uniquely made of steel and epoxy resin, constructed like a ferrocement boat with wire filled with a grout of Ferrolite aggregate. She’s super strong, but slow and ponderous like a turtle.
Below decks the schooner’s fitted out with beautiful tropical hard woods rescued from Dominica after hurricane David. Elaborate carvings made by Reid and Iris cast shadows or capture beads of sunlight that dance theatrically across the wheelhouse and saloon. Even the hold and crews bunks are bright with a rainbow of exotic woods. I loved the beauty below decks and above.
I spent a month working to get the Schooner Anne shipshape, loading whatever supplies we could find and then, with a motley crew of seven, we left for St Maarten.
We anchored alongside our friends who were sailing Bob Dylan’s very pretty 68’ Schooner Water Pearl. We got to hang out a bit and go for a day sail on her before we departed. This classic local schooner had been hand built with great pride by shipwrights on my favourite Caribbean island of Bequia using local woods in the traditional style. I remember December 9, 1980 when, with a couple of hundred others, I helped launch the 40 ton vessel by pulling it with ropes into the ocean and having one hell of a celebration. Sadly, she sank less than ten years later on a reef just off Cristobal at the entrance to the Panama canal. Nolly Simmons, brother of my good buddy Mac Simmons from Bequia said later “When Water Pearl went down, the whole of Bequia wept.”
Back on Schooner Anne it was my great fortune, cruising to Panama, to be given the night watch. I was on the helm exactly when Halley’s comet was the closest it got to earth in 76 years and it was mind blowing every single night.
Halley’s Comet is the most famous of the short-period comets, which are comets that complete their eccentric orbits in 200 years or less. It’s the only short-period comet that’s visible to the naked eye, and its 76-year circuit means it’s the one comet that pretty much everyone can hope to see once during their lifetime. Because of this uniqueness and its often dazzling appearances, it’s become something of humanity’s companion throughout human history, popping up again and again in historical records. Its appearance in 1986 was greatly anticipated and came closest to Earth on April 10 at a distance of 39 million miles yet close enough to display a monstrous tail across the night sky.
On board Schooner Anne l learned lots from Reid who is an amazing individual and has become a legend in the sailing world. Most people are impressed and some are slightly spooked by him. The sailing world suffers no shortage of oddballs, but Reid is certainly one of its most original and infamous renegade eccentrics.
Unfortunately, Reid had forgotten to share with me that on this trip he was planning to sail non-stop after Panama by-passing the Galapagos, Tahiti, Fiji, Cook and Tonga islands that were the really big attraction for me. So, l decided to jump ship after spending a few wild weeks in Panama and headed to the pristine San Blas Islands before continuing on my travels to witness the political revolution that had brought socialism to Nicaragua.
Reid and his remaining crew went on to cross the pacific and circumnavigate Antartica non stop. For five months they navigated into ice packs and winds of 110 miles per hour that once blew the boat completely over. To combat boredom, the crew used sensory stimulation devices to immerse themselves in different coloured lights, and a ‘bag of tricks’ that included scented herbs and spices, stones, religious artefacts, pebbles and sand. More than a seagoing bohemian sailor Reid saw himself as a spiritual mystic healer. It was during this voyage that he began seriously considering a non stop trip of extremely long duration.
In 1999 Reid and his second wife Laurence Guillem completed a 194-day a voyage he called the ‘Odyssey of the Sea Turtle’ without touching land. It lasted six months and took a course round the South Atlantic tracing the shape of a sea turtle. He claimed it was the largest piece of conceptual art ever made.
In 2010 Reid completed a more extensive ocean voyage, entitled ‘1000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey‘. The journey had commenced on April 21, 2007. Originally he was going to sail with his cat Tao and Laurence but she got cold feet and the cat disappeared so he advertised for another female companion. Soanya Ahmad, 24, volunteered and off they went. The purpose of the expedition was to remain on the open ocean, without resupply or pulling into any harbour, for a period of one thousand days.
This was Soanya’s very first sailing voyage out of the Hudson River. Amazingly, she defied all predictions of an early departure but eventually suffered badly from seasickness and decided to leave the schooner in 2008, after nearly a year. She was taken ashore near Australia, and soon after, she discovered she was pregnant.
On June 17, 2010, Reid sailed the schooner Anne up the Hudson River and docked in New York greeted by Soanya, the press and his walking, talking two-year-old son. The total voyage duration was 1,152 days, a record for the longest continuous sea voyage without resupply or stepping on land. As a two-member male-and-female crew, Reid and Soanya were also together for 306 days, the longest non-stop voyage on the ocean by a man and a woman.
Soanya produced a short video about their experience together, while the book about this super renegade adventurer is yet to be published!
Excerpt from Reid”s 1000 Days log, Day 415 – Sea Shaman
“I live life dancing on the far extreme boundaries, in reverence and awe, feeling the magic of nature and its connection to the universe and all of humanity… See me in the high, patterned cloud layer opening up through the grey. I am full of sparkling light and colors that are indescribable. The howling ocean music and the movement that surrounds me originates inside of me.”