Sailboat crew hope to get Elon Musk’s attention on Mars

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Scientists estimate that if humans ever reach Mars, the only one-way trip to the Red Planet could take up to a year.

Then the astronauts would probably have to spend another year there waiting for Mars and Earth to realign before returning home.

“So you’ve been together for almost three years with the same group of people in a confined space,” said Soanya Ahmad, part of the crew of the 70-foot wooden schooner Anne, which was anchored. off Virginia Key this week.

Ahmad is part of a nine-person crew aboard the Anne, which prepares to sail to Boca Chica, Texas, where Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch site is located.

They hope to convince the billionaire that they can train astronauts to make the long, lonely journey to Mars aboard a 40-year-old ship, which they call a “spaceship.”

Expedition leader, artist and North Carolina sailor Reid Stowe, holds the record for the longest non-stop sea voyage. He accomplished the feat aboard the Anne, which he built in 1978 and named after his mother.

This adventure began in April 2007 from New Jersey with only Reid, 69, and Ahmad, 36, aboard the Anne. Stowe’s goal, for which he had prepared for two decades, was to spend 1,000 days on the ocean without coming to port and without having to be refueled.

The ship’s main cargo consisted of hundreds of pounds of food like nuts, pasta and cabbage, as well as gallons of fresh water.

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John Wolfe, Captain of the Anne, a 70-foot schooner based near Wilmington, North Carolina, shows the ship’s galley. David Goodhue/dgoodhue@miamiherald.com

The first interruption of the trip came in February 2008 after 306 days while the Anne was between South Africa and Antarctica. Ahmad, the couple found out, was pregnant with their now 12-year-old son Darshen.

“We had already discussed that if anything happened to her, I would rescue her at sea and continue. Because I worked on the Thousand Day Voyage for 20 years before I could leave, ”Stowe said this week standing in Anne’s wheelhouse. “So I had a lot of people who had helped me in a lot of ways, and my mind was determined, do or die.”

Stowe phoned Australian Jon Sanders, himself a legendary sailor who has sailed around the world 11 times, to arrange for Soanya’s removal from the boat. Sanders, along with members of the Royal Perth Yacht Club, met Anne and took Ahmad to Australia. She gave birth to Darshen in New York City in July of the same year.

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Reid Stowe, a North Carolina-based artist and sailor, exits his 70-foot schooner from under Anne’s Bridge, while Captain John Wolfe stands behind the wheel on Thursday, March 25, 2021. David Goodhue / dgoodhue @ miamiherald.com

Stowe spent almost 850 days – or 2 1/3 years – on the Anne alone before arriving in New York in July 2010. In total, he spent 1,152 days on the ship.

“All alone. Alone on this boat,” Ahmad said. “He spent another 846 days without stopping and seeing the land or another person.”

Stowe, Ahmad and the rest of Anne’s crew are now embarking on what they call a “Mars Ocean Analog”. In short, they believe spending long periods of time in the isolated confines of the Anne is a similar scenario to what astronauts would find themselves in if they ever embarked on a mission to Mars.

Stowe said he had been in touch with NASA about adapting the program to train his astronauts, but they weren’t too receptive to working with the eccentric artist, who once plied his trade in the early 1970s. 1980s by sharing the same orbit with painters like Keith Haring and Julien Schnabel, according to the New York Times.

Jean-Michel Basquiat painted a portrait of Stowe, which was sold by Christie’s at auction in 2000 for $ 94,000, the Times reported.

“They only work with people who do exactly what they tell you to do,” Stowe said of NASA. “And, I don’t seem to be that kind of person.”

He now has his sites on Musk.

“He’s the one paving the way to Mars, and I’m like, ‘We have the experience that the people who are going to need to have. And we have the program that allows us to train the astronauts, ”Stowe said. “Before they get on a spaceship to go to space, they should get on a spaceship at sea and see how they get along. And see how they can handle it.

John Wolfe, Captain of the Anne, said the comparison between navigation and space travel is particularly close at night.

“You face isolation. You are dealing with constant movement. You’re dealing with resources, a lot of the same things you deal with on a spaceship, ”Wolfe said. “And, you know, as we like to say, when you’re sailing at night, you’ve got the whole sky above. Plus, you’ve got the phosphorescence, you know, twinkling in the water behind you. And, we have the impression of being in this great void, essentially.

Stowe said that training at sea for a long space trip is better than training on land or training in a simulated environment because once you’re on your way, you can’t just stop.

“It takes courage to be at sea, and you know the sea has submerged all types of boats through the ages, even the biggest ones,” Stowe said. “Therefore, you have to overcome the fear to be there. And when you’re in that situation, it’s very different to be in a [simulated] space capsule where you can go out when you don’t like it.

The current trip is funded by the art of Stowe, some of which are on display in the gallery of the Manolis Project workshop in Little Haiti.

Most of the crew en route to Texas were with Stowe and Wolfe before Anne left the Wilmington, NC area in January. All of them have years of experience working on boats, from ecotourism boats on the Cape Fear River, like Eric Goss and Andrew West, to crew yachts, like Gwen Whitney and Kate Wicks.

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The crew of the schooner Anne stands on the bow of the 70-foot sailboat Thursday, March 25, 2021. David Goodhue/dgoodhue@miamiherald.com

Whitney, 31, is a recent arrival, having joined the crew about three weeks ago in Palm Beach when the Anne docked in the harbor after a 20-day trip from North Carolina.

“I was on a mega yacht, and Anne was towed right next to us, and I saw them all kissing when they arrived, and they were all very excited,” said Whitney, 31.

She and Wicks, 36, traveled to Anne in a dinghy and Reid and the crew cooked dinner for them.

“And I said I had to be a part of that crew. About three years ago I read an article about Reid, and I didn’t know it was the boat. And he had this display of art in Palm Beach. I’m also a painter. And there was that kind of connection, and I felt the need to join this trip.

Along the way, the old schooner was in need of repairs and the crew continue to paint and maintain the ship themselves.

“This boat is historic,” said Goss, 34. “It is truly wonderful to see it being restored and brought back to life.”

The Anne will likely be at the port of Virginia Key until the end of next week, Wolfe said. They wanted to move earlier, but the weather should be better to make room by Thursday or Friday, the ship’s captain said.

Once en route to Texas, they hope they won’t have to stop as the ship passes Key West and then north across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. The crew expected to encounter rough seas on the way. But, they consider themselves seasoned, and they have already seen that Anne is capable of facing adverse conditions.

“We crossed the Atlantic for 20 days in the middle of winter,” said West, 30. “It was a tough time, but we made it.”

This story was originally published March 27, 2021 6.30 a.m.

David Goodhue covers the Florida Keys and South Florida for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald. Prior to joining the Herald, he covered Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Energy in Washington, DC. He graduated from the University of Delaware.


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