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The Man Who Fell to Shore


Building the Anne.  

One day, as Reid drifted, a friend e-mailed him with a curious message: “Reid, look at your chart. You’ve drawn a whale.”

Reid checked the chart—it was true. His ship had inadvertently traced the rough outline of a whale in the sea.

He took this as a sign. This was the spirit of the sea, speaking to him. From that moment on, he knew he would make it. He could go two more, five more, ten more years if he needed to.

When astronauts are on space voyages, they sometimes experience a phenomenon called “the overview effect”: an overwhelming, euphoric sense of connection to the universe. Sailors on long voyages have reported similar experiences. The mystic, transcendent possibilities of solitude have long attracted shamans and holy men, and the lure of solo sea travel has transfixed adventurers throughout history.

Now Reid had sailed alone for longer than them all.

Back on land, Reid’s progress was being monitored closely by three distinct groups. There was Reid’s loyal band of supporters, who maintained There was Soanya and their new baby. And there was a third group, whose interest was entirely malevolent: a group of commenters posting on a website called Sailing Anarchy.

The website caters to racers, the kind of hard-core weekend sailors who compete in regattas and fetishize sleek, expensive modern craft. On the site, they’d scoffed at Reid’s mission, posting on a message board that eventually reached nearly 30,000 comments. At the beginning, one commenter wrote, “100 days would be a stretch.” Later, one wrote, “He dead yet?” They ridiculed his voyage as not sailing but floating, a kind of “nautical pole-sitting.”

One commenter, who called himself Regatta Dog, became particularly, disturbingly obsessed. He dug up old court papers and posted them online, including a report that Reid once owed over $11,000 in child support to Viva’s mother, as well as Reid’s federal conviction for pot smuggling in 1993, for which Reid spent nine months in jail. Regatta Dog even tried to find out Soanya’s return flight to JFK and meet her at the airport for an ambush interview on video. But he got the wrong info, so he simply walked around the terminal asking other befuddled passengers about the lunacy of a 1,000-day sailing voyage, then posted that clip on YouTube.

These commenters consistently portrayed Soanya as a flaky acolyte or a hypnotized groupie, but she is neither. She’s a strong-willed, well-spoken, thoughtful young woman, who was taken with the idea of living free of the consumer obsessions and expectations of the modern world. She met Reid back in 2003, when he was living on the boat, docked off Manhattan, and she was a photography student at City College, drawn to the waterfront as a romantic escape from the cold geometric canyons of the city. Reid was out working on the boat. She said hello and asked if she could take some pictures. He said sure, then asked, Why don’t you come aboard?

She returned to the waterfront a week later to give him prints of the photos, and Reid had a boatload of people ready to sail for the day. He invited her along. She spent most of the ride chatting with other passengers, while Reid, the busy captain, at home in his element, piloted the boat and entertained his guests. He didn’t pay much attention to her. Later, he sat down, put his arm around her, and said, “So—do you have a boyfriend?”

People were always coming and going, artists and sailors, and Soanya became a semi-regular member of Reid’s informal crew. She liked to listen to him talk about meditation and yoga and sustainable living, or his theories on spirituality and connecting to the universe. These were all things she also thought about, but she had never found anyone among her young friends who could talk about them with any authority, if they even cared at all. She was still in school and working as an office intern, and she came to hate the idea that this might be the whole of her life. Dressing up in office clothes, hewing to a schedule, spending every day penned in a cubicle.

Eventually Reid told her about his dream to sail uninterrupted for 1,000 days, because eventually he told everyone about this dream. It had become a running joke among his friends. Oh, has he invited you yet to sail for 1,000 days? But she considered it. And one clear day, while the two of them sat on the boat on the Hudson, Reid was expounding on the voyage and Soanya blurted out, “I’ll go.”

Early on in their voyage, the two of them both posted lists on the 1000Days website titled, “Ten quick reasons why I like it here.” Reid’s included: “I like being with Soanya on a grand adventure. I like being king of an insecure kingdom. I feel like something good could happen.”

Her list was slightly different. It included: “It’s good to be away from commercialism, noise and stress. I found the wonderful partner to show me the magic of the sea. I’m not stuck doing something I don’t want to do. No one is telling me how to be.”


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