Woman Jumps Ship After 305 Days
ALISON STEWART, host:
Almost a year ago on April 23rd, 2007, Reid Stowe and Soanya Ahmad left from New York harbor to attempt to spend 1000 days at sea, sailing all the oceans of the world on a 70-foot schooner without ever touching land. If it's successful it will be the longest non-stop sea voyage in history.
Fifty-something Reid is an accomplished sailor, but 24-year-old Queens, New York, native - you're from Queens, right Soanya?
Ms. SOANYA AHMAD (Attempted 1000-day World Sea Voyage): Yes, I am.
STEWART: - had little to no experience. And from the sound of her first blog entry, she was really pretty excited. She wrote, when we woke up at 6:30 a.m. we saw the sun rise on a glass ocean and no land in sight. Right now we're about 40 miles offshore and the water is turning turquoise. I haven't gotten seasick yet, and I'm enjoying the ethereal beauty around me.
Well, about 300 days later it was a different story. The blog entries began to tell tales of shredded sails and some serious sickness. Soanya left the boat about ten days ago and set foot on land for the first time - and was it 305 days?
Ms. AHMAD: Yes, it was.
STEWART: - in Australia. And she joins us now in the studio. It's amazing to think two weeks ago you were on a boat in the middle of nowhere.
Ms. AHMAD: It is amazing. It's almost a dream.
STEWART: Unbelievable. So first of all, how are you feeling? Have you been checked out by a doctor? What's going on with you physically?
Ms. AHMAD: On the boat, I was experiencing seasickness on and off, especially towards the end of the voyage, when I got off. After I got off I was checked out by a doctor and given a clean bill of health.
STEWART: He just said you were just seasick? Just nauseous, nothing...
Ms. AHMAD: Nauseous, yeah. Nothing serious.
STEWART: Although I've been seasick, it can be serious.
Ms. AHMAD: Well, it was for a while. I was just laid out on the bunk in the watch, in the pilot house, and not being very useful.
STEWART: Which is important to note that it's not just that you were sailing leisurely around the world, everyday - there's no time to be bored. Everyday you had chores to do and missions to accomplish just to survive on this boat.
Ms. AHMAD: Yeah, it was quite a voyage of survival. Not in terms of struggling to get things, 'cause we brought everything we needed, but the sheer maintenance and sailing the boat and carrying out our routines just to make it to the next day took up all of our time. There wasn't very much time to get bored.
STEWART: Obviously, you know, you were hopeful to complete this whole trip when you left, otherwise you probably wouldn't have gone. Now, Captain Stowe, he'd been planning it for years. He called it the Mars Ocean Odyssey - I want to explain this to people - because he believes the trip might prove instructive to space agencies considering sending people on long isolated missions. So his motives were clear. He'd been in this for years and years and years. But what made you, somebody who really had no maritime experience, decide, yeah, I'll spend two-and-a-half years at sea?
Ms. AHMAD: It was almost more like three years. But, well, I always had an interest in the waterfront, but I never had an opportunity to really explore it, that interest, until my college years. And I was studying photography and I kind of used photography as an excuse to get down to the New York City waterfront and really start to explore and look at what's there and what the various possibilities were for myself to work on the waterfront. 'Cause I realized early on that maybe an office job was really just not for me.
STEWART: That you had to experience this, really, if you were going to take pictures of it.
Ms. AHMAD: Right. I got down on the piers; I saw various boats. I was hoping to get on the boats and look inside and see how it went.
Ms. AHMAD: So after I got my degree in photography, I then said, what else can I do on the waterfront? And I discovered this other program, also given through CUNY, that introduced students to the working New York City waterfront. And I thought, wow, this is just the thing I needed. And it was a very introductory program with basic classes such as basic navigation, marine electronics...
STEWART: So you had a little bit - you finally got a little bit of experience.
Ms. AHMAD: Yes, a little.
STEWART: So I have to ask you though about one thing that is obvious is that you and Reid Stowe had a relationship. But on the boat, were you captain and crew, or were you able to maintain some sort of relationship while you were at sea for that long?
Ms. AHMAD: Well, the first three years that we knew each other, it was purely, you know, I was visiting as a friend of the project.
Ms. AHMAD: And he always was doing something and never really had time to sit and talk and chit-chat. But I was very fascinated by the whole 1000-day concept.
Ms. AHMAD: And when I decided to go, and I told him I'd like to go with you, then he started looking at me kind of differently, as someone that would be in confinement, in a way, for an extended period of time. And then - so he had to get to know me - and, by first, as well.
Ms. AHMAD: And so our relationship kind of took off from there.
STEWART: Do you still keep in - we're running out of time, unfortunately. Do you still keep in contact with him now that you're off the boat?
Ms. AHMAD: Ah, yes I do. We're in contact via e-mail.
STEWART: Are you happy to be home?
Ms. AHMAD: I have mixed feelings about it.
STEWART: Sure. Especially after you decided to devote yourself to something like that for so long.
Ms. AHMAD: Yeah.
STEWART: Well, we're so glad that you're well. And that you...
Ms. AHMAD: Well, thank you.
STEWART: You look well. And I appreciate you taking the time to come in and answer all these questions.
Ms. AHMAD: Yeah, thank you for having me.
STEWART: Sure, of course. Soanya Ahmad, thanks so much, good luck with your next endeavor.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.