Image: Longest cruise
Dima Gavrysh  /  AP
Reid Stowe, right, and Soanya Ahmad stand aboard their 70 foot gaff-rigged Schooner Anne in Hoboken, N.J.
updated 4/22/2007 1:18:13 AM ET 2007-04-22T05:18:13

He's a veteran of long-distance sailing voyages in all kinds of weather. She's never sailed outside the Hudson River. But together, 55-year-old Reid Stowe and his 23-year-old girlfriend, Soanya Ahmad, embarked Saturday on a voyage that they intend to take them three times around the globe and last 1,000 days and nights — nonstop, with no port calls for supplies or a walk on solid ground.

They set sail Saturday afternoon aboard his 70-foot, two-masted schooner, named the Schooner Anne, from a Hudson River marina in North Hoboken, in bright sunshine and temperatures in the 70s.

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

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

She may be tested when the yacht rounds South America's Cape Horn, an area infamous for waves as high as 100 feet, as well as icebergs.

If they succeed, they say their time away from land will surpass the 657 days spent at sea by Australian Jon Sanders, who circumnavigated the globe three times from 1986 to 1988.

Stowe planned a course that initially will take them into the north Atlantic to take advantage of wind and currents, then head south of the Equator. Past the Equator, before passing Cape Horn, he mapped out a course that would loop around the south Atlantic, in the outline of a heart.

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

Provisions were packed into every nook and cranny of the schooner's hull, everything from rice and beans to tomato sauce, pasta, pesto, olives, chocolate, spices and about 200 pounds of parmesan cheese. Sprouts were already growing in boxes for salads.

The rest of their food will be caught fresh from the sea — automatically. Two contraptions at the stern will troll for fish, and when one is caught the line is rigged to alert them by tapping a piece of wood.

Rainwater will be collected in tarps stretched over the deck, and a desalinator will turn sea water into drinking water.

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Crammed in alongside the food was a ton of coal and 100 boxes of firewood for the antique French iron stove that keep them warm, plus diesel oil for a motor.

Solar panels will generate enough electricity for the satellite communication and navigation system and for lights. Along with sending and receiving e-mail via satellite, they expect to post photographs, videos and blogs on their Web site.

They also have a small library of books on yoga, meditation and spirituality, as well as art and history, plus the collected works of Joseph Conrad and every book written by Herman Melville, including "Moby Dick."

Along with a well-stocked medical kit, they both learned how to clean and stitch cuts and to set broken bones.

The cost of the journey is covered by corporate and individual donations, plus donations of food, the sails and marine ropes.

Their message to the world, they say, is that any human being can persevere and survive while staying 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 born in Washington state who has been living on the Anne for decades. "If we had to come back for cheeseburgers, we wouldn't be able to do it."

They met four years ago when Ahmad, a college student, was photographing 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 60-ton vessel is older than she is — built about 30 years ago by Stowe and his family, including his mother Anne.

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

The voyage is formally called "1000 Days at Sea: The Mars Ocean Odyssey." Stowe, who has been a professional sailor and adventurer since he was a teenager, compares this journey to an expedition to Mars, which would involve about the same time in isolation.

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

One of those previous voyages was a 200-day trip with his wife in 1999. They're divorced now, but she gave him and Ahmad a life raft for their journey, and joined his mom and dad on the Hoboken dock to wave goodbye Saturday.

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."

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