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The Man Who Fell to Shore

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Reid finished the Anne in 1978, and in 1987, he took her on a six-month voyage to Antarctica with a crew of seven artists, only one of whom had ever been to sea before. When he wasn’t sailing, he was living on the boat, at anchor somewhere, usually for free. He wears hand-me-down clothes from his 16-year-old nephew, and his last apartment was a loft in Soho, in 1988. He’s never lived anywhere as an adult that’s had a refrigerator.

When he set sail that day from Hoboken, he was not alone. He had one other crew member, Soanya, a 23-year-old City College graduate from Queens. She’d never sailed beyond the mouth of the Hudson River.

They’d been friends for four years and, not long after she’d decided to accompany him on his voyage, they became a couple. She lasted at sea for nearly a year, breaking the record for the longest nonstop sea voyage by a woman. But she was suffering from crippling seasickness, and she decided she couldn’t continue. So Reid e-mailed an Australian yacht club and arranged to be met by a friendly vessel. Reid would then venture on, by himself, still two years from his 1,000-day goal.

Day 307: “I sat in the cockpit alone as they powered back towards the land and caught my breath. I reset my sails and turned back to the south. The Mars Ocean Odyssey continues …”

Day 457: “I just found out that Soanya gave birth to our baby boy!”

Soanya had not been seasick; she’d been pregnant. She’d had her suspicions on the boat, but kept them to herself initially. When the news was confirmed, she e-mailed Reid daily with updates and, soon, with photos of their newborn son. She named him Darshen, after the Sanskrit word for “vision.” Reid wasn’t troubled to miss the birth of his son; Reid’s father, an Air Force officer, left for Korea shortly after Reid was born. Besides, it had taken Reid roughly twenty years, with many delayed departures, fractured friendships, and recalibrated dreams, to raise the money and gather the sponsorships to make his trip possible. So there was never a question that he would sail on, no matter what, right to the end.

Day 1,152: On June 17, 2010, under an oceanically blue New York sky, Reid, looking gaunt but exultant, steered the Anne, her sails now patched and yellowed to the color of tobacco stains, up the Hudson, with a barge full of international press trailing behind. The previous record for the longest nonstop sea voyage in history was, depending on how you count it, either 658 days, set by Australian Jon Sanders in 1988 during a triple circumnavigation of the globe (Sanders, incidentally, was the one who picked up Soanya from the Anne), or 1,067 days, which is a rough guess as to how long the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen spent with his ship stuck in ice as he attempted a trip to the North Pole in 1893. By either count, Reid had broken the record. He’d completed not only the longest sea voyage in history but the longest continuous voyage of any kind ever undertaken by a human being.

A crowd of 300 cheered him as Reid slowly docked at Pier 81 in Manhattan. An organizer urged a small herd of press photographers to step back, saying, “Come on—he hasn’t seen more than six people in three years.” As the photographers elbowed for position, shutters snapping, Reid waved from the deck and shouted, “I see a lot of people here that I love!” then started to cry.

Soanya stood nearby. She’s a petite woman, maybe five feet tall, and she was nearly lost in the crush of the crowd. She waited patiently with the near-2-year-old Darshen asleep in her arms.

And then, for the first time in three years and 56 days, Reid Stowe set foot on land.

“Is that my little baby?” he said of Darshen, still sleeping. He kissed Soanya, then turned to the press. “I wrote some stuff down,” he said. He cleared his throat and read his speech. “This is a new human experience. No one really understands what I did—physically, mentally, spiritually. This was all accomplished through the power of love.” Reporters called out for a statement from Soanya, who said, “We have a really bright and amazing future ahead of us.” Darshen, meanwhile, had woken up and been whisked off by a friend, away from the turbulent scrum.

“What’s next? Where are you going to stay?” asked a reporter.

“I’m going to stay on the boat. I love the boat,” Reid said.


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